Sometimes the pressure to do it all – and it do it all, WELL – can be enough to keep us stuck in patterns of procrastination. High-performance coach Sarah Arnold-Hall writes about how to stop procrastinating, and the tools she teaches her high-profile clients to get their head back in the game.
We all have things we want to do but feel like we’ll never get to. Achieving our goals can feel like an uphill battle, and the past couple of years, in particular, have taken an additional toll on people’s mental strength.
Procrastination – or inaction – is a silent disease that’s more common than you might think. The daily grind and mental load – which women particularly tend to carry more of – gets in the way of achieving life’s goals, and it’s easy to get distracted or worn down. People feel the pressure to ‘do it all,’ but that pressure often ends up having the opposite effect, and procrastination seeps in.
‘Showing up matters more than showing up perfectly – even if it’s the tiniest action.’
It’s an issue that affects even the most ambitious people, but you can overcome it if you learn how to consciously create your thoughts and feelings instead of letting them control you. The good news is that you can regain control of your goals and aspirations, and learning effective methods to attain them is easier than you may think.
My coaching philosophy is that if people can get themselves to simplify their plan and follow through with it, they can hit any goal they set. But unfortunately, we often make things harder for ourselves than necessary when aiming to achieve big goals, so we procrastinate even on the things we love doing.
You don’t need to give 100 per cent energy every day to move closer to your goal. Showing up matters more than showing up perfectly, so I encourage people dealing with overwhelm to ask themselves, ‘how might I be making this task harder than it needs to be?’
Tips on How To Stop Procrastinating
Find the opposite emotion
Through coaching hundreds of people, I’ve discovered five emotions that drive procrastination: confusion, overwhelm, self-doubt, fear and lethargy.
Each emotion is generated by a thought – finding the opposite emotion can change how you think about it.
- Confusion becomes clarity by swapping “I don’t know what to do” for “I know exactly what to do”.
- Overwhelm becomes calm by swapping “There’s too much to do” for “there’s enough time for the most important things”.
- Self-doubt becomes self-confidence by swapping “Am I good enough?” for “I’m the ideal person to do this”.
- Fear becomes certainty by swapping “What if it all goes wrong?” for “I can handle anything”.
- Lethargy becomes motivation by swapping “I don’t feel like it” for “I can make this easy and fun”.
Make your to-do list actions that your brain knows how to do
The items on your to-do list often aren’t actions but end results. To your brain, “write a book” sounds as doable as “fly rocket to Mars.” Your brain needs you to translate “write a book” into something it can actually DO.
Instead of “write a book”, translate it to “open notes app on phone and write a bullet point list of the main sequence of events.”
Tiny, bite-sized, could-do-it-in-your-sleep action steps give your brain a task it already knows how to do – making it harder to procrastinate on it than just doing it.
Expect resistance. Anticipate that you probably won’t ever feel like following through
Most people don’t know this about me, but even as a high-performance coach, I dread taking action every day. The difference between my past self (who procrastinated) and my current self (who doesn’t) is that I don’t let myself see that as a problem. I’m not surprised when I feel the dread come on – so I don’t try to avoid it. Instead, I let it be there, and then I have two choices: Do it anyway or change how I’m feeling by changing my thoughts. I stopped letting how I feel indicate what I should do.
Create a “to DON’T list”
This is a list of everything you want to do but choose not to do to create space for the goals that actually matter. On my to-don’t list at the moment is:
● Writing a book
● Making my bed
● Posting on TikTok
Momentum matters more than perfection
Often when we plan our actions, we prepare for our highest energy, most productive self to do them, and we give ourselves a really high standard to meet. But you don’t need to give it 100 percent every day to move closer to your goal. Two percent is enough to keep the ball rolling. Some days, you’ll have the energy to do more – but if you don’t, that’s totally okay. Showing up matters more than showing up perfectly – even if it’s the tiniest action.
When I meditated on 365 consecutive days, sometimes, it was just a few deep breaths. When I blogged for 730 days, sometimes it was just one sentence. (Go through my blog on my website, and occasionally you’ll spot one!) It didn’t matter. I showed up and kept the ball rolling, ready for the next day when I had the energy to give it my all.
That’s the secret to my self-discipline: I give myself grace without letting myself off the hook. So what might self-discipline look like for you when you’re low on energy? One intentional breath? One sentence in a journal? One email sent? One page read?
Loving self-discipline will help you build trust in yourself always to show up, creating momentum (which matters much more than perfection).
Sarah Arnold-Hall is a globally recognised high-performance coach who, in a near-unique offering for NZ, specialises in helping people beat procrastination to take back control of their goals and aspirations – and learn effective techniques and tools to reach them. For more information on Sarah Arnold-Hall’s high-performance coaching, visit www.saraharnoldhall.com. Her podcast How to Take Action continues to be one of the most engaged-with podcasts on Spotify and can be found here.