Why can’t I just get out of my own way?
When it comes to your career, procrastinating can be a pathway to regret. So how do you stop procrastinating? First of all, it’s important to recognize that everyone procrastinates. There are things we know we need to do, but instead, we have another donut, watch another episode of The Fall of the House of Usher on Netflix, and dream of days where obligations don’t exist. (We’ve all been there). But procrastinating in your career can cut you off from personal growth, new challenges, and even new salary. When you know what you need to do, but you just won’t do it, what can you do to get unstuck? These six coaching strategies will help you to stop procrastinating, and start moving forward in your career.
Use Your Memory to Get Unstuck: in her book, Impossible to Ignore, Carmen Simon, PhD says that “memory matters because it influences action.” We use the past to help predict – and create – the future. So what do we need to remember, in order to stop procrastinating? The test that we failed junior year? The terms of the divorce? That snarky comment from Trevor? No. If you want to stop procrastinating, start remembering what it is that you want. Remember that you are capable, and that you have a voice. In fact, now might be a good time to use it – and ask for what you want, not just for what you think you can get.
Create Good Habits – Here’s How: Simon Sinek says that our minds aren’t really able to process negative instructions. That’s why “the dog is not chasing the cat” is virtually impossible to visualize. In a nutshell: Don’ts don’t work. “If you focus on the obstacles, “ Sinek says, “all you will see are the obstacles.” In her book, Dr. Simon says, “Frame your messages in a positive way. Habits are formed by doing, not by not doing.” What needs to be done is much more valuable (from a self-leadership perspective) than what you need to avoid. “Memories consistent with a desired self become more easily accessible,” she writes. What is that “desired self” that you need to remember?
Drop this Story if You Want to Stop Procrastinating: The most dangerous words in the world of business are: “That’s the way we’ve always done things.” This mantra cuts off innovation, advocates for the status quo, and offers excuses instead of solutions. On a personal level, the phrase looks like this: “That’s just how I am.” Fortunately, this statement is a misunderstanding. Our identities are not fixed. Psychology Today says that even our personalities can change. Human beings are wired to adapt, and that means you. Don’t tell yourself a lie and try your best to believe it, especially if you want to stop procrastinating. Not wanting to change is a matter of preference, not capability. Otherwise, coaching would never work, no one would ever get promoted, and entrepreneurs would never come up with new ideas. “That’s just how I am” is never a true statement, no matter how hard you fight for it.
Procrastination Stops, One Step at a Time: Lots of people get stuck because they don’t know how things will play out. They don’t feel like they have a clear-cut plan, and uncertainty causes people to procrastinate. But uncertainty is all around us. We don’t know what tomorrow holds. We don’t know if our boss will make the meeting, we don’t know if Timmy will win his soccer game. Can you be OK with uncertainty? Can you let go of the desire to have a thoroughly-crafted 19 step plan for your life, your career and your relationships? If you can, you can get unstuck – by doing the one thing you always have the ability to do: take the first step. Take the first step, nothing more and nothing less, and the next will reveal itself to you. Could that plan work? Watch procrastination disappear, as you take that first step.
Making Commitment Easier: inside my book, Easier, I talk about the difference between making things easier (a good strategy for getting up off the couch) and making a choice that’s easiest. The easiest choice is always “do nothing”… and stay on the couch. But what happens if you do nothing, and let opportunity pass you by? Regrets and disappointment are never easier. “Discarding an impractical past,” Dr. Simon shares, “serves us in the future.” What kind of commitment could make this easier – and take away the shadow of regret, for you?
Encouragement Leads Away from Procrastination: when I coached the team of entrepreneurs that won the Rice Business Plan Competition, I had a simple mantra: I want to encourage you to win. Was everything perfect at the start, making encouragement obvious and simple? No, not by a long shot! And there was a lot of uncertainty along the way. Pressure was high – this was the largest and most lucrative pitch competition of its kind, in the world! Forty-two teams from schools like Harvard, Yale, MIT and Stanford were all fighting for that first place recognition. I needed to see possibilities – and share those possibilities with the team – in a way that was honest, frank and encouraging. Scolding and harsh judgement was not the way to victory. After all, if being hard on yourself was going to work, it would have worked by now. Find what’s right, if you want to stop procrastinating – and encourage yourself to win.
Where are you procrastinating right now? Maybe the time is right to ask for the promotion. Or to set new boundaries. Or to turn in your resignation. What obligations are holding you back, and where are those burdens really coming from? Whatever challenge you are facing, remember: it’s easy to default to procrastination. The good news is: you know what you need. You know what you need to do. Remember that you are capable. You can find a way to make this easier. You know the difference between discipline and regret. And you can always – always – take the first step.
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