Anna Hamer

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If the going gets tough, it’s time to refocus

We’re almost two weeks into the New Year. How are you getting on with your resolutions?

Many of us choose this time of year to “make a fresh start” and get rid of bad habits – but after an early flurry of enthusiasm, it’s easy to let your motivation slide and fall into a pattern of procrastinating – one of the toughest behaviours to overcome. Learning what drives your urge to put things off is a good way to begin tackling the problem.

The “all or nothing” mindset

Sometimes we procrastinate due to perfectionism: if it's not perfect, there’s no point in doing it. We hesitate because we can't come up with that perfect first line of a paper, business proposal, or thank you card.

The insurmountable to-do list

Another reason we procrastinate is because the task at hand seems like a mountain to climb. We feel overwhelmed and think we will wait for another day when we have more time or energy to complete the task. "There's no point in starting, as I won't be able to finish” is the excuse we use.

Hedging our bets for the worst outcome

When we leave studying for a driver's licence or producing a work document until the last minute, we are 'buying double insurance' for ourselves. We can tell ourselves that if we don’t succeed with flying colours, it's due to a lack of preparation, rather than a lack of brilliance. If we do succeed (despite procrastination), we must be especially brilliant. In this case, procrastination is protecting our egos.

Too much information

Often we surround ourselves with distractions, making it very challenging to be productive. Get in the habit of putting your phone out of reach, and set it to silent unless you are expecting work calls. Ask friends not to text during certain hours, and allot specific time for social media use.

So how do you turn yourself into someone who gets things done (rather than someone who doesn't procrastinate? Don’t set hundreds of goals. Focus on encouraging yourself to achieve one or two key targets, and set clear and manageable first steps. A few minutes of exercise is better than no exercise at all.

Spend 20 minutes each evening folding laundry, ordering groceries, and paying bills before allowing yourself to watch television, read a book or check Facebook. This new behaviour will eventually create new neural pathways and become a habit.

For every activity that worries you, give yourself encouragement and think of your range of strengths and capabilities, rather than putting all of your eggs in one basket. If you feel less pressure to be 'the best' in one particular area, you will be less likely to procrastinate.

Finally, ask your friends and family for help – tasks often seem less overwhelming if they're shared.

Remember to focus on the process, rather than an imaginary gold medal at the finish line. Having a positive outlook is the best way to get – and stay – motivated. Happy 2015!

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