Procrastination and motivation – The River ReporterMarch 4, 2021
By KIM OLVER
A big theme for clients seeking counselors these days centers around procrastination and motivation. If you are struggling with these issues, I invite you to read on.
The first step is to examine this behavior. Sometimes procrastination isn’t a sign of dysfunction; sometimes it’s the right behavior to suit your personality. If you have always been a procrastinator yet you always get the job done, this is likely the way you function best. Some people struggle to maintain focus when there is no looming deadline. They sit down to do the work with plenty of time but make no progress; alternatively, with a deadline in sight, the work just flows out of them almost effortlessly. If this is you, procrastination works for you. Accept that about yourself. But if you find you are constantly missing deadlines or procrastination is a new behavior for you, you should ask yourself the following questions:
Do you want to do the task? Sometimes we are being coerced into doing something we really don’t want to do by an outside force like a boss, spouse or parent, perhaps, or we’re pressuring ourselves. If you feel you are being forced to do something you don’t want to do, it may be time to learn how to say “no.” It is a simple word, but it can be hard to say. Life is too short to spend it succumbing to other people’s ideas of what you should do or talking yourself into doing things you don’t want to do.
What is your reason? If you find you do want to do whatever you are procrastinating about, when was the last time you reflected on your reason for doing it? Sometimes we lose sight of our “why.” Our “why” is typically bigger than ourselves and serves others in some way. Why is doing this important to you? I was talking with a father who was procrastinating on driving his daughter four hours away to get some kayaks she purchased. He said he really didn’t want to do it, but when he connected to his why, he realized that he wanted a closer relationship with his daughter, so he really did want to do this for her. Getting in touch with your true purpose can help procrastination melt away.
Do you have competing wants? Sometimes there are tradeoffs to what we want; achieving our goals might bring a change we don’t necessarily want. It is great when you’re aware of these conflicting wants. Unfortunately, though, the fear of what you don’t want to change is often subconscious, leading to what is called self-sabotage.
Let’s say, for example, you want to write a book. You want to finish this book so badly. You can imagine it; you see yourself at a book signing with your book on bookstore shelves. However, just as you get in the home stretch, something seems to hold you back from moving forward. You can’t quite pinpoint it and it makes no sense because you are highly motivated to get the book done. After working with a coach who can help you unpack the root of your self-sabotage, you realize your fear is being found out as a fraud who doesn’t really know what she’s talking about. In this case, you want to maintain your reputation and write the book; you are conceiving these as mutually exclusive. Once you become aware of the two competing wants, the solution is to find a way to have both. If you can’t figure out how to have both, then you will need to choose, but you’ll be choosing with full awareness rather than allowing your subconscious sabotage to derail your important goals.
Sometimes people struggle with motivation because they are looking in the wrong place. Motivation isn’t external. Motivation is an inside job.
Basic needs: You become motivated to do things that are important, that will satisfy one or more of your basic needs of safety and security, connection, significance, freedom and joy. If you find you lack motivation, you may have lost connection to how this will meet your needs or, perhaps, it won’t meet needs and you should off-load the task.
Get it right: Losing weight is often a goal for people. Many think they want to pursue weight loss because they will be healthier, which meets one’s safety and security need. But what if safety and security isn’t all that important to you and doesn’t truly motivate your behavior, unless, of course, you are in a life-or-death situation? Then you want to align your goal with a need that is important to you. For example, if you’re a high-connection person, then losing weight might increase the dating pool for you or may give you more years to spend with your grandchildren. If you are a high-freedom person, it might motivate you to think of the freedom of movement you’ll experience when you are lighter. Whenever possible, you want to craft a story that connects your goal with a need that is most important to you.
Establish your why: Why is this important to you and how will it help others? When you set a goal that is only for yourself, it’s easy to blow it off. No one gets hurt if you don’t do it. But if you think about how what you are doing will make someone else’s life better or easier, then putting it off becomes a much bigger deal and harder to justify.
Resolve the short- or long-term dilemma: Often when you set a goal, you plan to achieve it in the future. This can create problems because there will be things you want in the short term that interfere with your future goal. If your goal is to be debt-free, but there are things you want to purchase today that you don’t need, you will either deprive yourself or buy them. This will create frustration or push your ultimate goal even further into the future, respectively. Motivation for the long-term goal means giving up what you want right now for what you really want in the future. To be successful at this, you will need to incorporate many short-term wins that will meet the same need that is being frustrated by giving up what you want right now. If you give up the purchase today, that will interfere with your freedom need. A solution would be to find other, non-monetary ways to get more freedom in your life. You won’t have the impulse buy, but you will build in more freedom, so you won’t feel the loss of that purchase so acutely.
I hope this has helped dissipate the mystery of procrastination and motivation and that you move full steam ahead toward the goals you have set for yourself.