Now is the time to build on your strengths, improve on your weaknesses, and develop your skills.
Procrastination always has two elements: the task you’re putting off and the internal forces that are causing you to do so. The more you deal with your inner “demons,” the easier it will be to take action.
First on the list of these inner demons is self-esteem. Feelings of guilt and worthlessness fuel procrastination.
When you start to get things done, you experience these feelings less and less.
In our projects as in life, we come up against obstacles. We need to handle those obstacles in order to see the task through to the end. Self-esteem helps us to do that because it helps us develop resilience and the belief that we can succeed despite barriers. Self-esteem can grow or it can diminish, and we can control that.
So, what is self-esteem? The most important component of self-esteem is internal. It’s the ability to like and accept yourself with all your strengths and weaknesses, and in spite of the mistakes you make.
It’s understanding that you are equal to anyone else and you, like anyone else, are unique and one-of-a-kind. It’s not ego driven. It’s not a belief that you’re superior to anyone. It’s the understanding that each one of us is unique, special, and important.
Another component of self-esteem comes from the reflection of ourselves that we get from other people. We get either positive or negative feedback from people in obvious or subtle ways all the time.
We get from the media, from work, and from our relationships. Unfortunately, we can’t always depend on outside sources to have our best interests at heart or even to be honest.
So, although it’s inevitable that some of our self-concept comes from outside sources, a much better, more fulfilling approach to our lives is to develop our internal self-esteem and diminish the effects of external self-esteem.
Our job, then, is to build a solid foundation of internal self-esteem. The key to doing this is to be aware of what’s going on in your thoughts and your emotions and then taking action based on that awareness.
Here are the questions to ask yourself:
- How many of the things I do are based on the need for others’ approval?
- Whose approval do I seek in order to feel accepted?
- What are my own personal standards? In other words, what standards do I need to meet in order to approve of myself at work, at home, and in relationships?
- Is there a conflict between what I really want to do and obtaining approval from others?
The answers to these questions should give you an awareness of yourself that will strengthen your internal self-esteem and lessen your need for approval of others.
Next, here are some powerful actions that you can take to strengthen your self-esteem and diminish your tendency to procrastinate:
- Being aware of your self-growth and development.
- Taking the initiative.
- Practicing assertive behavior.
- Talking back to your negative inner voice.
- Setting goals.
- Taking physical and emotional care of yourself. This includes giving yourself quality time, exercising, eating right, and relaxation.
Here’s one non-negotiable law for living the life you dream of: self-esteem is essential to our well-being. It’s not selfishness; it’s just the opposite.
Dealing With Inner Negativity
It’s possible that you are not even aware of the negative inner voices that keep harping at you. Science has shown, though, that the vast majority of our thoughts are negative, and a lot of those thoughts are about ourselves.
It’s natural that this is true because these thoughts are an accumulation of judgments we received in childhood, then from our peers, and eventually from ourselves. These thoughts are even more frequent when we’re feeling vulnerable or facing obstacles.
How many times have you said things like if yourself:
- ” What a stupid thing I did!
- ” I’m ugly… lazy… stupid… mean.”
- ” This is too hard! I can’t do it! “
- ” I have to do this!” ” I ought to…” ” I should…”
- ” Everything depends on this!”
All of this self talk puts pressure on us, unnecessary pressure. This is the inner saboteur at work. The way to combat these messages is to see them for what they are: unreasonable and irrational. Being aware of them is the first step. Can you see how they can interfere with your ability to succeed?
The next step is easy and even fun. Start talking back to those thoughts.
Say things like:
” It’s okay to make mistakes.”
” I’m not stupid, this is just something new for me.”
” This is not too hard – I just have to take it one step at a time.”
” Everything does not depend on this. If this doesn’t work out, I’ll find another way.”
See, wasn’t it fun? Won’t you feel a lot better doing that than giving in to negative thinking?
The next step is to reinforce your self-esteem with some positive thoughts about yourself. Remember the list you made of the things you’re good at and your positive qualities?
Repeat a few of those things to yourself after you’ve had some negative self-talk. Then give yourself a small reward (talking to a friend, reading a book for a little while, taking a time out for yourself, etc.). These positive thoughts and actions reinforce your positive feeling about yourself.
Our negative self-talk tries to protect us from taking risks and things we fear, but it also puts up barriers to opportunities and challenges and changes that would enhance our lives.
And think about this: research has shown that four out of five of our fears never materialize. The fears that do materialize, we can handle, especially after we build our strengths.
Fear is a powerful negative emotion that can cause procrastination in all areas of life. We all have fears; the difference is in how we handle them.
Here are some strategies for managing your fears:
- Take some small risks at first. Notice the feeling of well-being when you succeed.
- Talk to people you trust about your fears – get their opinion about how valid your fears are.
- Allow yourself to feel the fear. Then talk to it, watch it recede or disappear, and enjoy your feeling of satisfaction at bringing that about.
- Gradually increase the size of the risks you take, while keeping those risks reasonable, not irrational.
Handling fear is not easy for any of us. But facing it leads to a more fulfilling, productive life.
Motivation And Will Power
Of course, it’s obvious that we have to have some degree of motivation in order to overcome procrastination. And it’s also obvious that we need some willpower in order to want things to change so that we do follow through on our projects.
You very likely have some degree of motivation and willpower in general or you wouldn’t be reading this. If you can’t come up with any motivation or willpower in regard to a certain project or projects, this is probably not the right time to be tackling them.
A better idea would be to choose projects and tasks for now that can help you build your motivation and willpower in general.
Try these exercises to increase your willpower:
- Try something that you never tried before – it can be something simple like trying a new restaurant or driving a different way to work.
- When you want to say something you know you shouldn’t, don’t say it.
- Do something you really don’t want to do but have to do. This can be anything – something small is fine. The idea is that you do it.
- Find a way to say something nice to someone. Make a genuine compliment. It can be any small thing you think of.
- When you want to say something appropriate but feel shy about it, say it.
These are all small steps, as you can see. You can and should substitute as many small steps as you can think of. The point is that you’re building your willpower. This in turn builds your self-confidence: you begin to realize that you can depend on yourself to follow through.
What is assertiveness? And why are some people so much better at being assertive than others? How can we be appropriately assertive without being aggressive and overbearing?
Acting assertively can be complicated because how we behave stems from a combination of our beliefs and values, our attitudes, our thoughts and feelings, and our self-esteem. It comes down to choosing the way we will behave in order to get what we want.
We have basically four choices: first, being assertive; second, being aggressive; third, being passive; fourth, being indirectly assertive or manipulative.
Many of us use more than one of these techniques, and while we probably know that the first choice is the best choice, many more of us don’t know how to go about being assertive.
Being assertive means acknowledging our needs and asking in an open and direct manner for those needs to be fulfilled. It implies respect for the people we’re asking, respect for ourselves, and respect for the task at hand. If our needs in this particular situation are not met, it is not a blow to our self-esteem because our self-esteem is not based on the approval of others.
Assertiveness is not always the easiest behavior choice, but it is the one most likely to get what we want. It is the win-win approach.
Being aggressive is often a compulsive overreaction; it’s competitive and leads to win-lose situation.
Being passive is negative behavior with negative results. It creates victims who allow other people to decide their fate. But the truth is that those people are victims of their own passivity.
The indirectly aggressive or manipulative approach also rises from low self-esteem. For these people it’s safer to control and manipulate rather than face confrontation and the possibility of being rejected.
This behavior shows a lack of respect for the initiator and the other people involved. Manipulative behavior can be effective, but the cost is continued low self-esteem and confusion on the part of the people the manipulator interacts with.
There are some techniques you can use to maintain an assertive attitude without becoming aggressive or passive. Try some of these to keep you on track. You don’t need to use all of them; use the ones that work for you in a given situation.
- Be specific about what it is that you want. Clarify first in your own head and then be prepared to ask for it specifically and directly.
- Repetition can be a handy tool. Stay on track by repeating your simple, clear request. This technique prevents you from being manipulated or getting off-track.
- If you’re dealing with the manipulator, acknowledge that you hear what they are saying, but repeat your own simple, clear request without allowing yourself to be manipulated or becoming aggressive.
- Remember, your best solution is a win win for you and the others involved. The way to achieve this is to be clear in your own mind about the ideal outcome, a realistic outcome, and a fallback position (bottom line) for you.
- Some people find it helpful to disclose their honest feelings during the interaction. For some people this alleviates guilt and anxiety.
Remember that being assertive is often about negotiation and compromise. It’s about not being aggressive or passive or manipulative. It’s about the win-win for everyone involved.
Anger And Frustration Management
Few things encourage procrastination better than anger and frustration, yet anger and frustration are inevitable in life and in projects.
The first thing you must do is recognize when you’re frustrated or angry. Many of us are so proficient at hiding these feelings from other people that we’ve become great at hiding them from ourselves. That is usually a problem because the anger and frustration show themselves in other ways.
One of these ways is to discontinue whatever we’ve started. Another outcome is that we show our anger toward other things or people that are unrelated to the real cause. All of this is unproductive.
First, recognize your frustration. After that, decide how to handle it. You could walk away from the situation until you feel you’re in control of your emotions.
You could channel that frustration into finding other solutions for the problem. Or you could find other projects to work on temporarily. Next, find a productive way to release your anger and frustration. It might be through exercise or even household chores.
Pay attention to what causes you anger and frustration. Try to make sure that you’re separating your current anger from past situations that cause anger. One thing that many of us do is bring old anger that has been dealt with to new situations.
Find means to deal with anger and frustration as they appear. A good idea is to come up with solutions in advance. Since we know for certain that the feelings will come up again, channeling them in a positive way will produce the best outcome.
Another enemy of productivity, closely related to frustration and anger, is stress. Stress is our body’s way of letting us know that we are confronting something beyond our coping ability.
On a physical level, much less an emotional level, our instinct is to flee. This is the point where many of us give up on our projects. Again, a lot of us have a tendency to ignore stress until it causes major problems physically, emotionally, and even in all areas of our lives.
Symptoms Of Stress
The symptoms of stress can vary from person to person, but we all need to know what they are so that we can deal with them if and when they arise.
Physical symptoms – heart palpitations, nausea, muscle cramps, colds, infections, fatigue, body aches, and indigestion.
Emotional symptoms – mood swings, irritability, tension, anxiety, and powerlessness
Behavioral symptoms – accidents, inferior job performance, overeating or not eating, lack of concentration, general exhaustion.
Mental symptoms – indecision, memory failure, worrying, loss of perspective, lack of empathy
Get to know your particular signs of stress and recognize when you’re experiencing …the sooner you do, the better for your health.
Causes Of Stress
Knowing the factors that cause stress will help you anticipate when you might be experiencing them. We have different levels of stress tolerance, and many times different types of stressors can combine to cause serious stress.
The four types of stressors are:
Situational stressors – these include unexpected situations, change, bad news, heavy workloads, and negative environmental factors
Life events stressors – these include marriage, divorce, death, birth of a child, moving, ill health, and financial concerns
Stressors caused by others – these include unreasonable demands by others, unreasonable expectations from others, and a negative atmosphere at work or at home
Internal stressors – these include perfectionism, unreasonable expectations from ourselves, feelings of inadequacy, unmet needs for acceptance and love, and the need to control.
Stress can be debilitating and lead to many physical problems if you don’t deal with it. The way to handle stress is to recognize it, interrupt the pattern, and use the tools available to reduce it.
In order to recognize stress in your life, ask yourself these questions:
- What’s causing my stress?
- When does this happen?
- Where does it happen?
- What symptoms do I show?
- Why do I react this way?
- What can I do to reduce the stress in the situation?
Once you recognize that you’re feeling stress, come to terms with those feelings. Don’t run away from your feelings but accept them as signs that are showing you the need to take action.
Take responsibility for the situation. You might not have created it, but you need to take responsibility to face it and create the best possible outcome for yourself and possibly others. Take the time to do what you need: some free time, saying no to demands, self-care.
Develop a support network. Let your friends know when you need them, and make sure they know that you’re grateful for their help.
Take a good look at your lifestyle. What changes do you need to make? Make the time for some exercise and some relaxation. Eat a healthy diet, don’t smoke, and drink moderately. Think positively and handle your negative inner thoughts.
All of these things that you build into your lifestyle will strengthen you again stress.
The serenity prayer is an awesome piece of wisdom and wonderful for dealing with stress. It says,“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” – Old Irish Saying
Prioritizing, Organizing, And Planning
The feeling of overwhelm is a major cause of procrastination. It is so uncomfortable it can cause us to put off doing projects or flee from them faster than just about anything else will. The good news is that prioritizing, organizing, and planning – tools that can easily diminish this feeling – are not that difficult to learn.
I know that you know that old expression:” How do you eat an elephant?” “One bite at a time.” We all know that breaking things down into parts make sense. It makes difficult things easy by putting them in logical order so that we can address each step and go on to the next one. For some of us, it’s difficult to do.
Here are the steps:
- Know what your overall goals are
- Have a thorough knowledge of your project or task
- Know all the resources needed to complete the task
- Give yourself some flexibility with your deadlines
- Understand that unexpected obstacles will probably show up so build in some time to resolve those
- Take the time to make the best plan you can come up with. Time you spend here will save you time later and cause you not to feel overwhelmed
Once you begin your project, you may discover efficiencies that will help with your time management. For instance, are the right people performing the right tasks? Could you improve performance by switching people’s functions?
Would it be more effective to bring in a specialist for part of the task? Are all the steps in your project still necessary? What modifications can be made?
These are just examples of efficiencies that you may find what you’re going through the project. The point is to monitor your progress to reduce unexpected, unwanted surprises, and to keep you on track.
Prioritize your tasks on a daily basis because the priority can change quickly.
Priority one – important and urgent, tasks to do immediately.
Priority two – important but not urgent, tasks that can’t be planned for a future time.
Priority three – urgent but not important, tasks that can be delegated.
Priority four – routine, tasks that need to be done but can be deferred or delegated.
So, in the final article in this series, we’ll look at how to put this all together.
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