Hands up if you harbour an unfulfilled goal or ambition? Something you’ve thought about doing for some time but have never taken solid action towards. Perhaps it is a new business idea, a desire to go after a wild adventure, or to radically change your life in some way?
Putting off the aspirations we have for our lives is a common phenomenon. In fact, around 80% of us fail to set solid goals, which means they often only surface when triggered by a song, a conversation or some other soul stirring stimuli.
Can you fill in the blanks?
“I would really love to …..” “One day I will …..” “I’ve always wanted to ….” “I wish I could …..”
Whilst our ever-increasing schedules may be easy to blame, they’re not actually the problem. It’s what lies behind the misinformation, excuses or convenient truths we give ourselves to justify our inaction, and that is fear.
If you’ve followed our ethos for a while, you’ll know that fear management is our ‘thang’. We all experience fear, yet nobody teaches us how to manage it so that we can move past it to be / do / experience the things we deserve. We’re on a mission to change that, and hope that something you read in the next few minutes will mean you start bringing your long-held dream to life.
What is Procrastination?
The word procrastination originated from the Latin word procrastinatus, which itself evolved from the prefix pro-, meaning “forward,” and crastinus, meaning “of tomorrow.”
Procrastination is viewed as a self-preservation habit of inaction when a situation triggers some type of negative emotion within us. When it comes to our goals, these emotions can include self-doubt, anxiety or insecurity. Comparatively, putting off writing that long and rather uninspiring 10 page report for the boss may come down to boredom or frustration.
Whilst the types of negative emotions we want to avoid differ, we still use the same response, “I’ll do it tomorrow…,” to provide ourselves with short term relief. We have the amygdala – the part of our brain that governs the threat response – to thank for this.
The Cool Brain Science Bit…
Tim Pychyl, associate professor of psychology at Carleton University, describes what happens here as the ‘amygdala hijack’. “The procrastinators are reacting emotionally, and the emotion-focused coping response is to escape. It’s saying, ‘I don’t want these negative emotions I’ll experience during the task,’ and so it avoids the task.”
Now to look at what you can do…
#1 Reframe Fear as Information
To move past the urge to keep putting things off, we need to reframe fear as merely information because that is precisely what it is. Whilst the habit of procrastination is at first glance a negative trait, it is very much an evolutionary response designed to buy us some time when feeling overwhelmed so that we can carefully weigh up the best course of action. Each and every time we go to step outside of our comfort zone, our brain asks fear to step in and talk us through all of the worst-case scenarios. Both are just doing their job!
It’s down to us to whittle through the catastrophising and negative chatter inside our heads designed to slow us down so that we don’t rush in and find the helpful data it’s presenting to us. Anything else can be ignored in a ‘thanks for the help but I’ve got these areas covered…’ kind of way.
“You may fail.”
Reframed to: A helpful reminder to think through all possible outcomes and take steps to prepare.
“You may make a fool of yourself.”
Reframed to: A helpful reminder to be experience focused, rather than outcome focused, i.e., to like and back myself whatever the outcome.
“You may not have what it takes to succeed.”
Reframed to: A helpful reminder to be learnings focused, rather than outcome focused, i.e., to know that whatever happens I will be a wiser / better human for doing it.
#2 Want it More and Want it Now
Another reason why ‘I’ll get started tomorrow’ is appealing is because we get the instant reward of staying in a safe place and successfully avoiding the discomfort of personal growth for another day. The trick to breaking the cycle is to bring some of the magic of your long-term goals into the here and now by visualising how great it will feel to have finally done it, who you will become and how it will change your life.
Or maybe what we need to shake us into action is to ponder the long-term pain of never trying. How would it feel to look back to this time in your life in a decade and realise things could have been very different. Whatever cuts through and helps you to prioritise what you know to be important to you, stick with it.
#3 Don’t Think Just Do
What a line… cheers Maverick!
As we mentioned above, one of the key reasons why we fail to achieve the things we want for our lives is because we fail to set goals. There’s no better way of instantly focusing your mind and turning talk into traction by setting a big – scary – you can’t avoid me, kind of goal.
This is what Donna did when she found herself putting off a desire to re-learn how to swim for 15 years, yes 15! And so she booked her first Triathlon which forced her to finally prioritise this personal goal no matter what. Now a regular sea swimmer, she is grateful to herself for that game-changing decision.
Photo: Donna at Eaton Aerospace in March 2023, discussing how to reframe the fear to help the team go after their long-held goals.
Once you’ve set your ‘big goal’, make committing to it easier for yourself by breaking it down into manageable weekly wins and set yourself up to feel good. Goals tend to feel outcome focused, but the outcome is secondary to the personal growth you will experience along the way. And never, NEVER, stop being your own biggest supporter. You’ve set your intention and though you know it won’t be easy, you are now you’re on your way – be very proud of yourself for that.
Fact is, the best things in life don’t happen overnight. They are the result of you taking small steps consistently each week that steadily evolve you into being the person who starts that great business, who takes on that awesome personal adventure, who changes their life to the one they had imagined.
What will you do today?
We’re always in your corner.
Team Evolve are helping people just like you to build the life they want. Our expert coaches have decades of experience in supporting ambitious individuals with everything from public speaking to leadership development. To talk to us about your goals, get in touch via [email protected].