You may not have a choice over what you do, but you can certainly choose how you do it.
For as long as I can remember, I have employed a victim mentality when tackling the routine and high-priority tasks on my plate. This mentality has made it incredibly hard to write articles regularly, complete projects ahead of schedule, and take ownership of my actions.
But I am shedding this mindset once and for all.
While reading The Now Habit, I concluded that with a simple shift in how I view the things I spend my time on, I could find more satisfaction in my life.
By moving away from using language regarding the things I “should do” to more empowering language centered around the things I “choose to do,” I can overcome my challenges quickly, instead of overthinking and allowing them to become more complicated and daunting than they are.
I owe it to myself to change because I think life is much too short and precious to not put a positive spin on my time on earth, regardless of what I am doing at any given moment. It’s important to remind myself that if I have to choose between spending an hour on hold, waiting to speak to a customer service representative, and not existing at all, I’ll take the bad elevator music any day.
Fun fact: I am listening to a study playlist on YouTube that I used to listen to in college, and the music is almost as bad as the kind they make you listen to while you’re on hold. But it helps me concentrate, so I come back to it year after year.
For a very long time, I thought the reason I fell victim to procrastination was that I’m lazy. But The Now Habit has opened my eyes to what truly causes me to procrastinate.
Just as a disclaimer, I am in no way affiliated with Neil Fiore and have nothing to gain financially if you buy his books. That being said, I would be happy to positively impact even one person and help them change the way they perceive and respond to challenges, so I recommend getting The Now Habit.
According to Neil Fiore, many people think procrastination is the cause of their problems without realizing that it is merely a symptom of deeper issues.
Many underlying psychological causes lead people to procrastinate, but the one that affects me the most is the discouraging language I use to motivate myself to do something.
For as long as I can remember, people in my life have told me that work is something we must do, even if we don’t like it. The problem with this mentality is that it stripped me of one of the only things I can control about doing something necessary: how I approach it. It has made work seem like this thing I don’t want to do but have to anyway because I have no choice. To reinforce this belief, I have had to use authoritative language against myself to kick my ass into gear to accomplish things.
On the flip side, you’ve probably heard people say that turning things you don’t want to do into a game can make it more fun and engaging–like raking the leaves in under X number of minutes. That’s pretty similar to what I’m talking about, except that turning things into a game doesn’t usually work for me.
However, what does work for me is making a conscious choice to do something, even if it’s something I have to do no matter what. This feels much better than just reacting to something that’s ended up on my plate.
For example, I feel more positive when I tell myself that I am actively deciding to close a big deal, helping a customer with a problem, or giving a presentation to my team. None of these things are all that bad and are, in fact, privileges when compared to me not getting to exist at all, but it can still be difficult to put them into perspective when I’m stressed out or tired.
Jim Kwik phrased it well on his podcast when he said that he wakes up every morning and realizes that he’s won the lottery just by being alive.
And I agree.
As someone who’s very driven, I find a tremendous amount of joy and satisfaction in a job well done. However, when I start to use the language of “have to,” “must,” or “should,” I lose sight of the beauty of life, and I get anxious about what’s on my plate. This is also when the cycle of procrastination begins.
Here’s how my typical procrastination cycle looks:
First, I experience analysis paralysis, which usually stops me from starting right away. I get caught in the planning stage's quagmire, where I’m thinking of all the things I could do but usually end up not taking any definitive steps, except for basic planning and outlining.
After this, and as a direct response to the guilt I feel for not starting the task at hand, I procrastinate by switching to something that is a lower priority, more fun, or easier until the relief of distracting myself calms me down.
When any further feelings of guilt are on the horizon, I tell myself that I will get started on the task later, which delays the inevitable feeling of disappointment.
And if the activity requires sunlight, like a hike might, then I can keep pushing off the hike until it gets too late in the day to go safely. I can then say that it’s too late to get started and that I’ll do it tomorrow, removing the guilt.
For work or side hustle tasks, I will sometimes push tasks until just before the deadline to have no choice but to get started. The problem with this last-minute approach is that this kind of urgency does not usually yield the highest quality work.
There are some unintended side effects of procrastination. The first is that rescinding control over my actions to outside forces causes me to exist in a passive state, where hours become days and days become blurs that pass in large chunks. This is why sometimes it can feel like the entire month has passed by, and I don’t have anything to show for it. The cycle keeps repeating itself, and I turn a blind eye to living mindfully to shield myself from the pain and disappointment of procrastinating.
Another unintended side effect is that this passive mindset seeps into other areas of my life, contaminating my positive habits and long-term goals, just like harmful materials can contaminate drinking water.
If I let this kind of victim mentality persist, I find myself in a rut of choosing easy, unhealthy habits over the more fulfilling ones that require conscious effort and discipline. When I am stressed about procrastination, some of my biggest negative habits include overeating, mindless eating, drinking beer more often, taking unnecessary naps, making spontaneous plans with friends, or working on lower-priority tasks to make myself feel better.
The good news is that being aware of one’s habits makes it much easier actually to address. I don’t hide these facts from myself and am constantly putting pen to paper when I experience moments of weakness, so I can come back to analyze my behavior later.
Even writing this article and putting it out there for the world to see was exactly what I needed to regain control over my actions today. It was a small victory and a reminder that while I may not always have a choice over what I do, I do have a choice over how I frame it and carry it out: I can either drag my feet, or I can rise to the challenge, do it right, and move on to the next thing.
What are some things you can “choose” to do today that you’ve been putting off for a while?