In this post I show you how to beat one of the most destructive forces known to man: procrastination.
The unfairness of it all! You know how some people are naturally thin and can stuff themselves with chocolate without putting on weight? And then there are the rest of us who so much as look at a slice of cake and know exactly where it'll end up. It's just the lot we draw in life.
I sometimes feel that the same goes for procrastination. Some people (I am not one of them) seem to wake up with complete certainty about what they need to do, set about doing it, and don't stop till it's done. They don't get distracted by the TV, tidy things that don't need to be tidied, or check Facebook just one last time. And then there are the rest of us.
Procrastination is an animal. It can totally control you, paralyse you, leave you frustrated and helpless. And it's widespread.
But what if it didn't have to be that way?
The fact that you're reading this tells me that you're passionate about learning a language, that you know how incredible it will be when you're fluent. You're motivated, you're dedicated, you really, really, want it, and you have high standards for yourself… so why are you unable to get started?
Well, it may be those very high standards that are holding you back. Perfectionists aim high, and they don't take well to letting their standards slip. Think about it – as a perfectionist, would you take action towards a goal if you weren't sure about the outcome, or if whether the way you were going about it was right?
No – you want to be sure. You want all the pieces to be in place. As a language learner, you want certainty that the book you're studying with is the best one, that the course you're following really will take you to fluency quicker than anything else.
Because what procrastination really is, deep down, is a fear of failure. It's fear that you won't achieve your full potential. It's fear that you will put in all that time and effort and that you will fail. Isn't it safer not to bother? That way you can have certainty that you won't fail. Failure avoided. Safe.
We're not talking about procrastinating over filling out your tax return here – that's just laziness. We're talking about the big things – learning a language – that require you to commit so much of yourself to the process.
Like with health and fitness, beating procrastination can be life changing. As a procrastinator, you have the option of beating it, reinventing yourself, and experiencing something incredible: the feeling of having achieved control over yourself, understood your habits and conquered your fears. Non-procrastinators will never know how that feels!
Let's look at how to go about it.
- Goals. Start with your goals. Be clear what they are and have them written down somewhere, however succinctly.
- Visualise. This isn't pseudo-fluff, it's deadly serious! You need a reason to get started, and there's nothing but your goals to drive you. Close your eyes and feel what it's like to be walking down the street in the country of your choice on a warm spring afternoon, chatting away with the locals.
- Break it down. You can't go straight from zero-to-hero. Establish your short-term goals with an 80/20 analysis.
- Create false goals. Yes, really! Many procrastinators actually get a lot done – just not that big thing that's at the top of their list. Known as structured procrastination, creating extra work for yourself can lead you to focus on those things further down the list in order to avoid that one big one at the top. What to put at the top of your list? As John Perry explains:
The trick is to pick the right sorts of projects for the top of the list. The ideal sorts of things have two characteristics, First, they seem to have clear deadlines (but really don't). Second, they seem awfully important (but really aren't). Luckily, life abounds with such tasks.
- Implementation intentions. Coined by Tim Pychyl, an implementation intention is a fancy way of saying: deciding how you will react in a certain situation before that situation actually occurs. A personal example: my blog writing time is when I get home from work. It has to be – I won't do it otherwise. However, I'd often find myself procrastinating before sitting down at the computer by eating something, checking my email, etc. etc. Recognising that I procrastinate in this way (always helpful!), the implementation intention I have created is: “When I walk through my front door I will take of my shoes, drink a glass of water, go directly to the computer and open WordPress.” Doing things in this way supports your willpower and decision making throughout the day. How could you set up your study time in this way?
- Willpower training. It's been suggested that willpower is like a muscle that can be trained to grow stronger. To train your willpower, commit to doing something small everyday, just for the sake of putting something regularly into practice: meditating for 5 minutes, finding one thing in the house to be recycled, calling your mother. Then, commit to not doing something that you usually do: no swearing for a week, not crossing your legs when you sit, using your weak hand for daily tasks like opening doors or eating. (Examples taken from the book.)
I hope these help. However, there is one last piece of advice which, in all its simplicity, has worked so well for me personally that I can't help but share it.
You have your goals? You've broken them down? You know what you have to do? Well…
7. Just get started.
What's your biggest struggle with procrastination? Let me know in a comment below. Then please share this post on Facebook if you enjoyed it!
Image 1: Hertzen
Image 2: Fernando