How to stop procrastinating.

How we delay the beginning!

One of the most subtle ways of doing this is to pretend to yourself that you’re actually getting things done – when you’re really just putting off starting!

A lot of us do it.  We convince ourselves that we’re making progress with our plan when we’re just using lots of planning and preparation to delay getting started!

When I first read Thoreau’s “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes” it practically hit me between the eyes.

Henry David Thoreau’s observation was spot on; it identified a programme I’d been using for years and which got in my way, a lot!  My Delaying Programme would begin whenever I was about to make a new start, embark on a new project or, figuratively speaking, climb a new mountain.

And like many habits I didn’t notice my Delaying Programme operating.  It was simply the norm for me. I was the goldfish in the bowl who didn’t know he was in water.  I was so used to this habit I didn’t notice it – proving the truth of another ‘beware’ phrase: ‘Beware of what you get used to‘ ).

Avoiding action

My Delaying Programme would kick in each time I faced something that would really stretch me.  As the project’s Start Day approached I’d find all sorts of reasons to put off the beginning.

It’s going to be too soon.

I need more time to prepare.

I need to discuss it more.

And, one of my favourites…I need to buy something first!  

(This something could be anything – but it usually meant first doing lots of research. And this, in turn, usually meant buying books on the subject – sometimes lots of books. You couldn’t just buy any old book – you had to research the market to make sure it was just right book for the job.

Now because this was long before the days of internet shopping the research and buying phase of my preparation could delay the Start Day for days, weeks or months.  And all the while I’d be convinced I was actively engaged with the project – instead of actively engaged in not doing the project.

Then I came across Thoreau’s quotation and this dragged my Delaying Programme kicking and struggling into the daylight. It was no longer operating unconsciously in the background.

Now I could see it for what it was – a delaying process.

The lesson was clear:

If I notice that I’m engaged in excessive preparations for a big project – and especially if this involves buying things…. Stop and Check. My unconscious Delaying Programme may be operating! I may simply be putting off starting?

Our ‘Delaying Programmes’

This Delaying Programme thing is very common. Which is not really surprising since any reasonably important new project or venture or ‘mountain to climb’ may well be exciting but it’s also going to be daunting.

At first, when the Start Day is months away it’s exciting. But, as the Start Day draws nearer, hard reality begins to replace the rosy dream and the doubts begin:

Will it work out?

Am I really up to this?

What problems or obstacles will I face? 

What if things go wrong?

Just think of all those times when things haven’t worked out!

What if I can’t do it?

What if I fail….?

It’s now moving from ‘exciting’ to ‘daunting’.  We’ll soon have to leave our nice cosy Comfort Zone and step into the unknown world of taking action – we’ll have to move into our Stretch Zone.

And Stretch Zone = Risk.

The risk of failing.  Which, for many of us, is ‘a bad thing’ – to be avoided at all costs.  We learned this at school where ‘failing’ could lead to shame, derision or even punishment.

Stuck in ‘Planning Mode’?

So it’s not surprising that we often get bogged down in Planning mode, rather than moving enthusiastically into Action mode.  Our emotional, or unconscious mind seeks to protect us from risk; from the possibility of failing. And what better way to do this than to stay busy with lots of planning and preparing.

Yet if we stay in Planning mode for too long, if we give the new project too much thought, this makes things worse.  Our imagination dwells on the doubts and the risks and this ratchets these up – which can easily propel our new project way beyond the Stretch Zone and into the no-go area of the Panic Zone.

What was once an exciting “let’s give this a go” idea changes. It’s no longer exciting – it’s scary.

But we certainly don’t want to ‘give up’ – that’s almost as shameful as failing!  So our unconscious Delaying Programme comes to the rescue. We are not giving up. We are not afraid of failing. We’re simply preparing very thoroughly. Very thoroughly!

How naive I am being here – just look at all the things that could go wrong if I’m too hasty…

I need to prepare much more thoroughly.

I need lists.

I need a new laptop.

I must first have new outfit of clothes.

I need gadgets.

I need to do more research.

I need to have a few more meetings with people – over a few more months.

I need to spend a few months getting fit.

I’m too busy preparing – I need a lot more time before I can begin this.

There’s the decorating to do first…

It’s not a good time right now, really, maybe when the kids are a little older…

And so it goes on! As we make the project more and more complex it gets pushed further into the future.

Sound familiar?

What’s the solution?

Don’t try to fight the Delaying Programme. Yes, we’re procrastinating and avoiding, and popular wisdom is that we should resort to good old-fashioned will-power, or self-criticism, or a ‘just do it without thinking’ approach.

This can work, at times. But sometimes this simply delays things further because struggling with ourselves diverts our attention from the project. In, any case, it’s easier to work with the programme rather than fight against it.

How to work with your Delaying Programme

(1) Notice when the Delaying Programme is operating.

Recognise that you are delaying. Spotlight what’s happening – drag the Delaying Programme out into the open!  This is the most powerful step.

Look, I’m using my Delaying Programme right now!

(2) Check if the delaying may be rational rather than just emotional.

Does this delaying make sense? Do I need to make further preparations before I begin?

Or am I simply delaying? I’ve prepared enough; any more and I’m just avoiding action.

(3) Remind yourself that you’ll be learning and picking up experience as you progress.

I don’t know everything right now – before I begin. There are unknowns. But I’ll be developing knowledge, skills and experience with each step – each step will prepare me for the next one.

(4) Recognise that you are moving into your Stretch Zone…

…which proves it’s a worthwhile project. And accept you cannot have a 100% guarantee of success.

Yes, I could fail. But I’m aiming to succeed; it’s a risk worth taking. And I’m not going to be sabotaged by out-dated school messages about failing.

(5) Have a Plan B – for worst case scenario. 

This is for when you have to be flexible and think on your feet. Make sure this is realistic, too.

Yes, I’m aiming to succeed – and will give it my best shot. If, despite everything, if it doesn’t work out I’ll simply resort to Plan B.

(6) Focus and motivate

 Either I go for it right now or I’ll forever wonder ‘what if I had done it?’

And here is what I’m aiming for… (be sure to have a clear goal in mind).

Ready to begin…

Now, with these 6 steps in place you can begin…

Well, yes, you ‘can’ begin… but why not add an extra piece to make things work even better – by motivating yourself?


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