The root of procrastination

Most people have a procrastination problem. I know I do. How do we move past our tendency to procrastinate? Do we push through, expending willpower to force ourselves to get started?

No. Willpower is finite, and the more we expend to just get started, the less we’ll have for the task in question. It’s better to search out the root cause and attend to that rather than the symptoms. So what’s the root cause of procrastination?

It’s fear. Fear of failure, fear of doing something hard, fear of the unknown, and uncertainty of whether we should be doing this thing at all. It all stems from fear, both overt and subconscious. (Credit goes to Zen Habits for teaching me this lesson.)

In my writing, it’s often the discomfort of doing something hard (and turning away from that discomfort is a form of fear) that stays my hand. I like to write, so I should be gung-ho about it at all times…but it’s also hard, and sometimes I’d rather not endure the discomfort. So I procrastinate.

The first step is to figure out what you’re afraid of. Is it the discomfort of hard work? Are you afraid of failing? Are you unsure of how to go about the task? Are you unsure whether you should be doing it at all?

Once you define your fear, you can manage it. Don’t deny it! Most of these fears are legitimate. Yes, writing is hard. I don’t beat myself up for turning away from the discomfort, because that’s a very human thing to do. That doesn’t mean I’m going to let it continue, though.

Once you’ve defined and accepted your fear, work through it. If you don’t know how to do something, take small steps to find out. If you’re afraid of failure, perform a small test – for a writer, write a short story and see how it’s received. In my case, I remind myself that I like to write, that the challenge is fun, and that I always feel better after I’ve sat down and done my best. I assuage my fears, reminding myself of why my writing is worth doing…and suddenly, it’s easier to begin.

The root of procrastination is fear. Manage the fear, and procrastination will lose its power over you.