How to Stop Procrastinating on Self-Change
Five steps to success in making a critical self-change.
Posted Nov 03, 2017
Is there a simple and easy way to start making that critical self-change you’ve put off? Perhaps there is, but you’ll have to work at it. I’ll share a five-step staircase technique to combat procrastination. These special five steps to self-success are:
1. Declaring a direction for change.
2. Developing an acceptance attitude.
3. Recognizing yes but thinking barriers.
4. Overcoming yes but thinking barriers.
5. Taking easy steps to positive change.
To get to the top, you start with the first step. You can take these steps with easy strides. This can be a more effective way than doing the hardest thing first. However, even hard steps have easy parts. The important thing is to start.
The five-step staircase technique is a no-failure way to approach self-change. When you experiment with this plan, you do so to find out what works, what doesn’t, and what needs refining.
Self-rating is a common prelude to procrastination. You can avoid that pitfall. You don’t rate your self in this process. You’re too complex for that. So, rate the plan. Rate the results. Use what you learn to do better.
DECLARING A DIRECTION
A spinning compass covers everything and nothing.
If you are like most others, you may want to advance your education, to write the mystery novel swirling in your mind, or to feel confident. How about losing weight and getting back in shape? What about that dreaded fear of rejection you’ve had for years?
Pick the one personal change that is most important for you to make. Then, decide what makes the change you have in mind important to you. What’s the benefit? Do you gain a worthy advantage? Do you avoid a problem? Is it a little of each? Then write down the advantage of the change.
Next, set a goal for yourself that is meaningful, measurable, and manageable. For example, if you want to lose weight, a goal of losing a pound a week is meaningful, measurable, and manageable. You now have (1) a written reminder for why you decided to take this trek; (2) what you can gain; and (3) a direction for change.
Finally, write this information out in a journal or send a note to yourself on your Smart Phone. Although writing things out won’t guarantee that you’ll make the change, there is some evidence this can prompt corrective actions.
You can consider this step your dawn of change. There is much left to do in the day but not endless time to do it.
DEVELOPING ACCEPTANT ATTITUDES
Change is hard. Procrastination is easy.
Breaking negative habits ordinarily takes long periods of work. However, in an instant gratification world, long time efforts for self-change can be hard to accept. However, it pays to have a realistic time perspective.
Accept that long-term positive changes will take time and directed efforts, and you are less likely to fall into the instant gratification trap where you expect to get what you want quickly and easily. That quick and easy mental fiction is a common trigger for procrastination. However, by accepting that quality self-changes take time, you may experience a paradoxical effect. It takes less time.
Procrastination has many layers in self-change situations. Delay is visible, but this is a symptom of something else. If you choose to overcome a crippling fear of failure, accept—not like—that you’ll have to resolve the underlying issues that fuel that process. This work does not take place in your head alone. Most productive work comes when you engage fear of failure situations you’d normally avoid. This process may be sped by overcoming the yes but procrastination factor.
RECOGNIZING YES BUT THINKING
Seeing a problem is an important step toward a solution.
Often this powerful yes-but procrastination factor is hidden in plain sight. Here is how this works. With yes, you are agreeing with yourself that the self-change is important. With but, you have a reason why you can't do it.
Yes, you accept that you can benefit from making a critical change but not right now. Yes signals the acceptance of an action as a purposeful, valid, priority. But signals that you intend to put it off for some reason or another. For example, “Yes, I need to build more confidence in myself. But I’m not ready.”
Of course, “but I’m not ready” is hogwash. In the area of self-change, readiness is rarely an either-or concept. There are degrees of readiness. Nevertheless, this explanation can mute a possible inner conflict between doing and stewing over not doing. It's not that you don't want to make a critical self-change. You are just not ready.
At first, you may feel relief. Relief that rewards yes but thinking helps sustain it. If you find yourself caught in this thought trap, and you want out, you'd wisely work to correct the causes behind your yes but thinking. The rewards you can get for this work are durable rewards that come from accomplishment. Let’s turn to that next.
OVERCOMING YES-BUT THINKING
Guided actions are instructive when rightly targeted.
When you procrastinate, check to see if your thoughts include yes but thinking. For example, “Yes, I know I have to lose weight to control my diabetes, but I have to do other things first.” (“But now is a bad time.” “But I lack the will.” “But I’m under too much stress.”)
What buts do you tell yourself to stall the execution of your self-change goal? Write them out.
Let’s say you view yourself as a pushover. You have cause to believe that people take advantage of you and don’t respect you. You don’t like this self-image. This is a valid reason for changing.
Your goal is to stand up for yourself when required. You think, “Yes I need to strengthen my resolve to protect my interests. But this is too stressful for me to do.”
Where's your proof? Would your best friend agree? If this questioning causes you to change your belief that self-change is too stressful, then what happens next?
How you define a problem gives direction to its solution. Using the above example, there may be a different angle. Maybe you are situationally anxious about looking like a fool if you tried to stand up for yourself. If this is a viable area to explore, you’ll have more control over changing your anxiety beliefs than if you chose to avoid change because you told yourself you felt too stressed.
The message: test the model but use you own situation and data. Use whatever resources available to switch from but thinking to can do thinking. Then take the following easy step.
TAKING EASY STEPS TO POSITIVE CHANGE
Most personal changes are not as tough as they first seem.
Take the first step on the stairs to success and it is easier to continue than fall back. For example, once you catch yourself in yes but thinking, and overcome these thoughts, you may feel relieved. However, that may not carry you too far on your trek for self-changing. As a next step, follow up by doing something easy on the path to your goal. By taking one easy step, you might do what had been tough.
You can practically always find an easy step to launch any self-change program. Let’s say that you view yourself as a pushover and you don’t like that self-image. You want to stand up for your rights. Take an easy step first.
An easy step is to get and read the first chapter of an evidence-based assertiveness training book. (A licensed doctorial level expert writes the sounder books on this topic.) A second easy step is to do the one exercise in the book that you believe can help you build a skill to stick up for yourself. Believe that, and there are no buts about it.
If you’ve flipped things around in your mind by rethinking the yes but procrastination factor, and found an easy way to start, that’s positive. You are now in a position to keep going on this radically different path. However, your work has just begun.
If you want to know more about tested and effective ways to overcome procrastination, check out Overcoming Procrastination for Teens. I wrote it for teens but adults seem to like it as well, and professional therapists most of all. (Who'd have guessed?) If you like myths and stories that convey helpful messages, followed by doable exercises, this may be the procrastination book for you.
© Dr. Bill Knaus. 2017. All Rights Reserved.