Those of you who’ve been following my series on procrastination will remember there are eight underlying causes for this debilitating habit, but the good news is, all of these can actually be cured!
Last week we talked about Rebellion and Indecision – and if these are biggies for you I hope you found some useful strategies in the insights I shared on those. This week we are going to explore the next two deeply rooted procrastination causes, along with some practical ideas for ways to overcome them.
The first is a really big one – especially for people working in yachting. You probably already guessed what’s coming… yes, it’s… drumroll… perfectionism! There is something about gleaming white boats with shiny steel fittings and bling-tastic interiors that means yachting seems to attract more than its fair share of perfectionists: some of whom, let’s face it, are actually bordering on obsessive compulsive.
But while perfectionism can really help when it comes to detailing yachts to within an inch of their lives, being a perfectionist can also be a massive hindrance to starting longer term projects or working on anything that has a heavy significance attached to it. In fact, the more something matters, the more the perfectionist is likely to stall, causing themselves extremely high stress levels and severely damaging their own performance potential.
I have a great exercise I like to get people to do to help overcome this pesky perfectionist form of self sabotage. For this you need a few friends willing to play along – so go ask your crewmates if they would like to join in. Give everyone a piece of paper and a pen, and settle on down in the crew mess.
What I want you to do now is ask everyone to draw a star. No more complex instructions than that – just a star, that’s it – any old star will do.
Once everyone’s done that, gather the drawings around and have a look at them. Ask yourselves the following questions:
- which of the drawings is a perfect star?
- who says that one is more perfect than any of the rest?
- who died and made those guys the all high rulers and deciders of absolute perfection in hand-drawn-stars?
- where is the exact line between perfection and non-perfection in this group of star pictures?
What you should by now be realising is that there is no such thing as perfection. Grab a picture - Is it a star? Yes. Is it perfect? No. Does it matter? No. Did it get done? Yes. Great, another thing checked off your to do list. Perfection is an illusionary concept we use to beat ourselves up about ‘not being good enough’, and it is really the fear of an ‘imperfect’ outcome this that stops us from starting.
The fact is, imperfect action beats perfect inaction every time – and the earlier you get started, the sooner you can see what needs to be done and the more time you will have to increase the likelihood of achieving a successful outcome.
The next core cause of procrastination on my list is insufficient motivation. This is an interesting one because we all have a different mindset of motivation – some of us are more motivated ‘towards’ pleasure, and some are more motivated ‘away from’ pain.
To explain this in a nutshell, you are either more motivated by the good things that will happen if you get the thing done, or you are more motivated by the bad things that will happen if you don’t. Generally speaking we have a tendency to lean more towards one end of the pleasure/pain scale than the other.
The unfortunate thing about having an ‘away from’ mindset is that we normally have to wait until the Panic Monster shows up before this really kicks in (see my first article on procrastination here), but he only shows up when things are getting really desperate. In the meantime your ‘away from’ mentality is working against you, stopping you from doing the task at hand, because you’re associating pain with doing the thing – and you want to move away from that (and into the rich and velvety pleasures of the Dark Playground!).
So to engage your ‘away from’ mindset and get it working for you rather than against you, remind yourself early on of all the dreadful, terrible, bad things that will happen if you don’t do this task or project that you’re putting off. Most jobs have unpleasant or boring aspects to them, and often the best way of dealing with these is to get them over and done with quickly so you can focus on the more enjoyable aspects of the job – a bit like eating all the greens on your plate first and then going on to the yummy golden-pastry-encrusted pie.
If, on the other hand, you find yourself more motivated by moving towards nice things than fear of horrible outcomes, make up your own rewards. For example, promise yourself a piece of cake at lunchtime if you've completed a certain task, or a really big reward like a special luxury treat if you finish a big project.
And finally, whether pain or pleasure floats your boat, find a way to make your motivational source important to you by injecting an emotional connection if possible, to give it some extra oomph. When you really care about something you will overcome anything necessary to make it happen – so make it matter and you will find your motivation levels will increase enough to at least make a start.
Are you more motivated by pleasure or pain? Or is perfectionism your guilty pleasure? Let us know in the comments below!
Alison Rentoul is ex yacht crew with 15 years of yachting experience, and a professionally trained personal development coach working with crew worldwide, helping them realise their highest potential at every level. See www.thecrewcoach.com for more information.