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Don’t Fight Procrastination. Step AROUND It.

When you really need to get things done, why you're procrastinating doesn't matter. Ask these 3 questions instead to start taking action.

boulder in road
Credit and permissions: Mira / Alamy Stock Photo

Imagine you’re walking down a road only to find that a gigantic boulder is blocking your path. What would you do? Push it forward? Too hard. Push it off the side? Again, so. . . much. . . energy.

Walk around it? Yes, that sounds more likely.

Now imagine that that boulder is whatever psychological issue causes you to procrastinate certain tasks. Maybe it’s fear of failure holding you back from making that sales call. Or a lack of self-worth that makes you put off asking someone on a date. Or maybe it’s just biological: a lack of dopamine in your system makes it impossible for you to go wash that sink full of dishes.

Those boulders (or psychological issues) can’t be pushed forward. That’s the old, “willpower” and “motivation” strategy. You probably can’t budge the boulder, but even if you can, moving forward with brute force will drain your mental reserves very quickly. Even if you can start the work, you’ll likely lose your ability to complete it or do it at an acceptable level.

Can you push the procrastination boulder off the road? That’s a better strategy: to clear away (“heal”, “accept”) the obstacle with whatever support crew you’re working with (such as a therapist). However, it’s still a huge rock and is going to take time and effort to move. Chances are you don’t have time to spend several weeks’ worth of sessions with your therapist before you get started on a task that’s due tomorrow! 😬

When you need an immediate workaround, the best strategy is to step around the boulder. But what does that look like? Ask yourself these three questions to figure out how to re-route your walk, bypass procrastination, and get stuff done.

1/ Who would run around this bolder without a second thought?

Sure, it’s tough for YOU to imagine going around the boulder. But who do you know that could bypass the trap of perfectionism or imposter syndrome or whatever that that boulder represents? Bill Gates? Oprah? Indiana Jones? Lara Croft? Pick a figure you admire that would step around that boulder without any issue.

Let’s pretend you’re procrastinating when it comes to a difficult conversation with your spouse. Maybe you pick Oprah because you know she can have a conversation with anyone about anything.

2/ What’s the first step that person would take to tackle the task at hand?

Oprah’s not going to push through or push aside the boulder. Stepping around it, her first move might be coming up with a list of things she wants to say in the conversation. Or figuring out what common goal she has with the person she’s talking to. Or looking at the world through that person’s eyes.

Now take Oprah’s first step and make it your own. “Everyday you” isn’t going to have this tough conversation. Oprah is. You’re going to take on this alternate persona to get you around the boulder.

I call your version of Oprah (or Bill Gates or Indiana Jones) in your imagination an “alter ego.” (That just means “other self” or “inseparable friend.”) Your primary ego—”everyday you”—can’t let go of the psychological issue. It’s part of your identity. So the goal here is to temporarily identify with someone without that boulder; in the above example, Oprah.

Questions 1 and 2 directly set up the last one, the one where you let your imagination overcome your procrastination.

3/ What can I do right now to trigger that alter ego?

Actors use props, costume changes, and rituals to step into character—and you can too. If you’re Indiana Jones, maybe the “prop” of a rubberband from your desk makes you think of a bullwhip. If you want to be Bill Gates, your “costume” might be a pair of unflattering glasses? Or if you’re Oprah, can you put on one of her “favorite things?”  

Grabbing that prop or putting on that costume may be just the first step of your transformation. If you have the time, incorporate a ritual as well. Listen to a song that gets you into the mindset of your “other self,” do jumping jacks, power pose, or say aloud how much you hate snakes and Nazis. Do whatever works for YOU. A client and friend of mine calls it “phoneboothing” which harkens back to Clark Kent changing into Superman in the nearest phone booth.  Once you’ve identified your prop, costume, or ritual, use it to take that step around the boulder. And have fun! Because suddenly that work presentation or getting around to cleaning the fish tank won’t feel like such a big deal.

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