Do you ever have a hard time getting a project started?
I like to have things done on time and done well. I meet my deadlines, but that’s not to say that I make steady progress towards my goals or that I don’t experience stress when I can’t seem to get started.
Procrastination is not a stranger to me; it is something I face over and over. I know I have a task or project that I need to get done. Whether or not to do it is really not up for discussion; I either need to do it or have determined I want to do it, and here it is— it’s time to get started and I have yet to begin.
It looms over me for days….
Let’s look at my experience in trying to write this blog and see if my progress (or lack thereof) sounds familiar to you:
I had already picked the topic (procrastination) and chose to use myself as an example. So all I need to do now is sit down and start to write, which should not be too difficult. Let’s see if it is….
1. I bought groceries (what if I starved while trying to write?)
2. I re-arranged my living room furniture, (no excuse, I just wanted to) which led to…
3. Re-arranging the furniture in my meditation room (that feels better!)
4. I decided to clean off my desk (who could write in this mess?)
5. I organized my notes from several meetings (what if time goes by and I forget?)
7. I replied to three e-mails (before they move down the list and I forget)
8. I made 2 phone calls (OK, I’m just out-and-out procrastinating here)
9. I got a drink of water…
You get the idea.
I feel productive with these other things done but I’m starting to feel stressed and anxious and the longer I procrastinate, the more stressed I feel. All along I realize that I am doing things that are lower in my priorities, perhaps not even on the list! And, I’m doing an amazing job rationalizing my choices.
So I sit down and think about the job ahead, and snap, bang, clunk! I step into another place that I don’t need to be.
Avoid the trap of “Awfulizing”
When you are spending a good part of your energy projecting your life forward with various scenarios and awful outcomes, Albert Ellis, the founder of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, called this “awfulizing”.
Awfulizing. I love that word! It’s so ridiculous that it reminds me that I’m being ridiculous and out of touch with reality when I do it.
Instead of writing my blog, I first awfulized about a lot of things that might happen: What if I had nothing to say that appealed to anyone? What if I sounded too serious? What if my sense of humor turned people off? What if my writing wasn’t good enough? What if…??? If these things happened, people wouldn’t like me, respect me, trust me, etc. I was boxing myself in and I couldn’t mentally find my way out.
How do I get myself in gear?
This is when I need to do what I call “prime the pump.”
“Prime the Pump!”
My grandparents lived in the country and had a hand pump in their yard that was hooked up to their well. To get water to come out of the pump, they first moved the handle up and down several times. The motion of raising and lowering the pump handle was necessary to get the water to flow. As a small child from town, I thought the whole thing was weird: why do you need a pump in the yard and why do you have to pump it up and down so many times before the water will start to come out? More important than learning about the science of pressure, that visual image of my grandparents priming the pump taught me something useful that I apply to my life frequently:
Action begets action! And sometimes you have to start a process in motion before you can expect to see some results.
A similar principle is referred to when you hear people say that to get something done, you should ask someone who is busy. They are already in motion, so they don’t have to start from a dead stop. Inertia is hard to break out of—it takes effort to start moving.
Below are some suggestions on how you might “prime the pump” to get yourself in motion when you find yourself “stuck” and unable to get started:
Prime the Pump # 1: Be creative
For me, priming the pump is usually doing something creative that allows my mind to take a back seat. When I sit down to do something and I’m stuck, I will get out my sketchpad and pastels. I’ll draw or do some abstract art about the task ahead. I lose myself in the artistic act itself. I become energized and more creative just by doing something creative. It gets me moving. I can then shift back to the task that I hadn’t been able to begin with my mind freed from my fears and unproductive thinking. In other words, I first get my creativity flowing and can then transfer that energy and creativity to my project.
For you it might not be anything artsy. It might be playing a round of golf, or taking a walk in nature, or cooking a casserole, or…name something relaxing and fun. The idea is that you become absorbed in what you are doing and lose yourself in it.
Prime the Pump # 2: Lose yourself, find…inspiration
Losing yourself in something can be useful. It allows you to relax; you don’t have to keep thinking of reasons why you can’t do what you are “supposed” to do. You don’t have to keep banging your head into that wall.
When you are truly focused, you also are tuned into this moment now. When you lose yourself, your entire focus is on what you are doing. You can see it and sense it with your entire, undivided being.
Inspiration strikes when you are fully in the moment. Or, it may sift in on wings with a “ta-duh!” However you experience inspiration, you can be sure that it won’t have a chance to be seen or heard if you are dooming and glooming.
Prime the Pump # 3: Reach out for help
Just reaching out, to a friend or a coach, to discuss the task or project you are having trouble with can be a tremendous start. Discussing the project with someone else is taking action! There are various “tricks” you can use to get yourself moving, and I can help you find some that will work for you if you are stuck. Being stuck is a very unpleasant feeling, particularly when you really want to get somewhere and you’re running out of familiar options. It’s also helpful to have some support so you can avoid awfulizing and overcome obstacles you encounter. Sometimes all it takes is a shift in perspective and you can find a way to get started and get moving on a path that will end up where you want to go.
One of my favorite quotes is from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.:
“The great thing in this world is not so much where we stand
as in what direction we are moving.”
Have an inspiring day—take a creative break—and get moving!