Monthly Archives: July 2011

Procrastination

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!

Sherry

Perspective

I met a friend recently who I hadn’t seen for awhile. The last I had heard from him, he was excited about moving out of a job that wasn’t working for him into a new job that was very promising.  However, when I asked him about how things were going, his face fell. After some hesitation, he told me that he was finding it difficult.

I asked him to tell me more. I knew that he had had to move to a new city, but he said that he really liked his new surroundings and apartment. He was now working from his home, but he had set up a home office and that wasn’t the problem, either.  The issue for him was that he was being asked to make cold calls. He was used to working from a list of clients or prospects who had already indicated an interest in the company and their product. It was complicated further by the fact that he was not familiar with the new company’s product and found it almost impossible to make a call. He hated cold calls. In fact, he feared them. He would psych himself up and then feel so bad after getting turned down that he would spend hours trying to get his head in a place where he could make another call, only to have the same thing happen.

I have to do it—but I can’t!

I asked him if he had ever done cold-calling before. He said no. He said that he had talked to his boss, but his boss insisted that everyone had to do this at first and pointed to research that showed that for x number of calls there was always a certain percentage that would say yes, and that number was sufficient to make it worthwhile. His boss told him that he would get better as he did it and not to worry.

 I fail, again and again

This wasn’t the answer that my friend had been hoping for. He tried again, but he found that in fact, his anxiety was growing. He tried to relieve his anxiety by doing some physical exercise in between calls, jumping jacks or his treadmill or lifting weights. But instead of feeling more relaxed and gaining a sense of conquering his fears, he was becoming exhausted from all of his physical activity and his sense of failure was growing. He was even beginning to doubt his decision to leave his old job and its frustrations—at least it hadn’t involved calling strangers and stumbling over what he was selling. In the back of his mind he knew that it might be true that he would get better at it, but it was becoming more and more impossible for him to pick up the phone.

 What is success?

I asked him if he believed the research that his boss had quoted. He said, yes, he had heard it before and knew that it was pretty accurate. I thought a moment and then asked him “What would you consider to be a success in this beginning phase of your new job?” He frowned and thought about it for a minute. Finally he said in exasperation “I want someone to say yes!!!”

 Perspective kicks in

I looked at his tense features and heard the desperation in his voice. I then asked, “If you really believe the research numbers, then it;s a matter of re-defining ‘success’. What if you trust the numbers and decide that the same figures will work for you, too? You’ll get the same percentage of yeses if you put in the necessary number of calls. You could make a chart on the wall listing the number of calls you want to make your daily goal. Mark off each call, knowing that you’re on your way to make the numbers prove themselves. Success is now how many calls you make every day instead of how many prospects say ‘yes.’

 Wise use of your time…

Along the way, you’ll hear the questions you need to research. The time you spent before avoiding a task you see as unpleasant can now be used to build your knowledge of your product, confident that you are doing all that you can do in your new job.”

His eyes grew big. He was silent for a moment. Then his body seemed to relax a little and he started to smile. “I could do that. Yeah, I can see myself making calls if I’m not worrying about whether or not I will hear a ‘yes’, beating myself up and then jumping to my fears about what might happen in the future.”

 Has this ever happened to you? 

It certainly has happened to me, and not just once, but regrettably many times. We can worry so much about the outcome that we aren’t able to focus on being open and simply doing the work. I have to keep reminding myself that if I am clear in my heart about the direction I want to go and what I am wanting to do, I can become fully involved in the process and  let it feed me. I can use my energy on my work, planting seeds instead of continually pulling up the seed I am planting to see if it has grown any.  I also avoid hurting myself on the thorns….

 Let the results take care of themselves

My life just works better if I focus on the work I have chosen mindfully and let the end result take care of itself. If the results aren’t what I want, I know that I gave it all of my energy instead of spinning my wheels judging my performance as I go along and projecting my fears into the future. I can step back and look with an open heart at what is happening and then make the necessary changes. Without fear and self-limitation, my work can move forward with the proper course adjustments!

Have a heart-filled day!

Sherry Continue reading