We have an uncanny ability to find new and inventive ways to avoid taking action. Our moods can rob of us of motivation just when we especially need it to feel better. On the other hand, we also encounter avoidance when we’re content. For example, enjoying a beautiful sunny day too much to waste it cleaning out the garage.
Since March, life as we know it has been temporarily canceled. We may find ourselves unsubscribing from reminders of responsibilities that we previously placed so much importance on.
Do any of these statements sound familiar these days?
- I don’t feel like doing much.
- I’m finding it hard to get going.
- It’s hard for me to see things as important enough to attempt or complete.
Activity is an effective recovery tool for anxiety and depression.
Looking back, we won’t evaluate our life according to transient feelings and thoughts. We’ll consider what we wished we’d done, what we did for others, and how we made others feel. Yet, we place so much more importance on what we think and feel.
Thoughts and feelings are relevant concepts that unfortunately interfere with action, partly because we take thoughts and feelings so literally, allowing their words, pictures and stories to talk us out of being doers. One popular psychotherapy approach theorizes that if we decide to wait until we feel ready to act, we might end up waiting a long time or never take action at all.
Research indicates that activity is comparable with medication and therapy in its effectiveness in recovery from depression and anxiety. This includes even modest activity. However, too often we talk ourselves out of a short walk or abbreviated workout simply because we are (incorrectly) skeptical of its value.
Three primary strategies for taking action against procrastination
When it comes to taking action, let’s consider three primary strategies.
Visualization Strategy: Why am I doing this?
We can find apt illustrations of the visualization strategy all around us. An office employee who puts photos of family members on their desk. A cabbie who does the same on their dash or tucked into the sun visor. Service members who carry keepsakes into harm’s way. These visual reminders embolden perseverance and offer an answer to “why am I doing this again?”
Expanding on this concept, we can use any visual representation as a source of motivation and inspiration for doing even the most mundane tasks. This helps us compare what we do (or elect not to do) with what we value and stand for. It doesn’t guarantee success each time, but with sustained practice, it makes long-term success highly likely and sustainable.
Break tasks into tiny, manageable steps and celebrate each one.
Being too ambitious is another common culprit when we sit things out. James Clear’s book Atomic Habits is a manifesto that sings the praises of breaking any task down into tiny (atomic), manageable steps.
We want to be accomplished, and we want to do it fast. Achievement above all, and we expect immediacy with as little discomfort as possible. This doesn’t often work. Instead, consider cutting your task into tiny little pieces. The more difficult the goal, the more steps.
For instance, let’s consider getting out of bed when you feel that it is next to impossible. Hopefully, you have your something visible near your bed to remind you why you are getting up. Maybe the first step is to flex your toes in one foot. Next, bend your leg at the knee (you can break this movement down to if you need to). Finally, bend your elbow and find a suitable divot in the bedsheets. You get the idea.
The worst that can happen is that you don’t get as far as you wanted or expected. But that gives you some modicum of sensed achievement that we should celebrate. And, it helps you see where things broke down so you can troubleshoot future attempts. At least you started. You gave yourself a chance for favorable outcomes.
Commit only to starting.
Nothing happens without starting. It is all that we really must commit to. Consider finishing as secondary at this point.
Starting might mean…
- Leaning forward so that you have to start walking or risk falling flat on your face.
- Sitting on an exercise bike with no expectation of pedaling.
- Saying a single word as a means of starting a conversation. (If you start with a single word, you’ve already broken the seal, my friend. The person on the receiving end of that truncated sentence is going to want you to finish your thought!)
Just take it “one day at a time”. Or an hour at a time … or a minute at a time. Starting is that single first step then repeated over a thousand-mile journey.
A considerable chunk of the motivational speaking circuit and self-help publishing industry is devoted to how we can get things done. Getting out of our heads, not waiting for feeling prepared to take action, and the above three strategies are practical means of doing just that. Both now and when life as we need it reopens for business again.
And it will!
He has extensive experience working with teens, adults and families in outpatient mental health and inpatient psychiatric settings.
Because of his sensitivity to the possible apprehension involved with anything new or personal, Gordon places a particular emphasis on helping clients and families feel at ease from the very beginning. His relaxed approach is primarily informed by Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Motivational Interviewing, both evidence-based treatments. Gordon also is a certified alcohol and drug counselor.