Overcoming Procrastination Instantly Using Self Talk

18 replies
Changing how we talk to ourselves is the easiest and most powerful way to overcome procrastination. No other method that I know of disarms procrastination so rapidly and at such a fundamental level: that of our own thoughts.

The Voices In Our Heads
We're talking to ourselves all the time inside our minds. Even when you're not paying attention, these relentless mental debates deeply influence our feelings and, ultimately, our behavior.

The good news is that just becoming aware of such mental dialogues -- noticing patterns and turning them into productive statements -- is usually all you need to overcome many unwelcome feelings and behaviors.

Let's see how this can help us when it comes to procrastination.

The Procrastinator's Motto
Consider the following thought, which for sure has crossed our minds many times in the past:

"I have to finish this long, important project. It should already be done by now and I need to plow through it."

Now, tell me you don't have this thought sometimes. For me, no other passage embodies our procrastinator's mind so well: as we'll see, this small, seemingly innocent thought contains almost every mental block that encourages procrastination. That's why I like to call it the Procrastinator's Motto.

We all use the Procrastinator's Motto (or variations of it) every once in a while. If you're a chronic procrastinator, chances are you repeat it to yourself very frequently -- daily, perhaps.

But what's so wrong about the Procrastinator's Motto? In what ways do these words encourage procrastination so much -- and what can we do about it?

From Procrastinator to Producer: A Step-by-Step Self Talk Guide
To understand what's wrong with the Procrastinator's Motto, let's break it down in parts:

"(1) I have to (2) finish this (3) long, (4) important project. (5) It should already be done by now and (6) I need to plow through it."

Now let's consider each of these six parts in turn, replacing each of them with an empowering alternative. In doing that, we'll turn the original motto on its head and create a productive call to action: a "Producer's Motto", if you like.

1. I Have To → I Choose To
'I have to' is every procrastinator's favorite expression. It's also the most disempowering.

Every time you say to yourself that you have to do something, you imply that you don't have any choice. This choice of words implies that you feel forced or coerced to do the task -- that you don't really want to do it. That perception, of course, elicits a strong feeling of victimhood and resistance towards doing the task.

The solution to this problem is to replace 'I have to' with the immensely more empowering alternative 'I choose to'.

Everything you do is ultimately a choice (yes, even completing tax forms). Using language that expresses choice reminds you of that and brings the feeling of power back.

For an in-depth exploration about the 'I have to' expression, check this early article dedicated entirely to this matter.

2. Finish → Start
When you focus on finishing something, you direct your attention to a vague, highly idealized future. Visualizing a finished project is motivating for many people, but from the point of view of who's having a hard time starting a task, visualizing a hard-to-grasp future can be overwhelming -- even depressing at times.

The solution in this case, then, is not to focus on finishing, but on starting.

Forget for a minute about the finish line, just concentrate on taking the first step. Bring your focus from the future to what can be done right now. We all know that if you start something a large enough number of times, you'll eventually finish any task.

Starting -- all by itself -- is usually sufficient to build enough momentum to keep the ball rolling from then on. This is what Mark Forster calls the "I'll just get the file out" technique, and it definitely works.

3. Long Project → Short Task
Constantly reminding yourself how long and challenging the upcoming undertaking is only adds to the feeling of being overwhelmed, and thus of procrastination.

Any undertaking, no matter how daunting, can be broken down into small steps. The trick is to, on each step along the way, focus solely on the very next smallest, doable chunk of work. Ignore the big picture for a while and just tackle that next short task.

Make it in a way you can easily visualize the outcome coming about very soon. Don't write a book; write a page. If it still looks intimidating, you may try committing to a time box instead.

Of course, keep the big picture in mind, but use it for motivation and direction as needed, and not to frighten yourself before action.

4. Important Project → Imperfect Step
"This project has to impress everyone; I really can't blow this opportunity."

Placing such high hopes on a project only adds to anxiety and fear of failure. Perfectionism arises and only fuels procrastination even more.

The way to overcome this mental block is to simply give yourself permission to be human. Allow yourself to be imperfect just in this next small task.

Focus on giving an imperfect step; remember that you can always refine your work later. Better yet, make it in a way that you can't possibly fail.

If you're a serial perfectionist, go one step further and commit yourself to make a sloppy job on purpose, at least at first.

5. It Should Already Be Done by Now → I'll Feel Terrific
The expression 'should' is usually associated with blame and guilt. When you say you should be doing something (instead of what you're actually doing), you focus on comparing an ideal reality with your current, "bad" reality. You focus not on what is, but on what could have been. Misused 'shoulds' can elicit a strong message of failure, depression and regret.

The solution is to focus not on how bad you feel now, but on how good you'll feel after you take action. Yes, directed action -- even the tiniest of it -- towards a goal is the best motivator I know of. The trick is to bring that expected feeling of accomplishment into the present -- and know that the real joy of it is only a small task away.

6. Need to Plow Through → Have Plenty of Time for Play
"I've got to work all weekend". "I am trapped in this laborious project".

Long periods of isolation can bring an enormous feeling of resentment. This feeling generates a strong sense of deprivation and resistance towards the task.

The way to overcome this mental block is to not allow long stretches of work to creep in your activities. Schedule frequent breaks. Plan small rewards along the way. Have something to look forward to -- not far away at the end of a long stretch -- but in the very near feature. When rewards are small, frequent -- and deserved -- they work wonders.

Truly commit to leisure time. In fact, go ahead and make it mandatory. This "reverse-psychology" can by itself bring you to a whole different mindset, both more productive and enjoyable.

How Far Have We Come?
Time to check what we've accomplished with all the word substitutions. We started with:

"I have to finish this long, important project. It should already be done by now and I need to plow through it."

And ended up with:

"I choose to start this task with a small, imperfect step. I'll feel terrific and have plenty of time for play!"

Quite a change, eh?

Every time you catch yourself repeating the Procrastinator's Motto or any of its parts to yourself, stop and rephrase it. Then check how you feel.

While it may seem just a matter of word choices at first, when you try this simple way to reframe your thoughts, you'll see how instantly it changes your attitude towards working on your tasks. Moreover, if you turn it into a habit, you'll be slowly reprogramming your thoughts, leading to a positive, permanent change in your mindset.

Article from Litemind . com
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  • Profile picture of the author Tommy Perez
    In my opinion...self talk doesn't get rid of procrastination.

    Because procrastination usually stems from deeply rooted issues such as fear of failure or fear of success.

    And fear...is an irrational emotion that cannot be eliminated using just logical self talk.

    You need to actually have rock solid belief systems that tell you - that taking action is in fact EASY as opposed to being an obstacle.

    When that happens...self talk becomes unconscious and you can take action effortlessly - without it feeling like an enormous task that must be overcome.
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  • Profile picture of the author ryanbiddulph
    Self talk can kill procrastination in its tracks. It's true that you're not aware of some limiting beliefs causing procrastination but your desire to perform autosuggestion on a continual basis defeats these mind viruses.

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  • Profile picture of the author anwar001
    Superb and mind blowing. Really it makes such a huge difference in our feelings if we change our self talk.
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  • Profile picture of the author rcritchett
    Very NLP like.

    Great points though, this matters significantly. Interestingly enough, a good 95% of people never get attuned to their internal states and communication. In many cases, people don't even really listen to themselves compute data. That's very primitive to me.

    Additionally, changing the rate at which you speak, and even the tone in your internal dialog proves quite helpful.

    Ultimately, anything you do to alter the structure of your subjective experience is a good thing. The idea is definitely to get yourself to run successful patterns of thought as opposed to not.

    The Neuroscience behind it
    What's cool about changing patterns is that you're actually stopping deeply embedded brain circuits from activating, and you're creating new ones (neural pathways) when you redirect your mind from unmotivating, unresourceful nonsense to definitive, exciting tonality and clear and compelling messages.

    Cool post, it's good to see other people talking about this. It matters more than we think.

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    • Profile picture of the author Nick Garcia
      I've recently started paying attention to my thought patterns very closely. I was surprised to realize how chaotic and unfocused they were.

      After a bit of tuning things have become a lot more positive and fulfilling.

      I like this post, though. I feel I need to listen at a deeper level...beyond my thought patterns and down to the actual internal dialogue going on.

      Thanks for sharing this! rcritchett is right. This is far more important than most people think.

      Personally, I believe our thoughts have quite a massive effect on our actions and emotions.
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      • Profile picture of the author lilphilupt
        This is a excellent post. One thing that i think is that self talk will either benefit your mental or make it worst. thats why you should always promote positive self talk for yourself and never beat yourself up with negative self talk.
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        • Profile picture of the author hwtran
          Excellent post!

          I am a great believer in breaking down huge undertakings into small pieces. It can make just about anything "tackle-able." The self talk to go with it is important, too, as you point out. I'm going to put a copy of your post on my bulletin board over my workspace.
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  • Profile picture of the author Clara H
    Terrific post! Procrastination is something I can struggle terribly with, so I'm writing the improved phrase down.

    I've found that such affirmations do wonders. They may not neccasarily work at first, but if they have meaning to you and you keep repeating them to yourself, eventually your subconscious takes hold and you don't even have to consciously do it anymore. It becomes ingrained.

    I know this works... because I had very severe anxiety since 5 years old for the majority of my life (can't get more ingrained than that) and I was able to turn my thoughts completely around with such affirmations.

    Thanks again!
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  • Profile picture of the author PaulMark
    Good stuff!
    You should hear the "voices in my head"...

    Seriously though, really good article and thoughts.

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  • Profile picture of the author Stephen Dean
    Great post.

    I used to have pretty major bouts with procrastination that are mostly over at this point. I didn't use "self-talk" as you say, but I did use many of the concepts you mention in the sentence you broke down.

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  • Profile picture of the author hodari
    Just do something that moves you toward your goal. Even if it's a baby step. If you've been wanting to use fiverr to for something then just email the person running the gig and ask a question. That small step could lead to you getting the gig completed. And one more step closer to finishing that product.

    Procrastination is fear. Fear of success that is just waiting for you in the context of IM. You know what to do. Take a nibble out of the elephant and move on it. If you need a good book. Read Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy.
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  • Profile picture of the author JustinDupre
    You got many great points here. I agree with small steps or goals.. like the quote from confusion said ""A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step".
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    • Profile picture of the author idude
      Excellent post, I hope to use your wisdom and act upon it
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  • Profile picture of the author MexHilary
    Thank you Esquian. Your post brought me up sharply because I realized I'm sitting here at my computer procrastinating. I'm "researching" for information for the video I am about to make. The amount of time I waste is astounding and upsetting. In reading your post I realized I have a little voice in my head that is saying "It won't be good enough". Wow! I hadn't realized before that that is such a big stumbling block for me. Thanks for pushing me to do some inner searching.

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  • Profile picture of the author travlinguy
    It's interesting that very early in life many procrastinators have been criticized or chastised by parents or other authority figures for trying to accomplish something and failing. When the criticism becomes a pattern the individual often stops trying.

    The message to the subconscious is that trying stuff and failing brings the wrath of a parent or someone else, and from that point on they often stop trying all together.

    Working on self talk can be helpful with deeply rooted programming like this but more powerful methods are usually needed to overcome procrastination. Hypnosis is one of those methods.
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  • Profile picture of the author Seatbelt99
    Nice post! I just joined Warrior Forum today and this thread alone made my visit worth it!

    I'm the worst procrastinator so hopefully this will help!
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    • Profile picture of the author assertiveone
      Originally Posted by Seatbelt99 View Post

      Nice post! I just joined Warrior Forum today and this thread alone made my visit worth it!

      I'm the worst procrastinator so hopefully this will help!
      Welcome Seabelt99.I'm a terrible procrastinator too.
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  • Profile picture of the author TommyBenidict
    I think taking things step by step would be effective. Procrastinating comes when you have issues of anxiety, low sense of self-worth, and a self-defeating mentality. You really need to boost your self esteem and unleashing the power of your subconscious mind is the key to success.
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