You Can Never Cross the Ocean Unless You have the Courage to Lose Sight of the Shore.” – André Gide.
Procrastination and fear of failure can form a vicious cycle fueled by self-limiting beliefs perpetuated by self-interrupting behaviors.
This spiraling cycle of negative feelings and time-wasting are arguably the single greatest obstacle that stands between us and building the quality of life we want and deserve. Not to mention building highly profitable businesses as life coaches and fitness professionals.
Team JSE: Are you ready to start putting procrastination and fear of failure into permanent reverse?
In this post, I’m going to share a powerful strategy that enables you to actually become highly productive by using procrastination and self-limiting beliefs against themselves!
So what’s the first step?
Well, before we change our behavior we have to change how we think about ourselves and the behavioral choices we make.
For example, it’s always a great idea when procrastinating, to think about the positive benefits of completing our actual work. For example, how will we feel when we’ve finished this high-value task or project?
Imagine the feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction. How will your sense of accomplishment-impact your mood and your interaction with the people you most care about?
We must also change the way we think about our potential for actually building a life of fulfillment, abundance and our ability to really give back to others in a way that makes a serious positive impact on the people we love the most, our communities and even the world around us.
Another great motivation building exercise is to think of the negative consequences and pain that might result if we just let procrastination rule over us. What will it look and feel like to fail? What painful emotions will arise and how will those negative emotions impact how we interact with those around us?
Think of the pain points that will result from excessive procrastination is what’s called creating a “burning platform for change” in the personal and organizational change management literature.
So, on the one hand, you have the positive visualization, of how great it will look and feel to turn your procrastination into high level, sustained productivity. And on the other hand, you have the visualization that your worst procrastination state is actually built on a metaphorical burning platform of the future pain points it’s going to generate.
The mindless activities we do during high stakes procrastination over short time “comfort” and “emotional soothing” but at the cost of losing out on the huge longer term benefits and payoffs of following through with action steps to accomplish our goals.
So what stops so many of us from making that short jump from procrastination’s burning platform of anticipated pain, frustration, and feelings of failure, over to the high productivity platform that leads to energizing and deeply gratifying sense of accomplishment and personal effectiveness?
That same positive feelings and energy that grow highly profitable business, and fuel highly effective leadership and deeply rewarding personal relationships?
It’s not just excessive email checking and mindless social media and web surfing and movie watching. There still a deeper level that needs work. You also need to:
Turn Self-Limiting-Beliefs into “Un-Self-limiting” Beliefs!
One of the biggest reasons we procrastinate and experience failure in life and in business is because it’s so easy to hide behind excuses instead of doing the work we need to be doing.
We place substantial barriers between ourselves and the full realization of our most important goals when we chose to think thoughts like:
“I’ll never be able to do this.”
“I’m not smart enough.”
“I don’t have the money right now.”
“I already have too many responsibilities with work and family.”
These kinds limiting beliefs can seem so “comfortable” emotionally. They also appear to provide a quick escape route from entrance to your zone of discomfort. But in reality, they do nothing more than hold us back from building the kind of life we really want for ourselves and the people we care about most!
What we need to do instead is develop the kind of attitudes and beliefs that empower us to directly face and overcome the inevitable challenges and failures (better known as opportunities) that enable us to enjoy real and repeated success in life.
The truth is self-limiting beliefs and excuses only offer us false emotional comfort. They’re also the primary building blocks that your so-called “comfort zone” is made out of.
Now when it comes to procrastination, take a moment to really focus in on the emotions that sustain your comfort zone. Better yet, let’s call it your procrastination zone.
The negative feelings that fuel your procrastination zone are usually not all that comfortable right?
When you chose to live in the illusion of your procrastination-zone, you’re actually trading- long term, gain, growth, happiness, wellbeing and yes, wealth creation for mindless self-interruption.
The most successful people know the incredible power of jumping right into their “discomfort zone” and staying there when it’s time to get things done.
One the greatest blessings we have is freedom of choice.
When it comes to doing what you know is right, when it comes to setting and taking concrete action towards achieving goals that will benefit and positively enhance your life and the lives of those around you and beyond, you need to keep move forward and to the very best of your ability.
And what’s one of the simplest, fastest and most powerful ways to overcome excuses and limiting beliefs?
Simple! Just like you need to with procrastination, turn those self-limiting beliefs inside out! Your behavior will follow!
As the world’s leading cognitive-behavioral coaches will tell you, in most cases, positive, healthy thoughts, lead to more and better positive, healthy thoughts.
Positive thoughts in turn (especially when their “action-biased”) lead to positive, healthy behaviors that eventually become habits. And the incredible results these habits earn you, actually reinforce more, and increasing positive thinking and behavior. This is a big part of what I mean by turning the fear of failure/procrastination cycle inside out!
Thinking and feeling more positively about yourself also frees up your cognitive resources and accelerate your learning and professional effectiveness.
Not only that but the positive success flow you build for yourself can then be shared with others. Your positive thinking and behaviors become contagious, attracting more paying clients.
That said, it’s time for you to start turning your self-limiting beliefs into “un-self-limiting beliefs”!
Instead of saying or thinking: “I can’t do this.” Chose to say or think: “I can definitely do this!” and “Let me brainstorm an action plan to get my creative juices flowing.”
Instead of saying or thinking: “I already have too many responsibilities.” Choose to think or say or think: “Accomplishing this goal is going to require some prioritizing. What specific action steps and learning do I need to do to get this done?”
“What kind of conversation do I need to have my partner to negotiate roles, to ensure this process meets more of their needs and creates shared buy-in through a co-created win-win situation?”
And one of the most powerful un-self-limiting beliefs of all time is to know that:
“Failure is Actually One of The Most Valuable Opportunities for Learning and Continuous Improvement! “
Did you know that after outright success, failure is actually your most critical success factor?
There’s no question that failure can be incredibly painful emotionally.
The truth is: failure offers us one of the most powerful and valuable learning and improvement opportunities there is in life.
But, if left unchecked, the profound sense of frustration, even feelings of hurt and even reactive anger failure can generate, often become a fertile breeding ground for self-limiting beliefs and excuses.
And these kinds of negative thoughts and feelings can dominate the cognitive resources that you need to get and stay focused on solution-focused problem-solving, strategic thinking and at times even, vision and goal reassessment.
Not only that but behaviorally, when the pain of failure pops up, it can be so easy just to jump right into our “procrastination-zones.”
The key here is to acknowledge the pain and stinging feeling of failure. But don’t linger in that pain. Use it as a “signal” or trigger to spark your positive thinking and appraisal process, we talked about earlier.
Start carefully focusing on, identifying and positively re-labeling the automatic negative thoughts that immediately follow failure.
Next, take a sheet of paper and fold it down the middle. Write “Self-Limiting Beliefs” on the top left-hand side of the page and “Un-Self-Limiting-Beliefs” on the top right-hand side of the page.
Carefully monitor your self-talk, as you think about the most difficult and challenging parts of that particular failure experience.
Tip: Do your vision, goal setting and self-limiting belief work with an expert results coach in your niche or industry. This is someone who’s specially trained to hear and quickly label the self-limiting beliefs, that we may not be hearing properly due to the negative feelings we’re working through at the same time.
What self-limiting beliefs are you hearing in your negative self-talk or negative thinking? Listen for specific sentences, or come up with new sentences that clearly and directly expresses that self-limiting belief.
What negative feelings are you having about that self-limiting belief (jot down your top 1-3 negative emotions – i.e. frustration, anxiety, sadness) right after each self-limiting belief sentence (in the left-hand column of your sheet).
Many find it helpful to quickly process and release negative, toxic emotions by writing them down in a journal. For example, take a fresh piece of paper (or open a new MSWord doc). At the top of the page start by writing down the strongest self-limiting belief you’ve identified, along with the top 1-3 negative emotions that go with it.
Next, free-write anything that comes to mind about those feelings about the self-limiting-belief it goes with.
After clearly identifying, labeling and deeply processing these negative emotions through “journaling” them, you can then literally rip up those toxic emotions (i.e. the sheet of paper you write on) and throw them in the garbage.
Repeat this emotional journaling process for the top 3 negative feelings for each of the fundamental self-limiting beliefs.
Next, go back to your list of clearly stated self-limiting belief sentences. Now one by one, take the time to craft the most positive self-un-limiting belief sentence for each of them.
Keep your self-un-limiting sentences, short and right to the point. Stay realistic but balance that with a positive growth mindset and embrace the idea of creating stretch goals for yourself.
For example, don’t be afraid to target building a 6 figure salary over the next 1 to 2 years. There are proven strategies, tools, and tactics that make such a goal very realistic with the right mindset, effort, and investment.
Eventually, like learning a new dance step, or learning to ride a bicycle, you don’t need the training wheels of a journal after a while. With practice, positive action-biased thinking gets built right into how your brain works.
What’s really neat is that the brain biology (the hardware) that your negative thinking and self-limiting beliefs run on, actually gets re-allocated to your new positive thought process, or even just dies out altogether, by the brain’s natural weeding and gardening processes.
Why? Because the brain actually stops “feeding” sugar, oxygen and other chemicals to the neural networks that underlie the negative thinking and emotional processes. Instead, it starts building and feeding the new positive thought process and self-un-limiting belief structures – the action-biased success mindset your building.
And this, of course, is where your personal vision and advanced goal setting processes get plugged in.
You may want to revisit your vision statement and smart goals to see if there are any strategic changes you need to make or new action plans to implement based what you’ve learned from the failure you experienced.
For example, what were the most valuable new lessons you learned from that last failure?
What specific behaviors and actions do you need to start doing, continue doing or even stop doing altogether to turn this failure into even greater success than you first imagined?
And so often in the most successful businesses, the real gift of failure can be the lesson that we need to completely change the core business vision, strategy and value proposition we first set out to deliver.
For example, if you’ve failed at building a truly successful and rewarding personal coaching or fitness training business in the real world, maybe it’s time to learn and implement some of the most powerful and efficient digital marketing and business development strategies practiced by the world’s highest paid online life coaches and fitness experts.
Remember, it’s not a particular business model or strategy that defines our professional identities. It’s the core reasons we chose to pursue those business goals in the first place; namely enriching our lives through genuinely serving and enriching the lives of others by doing what we love most and what we’re really, excellent at.
So even if you completely change business models, rebrand yourself as say a Certified Wellness Coach, or add State of the Art Ropes Training Expert Credentials to your world class certified personal training credentials, as long as you’re following your bliss and actually helping others, you know you’re on the right track!
But Procrastination busting is not just about building a success mindset and embracing the lessons of failure. So far we’ve talked about thinking, feeling and planning. But this last step “doing” is arguably the most important step of all!
Because there’s a huge behavioral and environmental re-design component to actually drive your day to day work performance and goal accomplishment. For example, did you know that when it comes to becoming super productive:
There’s No Such Thing as Multi-Tasking (So Stop Trying to Do it!).
According to the latest research, the world “multi-tasking” is actually an oxymoron (i.e. it doesn’t really exist). Why?
Well, for the vast majority of human beings, it’s not really possible to do more than one thing at a time ( Mystic Sages and Ancient Rabbis who could do this aside).
When we do try to multitask, what we’re actually doing is alternating between separate tasks. Or, put another way, we’re using our own tasks to interrupt our workflow.
And that fragments our concentration and destroys our task-effectiveness. The resulting failure at meeting our daily goals may also be one of the fastest routes into the “procrastination-zone.”
When we constantly interrupt ourselves like that, the interruption process actually fatigues and overtaxes our brains by burning up so much of the sugar and oxygen we need to really be effective at each task individually.
And that brain-fatigue can make us feel physically exhausted, cause us to drink way too much coffee and even eat more (i.e. doughnuts lol) than we should.
Not only that but if we don’t actually let our brains recover through proper rest, the extra caffeine and snacking won’t have any positive benefits.
And research shows that it usually takes almost 25 minutes after an interruption for the average person to get back on task. And people typically do two other tasks before getting back to their work.
And when you interrupt your state of flow by doing things like checking your emails or social media, and you see or read something you really like every once in a while, that short, periodic or random burst of enjoyment can actually “reinforce” or strengthen what behavioral scientists call “self-interrupting behavior.” And that can be some of the hardest behavior to correct.
But this same behavioral science research may also offer the single most powerful tip for transforming severe procrastination in high-performance workflow!
To put it simply: If you really want to end procrastination, you need to:
The title of this post is “how to overcome procrastination and fear of failure.” And that headline choice was no accident.
As mentioned earlier, procrastination and fear of failure often form a vicious, self-reinforcing cycle. This cycle can then lead to feelings of failure, sadness, and anxiety about not getting your most important work done.
Those negative emotions, in turn, can cause more “action-paralysis” for your MITs (most important tasks).
The short term emotional payoffs from your self-interrupting behaviors, like excessive email checking, mindless social media and internet surfing, can then become powerful enticements to step into or just stay inside your procrastination-zone.
And of course, this comes at the expense of the long-term high-value gains of actually achieving your goals through doing your MITs when they need to be done most.
So how do you put a stop to this kind of procrastination risk?
As hinted at earlier, the science of positive reinforcement, the same science that explains self-interrupting behavior so well, also holds the key to actually building your highest levels sustained performance and focused attention.
Which also means the highly productive behaviors you build will also become the most difficult kind to break!
And what about the negative emotional part of procrastination that so many leading procrastination experts are talking about these days?
Well, it’s not only about journaling your toxic feelings to process and release them. Just changing your behavior, starting with positive behavioral choices can have an incredibly positive impact on how we feel!
In fact, it’s this same science of positive reinforcement that’s at the root of a relatively new form of behavioral therapy that’s actually more effective than medication or cognitive behavior therapy for treating clinical depression!
This positive reinforcement therapy for clinical depression gradually increases the number of healthy behaviors a depressed person does throughout the day by ensuring those behaviors are swiftly and efficiently reinforced.
After starting with a few simple behaviors each day that can be done in just minutes, more and more behaviors are gradually added to the person’s routine, for increasing periods of time. Difficulty levels are increased slowly over time as well.
And as the depressed person enjoys more and more success and positive reinforcement, their mood begins to improve drastically over time.
The small behavioral wins, effectively reinforced, create what’s called “positive behavioral momentum.” This is a kind of positive behavioral snowballing effect that can then be harnessed to help the formerly depressed person have a healthy happy life again.
Not only that but the same behavioral analytic therapy principles are applied in the treatment of autism with many autistic children actually learning their way off the autism spectrum altogether!
The behavioral science of positive reinforcement is one of the most powerful technologies we have for not only changing behavior but changing the brain structures and process that support those new positive behaviors. And procrastination is no exception here!
So how do you use the science of positive reinforcement to overcome procrastination?
There’s actually a three part answer to this question. First, you want to very clearly:
Behaviorally Define and Single Task Your MITs
Start by identifying, and prioritizing your one to three top most important tasks (MITS) at the beginning of each day for each work week. Use an app like AnyDo to actually schedule them one at a time into the very first part of your day.
Why the beginning of the day? Well, if you’re getting a great night’s sleep most nights like you’re supposed to, the morning is the time when your mind is the sharpest and clearest.
And that means more concentration and creativity for your MITs. It also means more brain plasticity so that this positive reinforcement strategy I’m about to share with you optimally supports the brain-based changes to boost your new high-productivity and sustained success-flow habits.
Next, clearly define your MIT’s in “observable” behavior terms or language.
For example, so you want to reap the incredible benefits of effective business blogging.
You’re identifying blog writing as a top MIT because you know that publishing 4 or more quality blog posts a week has been proven to get you 450% more business leads compared to those who post less often. You also know that combining high-quality blogging with effective email marketing leads to a 200% jump in targeted traffic compared to just blogging alone (stats source: hubspot.com marketing stats).
If your goal is to add fresh content to your blog 4 days a week, then actually sitting down and writing or typing 1000 words in 90 minutes at a set time each day is a much more efficient way of behaviorally re-framing your blogging goal in specific, measurable behavioral terms.
This way you know if you reached your goal or not. You can then fine tune each MIT based on the main performance indicators you’ve set up for them.
Defining your MITs based on measurable results allows you to evaluate your performance levels by asking important questions like:
- What percentage of my goal did I actually accomplish today?
- What specific behaviors do I need to start doing, stop doing or start doing more of, to achieve 100% of my daily MIT?
- Do I need to prioritize learning individual skills before I can actually move forward with this MIT?
- If I’m having difficulties with this goal or don’t feel passionate about achieving it, is it a task I can outsource or delegate?
- Where there any distractions in my environment that interfered with my working as effectively and efficiently as possible? If so:
- How can I re-design or change my work environment to minimize or eliminate those distractions?
And back to the example MIT of blog post writing each day:
Say you find out that you can actually write a good 1000 words in just an hour, you might want to change your goal to completing the rough draft of 1 long form blog post during each 90 writing session. This is because the average world length of a piece of content of Google page one is around 1800 words.
You could then do revisions the next day so that you’re writing 3 solid long-form blog posts per week!
MIT’s are usually action steps you’ve identified in the goal setting part of your business or personal visioning process.
And having your own highly experienced coach or mentor is such an important part of crafting a highly effective vision statement and for advanced goal setting to make that vision a reality.
The world’s top life, wellness and fitness coaches all work with top coaches themselves (usually more than just one as their careers and incomes grow). Working with a highly experienced top earning coach or mentor is arguably the single most important factor in becoming a high-earning life coach or fitness professional yourself.
Ok, so you’ve got an excellent vision statement and goals set up. But how do you actually get out of your procrastination-zone when you really need to? Simple. Learn to…
Use Procrastination Against Itself:
This is where the science of positive reinforcement really comes into play. Only, your goal here is to build high levels of success by accomplishing your MITs each day and to crush your self-interrupting behaviors in the process.
So how do you actually use procrastination against itself?
Simple: divert the positive reinforcement activities that fuel your self-interrupting and procrastination behaviors and use that motivating reinforcement to become super efficient and focused on your core MITs
A fast and easy way to do this by making a top 10 list of activates that you really love to do: like going on social media (mindlessly), listening to music, playing video games and online shopping, even enjoying healthy, delicious snacks.
If you love exercising or going for a walk, while listening to music or your favorite audio book- even better!
Next, break your most hard to get started MIT’s down into ridiculously short time chunks that you know you can achieve, even if it’s as short as only 5 or 10 minutes at first.
Let’s go back to our business blogging example from earlier. Ask some of the world’s most successful bloggers and professional writers what their biggest challenge is to constantly churning out great content, and they’ll often tell you it’s just getting started!
So if you’re facing the same challenge (getting started) with your blogging, and your MIT is actually 2 hours of blog writing each day, start with just 5-10 minutes of writing at a time.
Then, when you’ve finished writing for 5-10 minutes, select one of your topmost enjoyable activities from your top ten list of positive reinforcers, and do that rewarding activity (say mindless social media surfing) for a timed ten minutes right after you finish your ten minutes of writing.
Use Positive Reinforcement at the Best Possible Times
Notice how I said do one of your top ten most enjoyable activities “right after you finish your 5-10 minutes of writing”?
Well, it turns out that when it comes to creating new behavior patterns, positive reinforcement becomes less and less effective at changing your brain and behavior, the more you delay it’s delivery over time. For most new behaviors, the best time to reinforce it is within just a few seconds of finishing the new behavior.
Then, the more deeply the new behavior pattern gets built into your brain, the more effective delayed and intermittent positive reinforcement become at sustaining that behavior. That’s what makes self-interrupting behaviors so challenging for most people to change.
The key here is to plug that “hard to change” factor into your MIT behaviors.
As time goes on you, want to gradually increase the time you spend doing your MIT, while at the same time reducing the time you spend in positive reinforcement (i.e. doing one of your top 10 fun tasks).
But remember always to schedule reinforcing (including relaxing) breaks into your work day. A good rule of thumb is to take a 5-10 minute break or so every 25 to 50 minutes you spend working on your MITs.
In my view, it’s actually the effective use of positive reinforcement that makes the so-called Pomodoro Technique useful for so many people. In fact, the strategy I’m advocating here can actually be used to put the Pomodoro technique on Steroids!
You can use this free Tomato Timer App to actually structure and implement the positive reinforcement strategy I’m recommending here. But you need to use the timer in a slightly unconventional way. Here’s how:
First, instead of using the 25 minutes timer for MITs you have trouble starting and sticking to, start with the 5 or 10-minute “break button,” but actually use it as your MIT work time.
A five minute work time, is only recommended for those really, really hard to start tasks, like when you have “writer’s block.” Starting your first work session or 2 with 5 minutes work periods is also recommended if you’re really stuck in your procrastination zone.
Then when the timer goes off set it again for 5 or 10 minutes for a quick fun break by selecting and doing one of your desired activates from your top 10 list. When the timer goes off again, get right back to your MIT within a few seconds max.
Rewarding MIT work with with the very activities you usually procrastinate with (i.e. from your top 10 rewards list),
As your comfort level increase with the MIT, increase the time you spend doing it. For example, if you were working on a really tough MIT for 5 minutes and start feeling comfortable, after some short work + reward chunks, increase to 10 minutes on your MIT followed by a 10-minute reward break.
Starting to feel comfortable with small increases in on-task behavior and sustained attention for challenging MITs means your brain is starting to make changes based on all the effort your making and especially because of your effective use of positive reinforcement.
And your increasing productivity is starting to make you feel great as well emotionally.
Your procrastination and fear of failure are now being replaced with increasing MIT effectiveness and the positive feelings and success that will bring!
Remember your discomfort zone is where your best work and deepest learning gets done. And you want “optimal discomfort” not torture!
But don’t get too comfortable either when it’s MIT time. You need to find the MIT porridge that’s “just right” to quote a famous fairy tale.
As you do begin to feel more comfortable with 10 minutes on your MIT, then you know it’s time to notch it up to 25 minutes followed by a 10-minute break, as per the Pomodoro technique proper.
But keep your positive reinforcement top 10 list close by for your breaks. Make sure to updated it and rearrange it based on what’s most reinforcing for you.
Also, it’s a good idea to add relaxation practice and fun, light exercise into your breaks as the day progresses. Don’t forget to add frequent small healthy food breaks, and plenty of hydration to your work schedule as well.