I’ve been in a rut recently, constantly being distracted and procrastinating. Then I remembered an article I’ve read before on how to avoid procrastination.
All I needed to do was to make it easy.
Whenever we set out something to do, we always put a high ceiling on the end product. Our to-do lists might be something like writing out an essay, finish this assignment, study this topic. But there’s an alternative, healthier and more productive way to do it. Instead of saying that you will finish an essay, tell yourself that you are going to write a sentence. Instead of saying study a topic, tell yourself to sit down and open your notes.
When you set a high bar, you constantly doubt if you can complete the task. You feel the resistance before even starting, thinking the task is hard. What you can do is to make a task so easy that you can’t say no.
We procrastinate from doing stuff because we feel that we can’t accomplish it. We often have a perfectionist in us who tells us that the task that we are about to do is a tough one. Perfection is the enemy of progress. To shut that voice out, all you have to do is to start with something easy.
Whenever we tell ourselves to do something so easy, it gets much easier for us to be in flow and get started. Once we’ve overcome the activation energy, it gets much easier. One sentence eventually leads to an article. Walking eventually leads to a run. One push up leads to twenty.
Instead of looking for motivation to start something, you should start with action so small that you can’t say no. From the book The Motivation Myth by Jeff Haden,
There is only 1 recipe for gaining motivation – SUCCESS. Specifically, the dopamine hit we get when we observe ourselves making progress.
Motivation doesn’t lead to action. We should start with an (easy) action, which leads to success, and generates motivation. Motivation then generates more action, and this cycle repeats itself to motivate us.
Start out with something simple like to write a sentence. When you finally write that sentence, you’ll feel a dopamine hit from feeling accomplished, and that dopamine hit can further propel you towards completing your goals. You need to start doing something, even if what you are doing is small. Once you’ve started, you will be in a state of flow and peak performance.
All you need to do is to overcome the activation energy needed to start. Whenever I want to do push-ups, I just tell myself that I’m going to do just one push-up, but I always end up doing so much more. If I instead tell myself that I’m going to do 30 push-ups, there’s a mental block inside of me that puts me off actually doing it.
You can use something similar to stop bad habits too. If you have trouble getting off your bed in the morning, trick your brain and say that you just need to stand up. If you’re on a distracted loop on social media, just tell yourself to close the app.
I used this technique to write this, and I just told myself to write a sentence. Without realising, I’ve written more from just telling myself to write a sentence than, I did the whole day when I set a goal to write my first newsletter today. The whole thing was initially just off a sentence “make it so easy that you can’t say no”, and from there, ideas started flowing in.
Ask yourself, what is the easiest step I can take to finishing this task, and trust that the momentum will bring you further along. What is so easy that you can’t say no?
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