How do you motivate yourself to do the work? Do you wait for inspiration to strike, or are you a master of discipline and consistently show up on schedule?
I had a transformative experience many years ago, that changed the way I approach work (and procrastination*).
When I was at university, a long while ago, I loved some lectures much more than others. Some subjects (like social psychology and linguistics) were a joy to learn and absorb, whereas others (largely dependent on professors’ delivery) were more of a drag.
I’m sure we all feel this way about aspects of our work too.
But things that aren’t so compelling often still need to 'get done’. So how do we motivate ourselves to show up regardless of how we feel in a particular moment?
I found that it comes down to the skills of self-regulation and emotional control. Which means being able to recognise and soothe emotional discomfort, so that we can act in our long-term interest, not out of instinctual impulses. It’s a vital piece of emotional intelligence, to be able to manage our emotions, and hugely important in order to be productive in the face of obstacles.
Coming back to my university years… When studying for exams, I would often procrastinate by doing "useful" things... tidy and clean my desk to near immaculate standard, sometimes my whole room, before I could even think of starting to study.
Outer order, inner calm - as the title of a book says - is a good thing. Unless it’s used to procrastinate, taking us away from impactful work we're meant to do.
After tidying up my space, I’d go and prepare a whole host of (healthy!) snacks to have to hand - so I wouldn’t have to interrupt my studying, you see. All perfectly reasonable.
Only that it was a massive delay mechanism to actually starting what I meant to do (study) - which required effort and thus presented some discomfort.
But that all changed once I learned to meditate. After practising twice daily for about a month, the difference was profound.
The surprising part was - it just kind of sneaked up on me. I didn't expect it to have such a profound effect.
So, what was different?
I would find myself starting to study with no delay at all, sticking to my plan, and would stay focused for hours, much longer than before. At the same time, I didn’t feel the need for any snacks. (Looks like they were indeed a distraction)
There simply wasn't any mind chatter that would distract me from task at hand.
I’d love to say that I was always super disciplined, but that’s just not true. Because schoolwork came easy to me, it allowed me to postpone studying to the last minute, and develop a bad habit of procrastination as a result.
I was stunned to notice how a few weeks of regular meditation changed this for me.
I did 20 minutes twice a day which now seems like A LOT but... I got work done in probably half the time, and I was able to spend the rest of it enjoying my life.
To this day, meditation is one of the best tools I found to help me be calmly focused, productive and emotionally balanced.
How about you?
Have you noticed that the more you "practise" the habit of procrastination (yes, things are practised unintentionally too), the harder it gets to just begin and be productive?
Do you have a practice like meditation to strengthen focus and your ability to do what you set yourself?
Let me know.
Wishing you wellness (and calm focus),
*Scientifically speaking, procrastination is a result of a weak skill of 'task initiation' which is one of the executive functions (EFs) of our brain. EFs can be strengthened or weakened through our repeat behaviour, and meditation has been shown to strengthen all the EFs, including emotional control and task initiation which both play a part in procrastination and motivation.