As the new year draws close many of us start to reflect on our accomplishments, our lives so I thought it might be a great time to review the way we set up goals and how we follow up with them. Did we do what we set up to do this year? Did we accomplish the resolutions we thought of at the beginning of the year? Generally, we start off with the best of intentions but then somewhere along the way, we start pushing them further down the line or we just end up dropping them.
With this post, I want to invite you to think about the reasons why you procrastinate or abandon the goals that you set for yourself. I want to help you create awareness of your feelings, your thoughts and your behaviour so that when it comes to goals and resolutions you are able to accomplish them, or at least to be aware of the reasons why you didn’t.
Let’s start with the difference between a goal and a desire. “I want to buy a house this year” is a desire. “I want to earn more money” is a desire. A desire is a wish, a dream that we are very happy when/if it comes true, it does not imply an action will be taken nor that we have the intent of making it happen. A goal, on the other hand, has a set of steps, a completion path, a timeframe “I am paying a lot more of my mortgage now because I want to be debt-free by the time I am 45”; “I just registered to take classes in the evening because I want to finish my degree this year”. There are many types of goals. I would always recommend to make it a SMART (i.e. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-based) goal, which you probably heard of somewhere.
“A dream without a plan is a wish.” Antoine Saint-Exupéry
We all procrastinate. For one reason or another one, we tend to leave for tomorrow what we can do today. The following generally covers most of the reasons why we do it. Where do you fit? Keep in mind that every situation is different and you might experience all three depending on the circumstances.
- Decisional: We are procrastinating because we made a decision that we don’t really agree with. We really don’t want to do what we are set up to do. We are doing it because we believe we have no choice. We have placed ourselves in a situation where we said “yes” when in fact we wanted to say “no”. Ask yourself: “Who am I helping by doing this?”, “Why do I feel the need to please this person/situation?”, “What is not fair about this situation?”, “What am I getting out of this? And is it a legitimate win or a stroke to my ego?”
- Arousal: We procrastinate because we become motivated when we are pressed by a deadline or an external motivator. We become more energized, creative and effective when we are in these situations. When the deadline approaches we are able to focus, get organized and everything seems to flow and fall into place very nicely. If this works for you, that is great. However, be careful. Sometimes this can usher you into the ‘perfect storm’ for depression, anxiety, stress and burn out. When you have too many things pile up all at once, you might find yourself physically and emotionally drained. If this is what happens to you most often, then it might be time to abandon this practice and reframe your creativity.
- Self-esteem: Sometimes, our reason to procrastinate lays in our core beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. No matter what our goal is, we as human beings have the tendency to throw everything against our self-worth muscle. Sometimes we are aware of that and sometimes we are not. It is like a knee-jerk reaction, and the feedback we get from that examination might lead to success or to procrastination and self-defeat. For example, if we don’t really believe we deserve what we can get from this goal or task, we are very likely to procrastinate or to abandon the task altogether. If we suffer from impostor syndrome, we are very likely to feel shame or embarrassment if we do accomplish the goal and so we procrastinate as a way of self-sabotaging ourselves. Some people are as afraid of succeeding as they are of failing. Our ANTs (see this post for more info) tell us that we are not good enough or that we are aiming too high and we ignore all the evidence that points to our capacity and our ability to accomplish it.
As you read those, you probably remembered situations in which you were stuck, paralyzed; great, now you can use that understanding as another step towards self-awareness. As I said earlier, the goal of this post is to create awareness of what we do, think and feel. With awareness comes the potential to grow the capacity to make decisions and set goals that are appropriate and healthy. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself next time you feel stuck.
- What emotions motivate me to take action? (i.e. fear, inadequacy, curiosity, frustration, tiredness, anger, confidence, rebellion, judgment, happiness, sadness, etc?
- What emotions hold me back from taking action? (i.e. fear, inadequacy, frustration, tiredness, anger, lack of confidence, self-judgement, disgust, etc.)
- What thoughts go through my mind when I am deciding whether to act or to hold back? What is/are the disempowering thoughts or states of mind I experience?
- What are the limiting beliefs I have about myself or the problem? (i.e. “I am too old for this”, “I am not smart enough”, “It is not meant to be for me”, “I am not the ‘right’ race/height/gender”, etc.)
“ We are driven more by our beliefs than by our desires”
This new year please remember that the solution to almost every problem in our life can be found within the context of self-awareness; self-awareness of your beliefs, your intentions, your emotions, your thoughts, your fears, your reasons for action and your reasons for not taking action.