Are you the sort of person who procrastinates the most on precisely the things you care about the most? Have you ever wondered why?
Let me suggest a hypothesis. I believe that this hypothesis was true for me back in the bad old days, when I procrastinated constantly.
I used to live according to some version of the following equation:
My worth as a human being is determined by my ability. My ability is shown through my performance or finished product. And other people’s judgment of my performance dictates its value.
That equation means that my worth as a human being is determined by other people’s judgment of my performance.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Now here’s the secret.
I can’t control other people’s judgment. Depending on what sort of a project I am working on, I may not even be able to control the quality. And the truth is, I can’t even control my own level of ability.
I can, however, control the amount of disciplined practice I put into improving my abilities. And I can certainly control the level of effort I put into my project.
So here’s why I used to put in less than maximum effort.
Because then, I had a built-in excuse.
If I didn’t put in maximum effort, then if the project failed, it was not a reflection on my actual ability. It just meant I didn’t try hard enough, but I could still tell myself I had the ability. And therefore, my self-worth wasn’t challenged. And of all the things I did, which did I tie most to my own self-worth? Of course, the things I cared most about!
What was my usual method of procrastination? Some version of fantasy. Because in fantasy there is no failure, so I could reap the psychological rewards of high performance and high self-worth, without taking the chance of getting my ego damaged. And I learned to prefer that place of fantasy to the real world of rejection and failure.
Of course this meant that the more important something was to me, the more I fantasized instead of working.
Working hard has always been easy for me. I just do it. There’s really not much I enjoy more than working, and almost anyone who knows me knows that. The problem for most of my life was that I only worked hard when I didn’t care that much.
Here’s how I ended procrastination. I broke that self-worth equation. And I didn’t break it with deep therapy, although perhaps that would have helped.
Instead, I just went directly for the solution. Now, when I have a goal, I celebrate each and every time I take the smallest step towards that goal. I celebrate every instance of effort as if I just won big in Vegas, or as if my favorite team just scored a touchdown in the super bowl.
These constant celebrations of small victories have transformed, on a brain chemistry level, my entire mindset about worth and value. I no longer care about my own or other people’s judgment of my performance. I no longer think that any specific project reflects my ability level. And I no longer think my abilities determine my worth as a person.
Now, I simply enjoy doing the work.
These changes did not happen because I figured out some secret from my past. I still have no idea where my old ideas about self-worth came from. And I do not care. The changes happened because I built, day-by-day and minute-by-minute, through ACTION, an entirely new value system.
And by the way, I never “believed” in the new value system. I never even thought of it as a value system until this very moment, as I write these sentences. I just took the action of celebrating small victories (because, in one of the oddest coincidences of all-time, I noticed that celebrating small victories worked for my clients who needed to reduce debt. I noticed that the best way to go about reducing debt was to pay off the credit card with the smallest balance, because that gave the client a small victory to celebrate. Applying this insight changed my entire life.)