If I've learned anything about procrastination from working with clients, it's that there is no limit to what one might procrastinate on, or for how long.
Most of my clients have sheepishly reported procrastinating on doing things that they actually want to do, things that are trivially easy, things that might have taken just an hour (or just 5 minutes) of deliberate effort. The procrastination can go on for days, weeks, months, and beyond.
But I have good news, too! The simplest escape hatch for an existing procrastination rut is to set a painfully tiny goal towards finishing (or starting) the task. For now, think small. Really, really small.
Willpower exists, but it's weaker than we'd like. If you're expecting your willpower to do the work towards a task that hasn't drawn you in naturally already, then acknowledge the reality of the situation by biting off something it can actually chew.
Painfully Tiny Goals: Costs vs. Benefits
If the goal isn't chunked down horrifyingly much, then it's probably still too big. Its tininess, then, is the cost of the painfully tiny goal - it feels embarrassing even to say out loud.
But the benefit of a painfully tiny goal is that it's actually doable, the only presently & meaningfully-doable option (or you would have been doing it already). Thus, the benefit of a painfully tiny goal - actual action! - is often worth the cringey cost.
Examples of Painfully Tiny Goals
- a writer (who hasn't actually been writing) sits in front of the word processor for just 15 minutes per day
- a software guy who needs to write a design document commits to producing just one sentence per day
- a smartphone addict defers notification-checking for 1 hour upon waking each day
- a YouTube-browser/Twitterholic reads a dead tree book for half an hour once per week
Here's the catch - if you set a painfully tiny goal and comply with it, you must then give yourself a sincere pat on the back! No residual self-criticism allowed.
The painfully tiny goal may become bigger in time, and that's part of the point. But for right now you need to break the cycle of shame, using minimum viable willpower plus a dose of psychological reward.
If you withhold the reward from yourself, you run the risk of feeling even worse for having tackled the goal rather than continuing to avoid it - the exact opposite of what we want!
Pamela J. Hobart - Philosophical Life Coaching Newsletter
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