For most of us, decisions big and small are only made after an obligatory round of mental turmoil: one side of your head saying, ‘sounds good’ while the other one paints images of doom, embarrassment and failure.
Listen too long to the second voice, and you’ll be plagued by indecision. Nothing will get done. You’ll be the king of procrastination.
The internet is awash with ways to overcome procrastination, from the pleasantly simple break the task down into smaller steps, to the slightly more left field. One that arguably falls into the latter camp has been dubbed temptation bundling – you’re only allowed to do the thing you want to do while you’re simultaneously doing the thing you don’t want to do.
It’s the brainchild of a professor at Wharton School in Pennsylvania who only allowed herself to read The Hunger Games while she was working out at the gym. It could be used along the lines of ‘I can only listen to my new CD if I paint the kitchen at the same time’, or ‘I can only watch Game of Thrones if I do it while ironing.’
One tip we definitely like the sound of is espoused by time management coach Dr Jan Yager. She claims that 10 minutes is all you need to beat many forms of procrastination. Simply put aside 10 minutes to start working on your problem and, she says, that’s often enough to get the ball rolling.
But is it that simple? To help, we asked four experts in different fields for their top tips.
You want a promotion
Your self-doubt says ‘Don’t get too big for your boots! Keep your head down and the bosses will spot you if they think you’re ready.’
How to shut it up Dilly-dallying about whether or not to stick your head above the parapet at work is a procrastination classic: part of you wants the new job, but part of you is holding back. Kamran Tork, a UAE-based executive and leadership coach (kamrantork.com), says you’re a victim of competing ‘values’.
‘If you value career success but also job security, these two values are in competition and opposition to each other,’ he says. ‘And if you’re not aware of this, it can lead to emotional and mental discomfort and drain energy.’
To find out what you want out of life, Kamran recommends writing down your top five work values and then giving them a mark out of 10, depending on how important each is to you. Keep this list safe – you’ll need to refer back to them from time to time. ‘Anytime doubt or worry or fear arises, remind yourself of your most important values,’ he says.
He then suggests looking at what it is that procrastination is helping you to avoid. It might be ‘avoiding imagined defeat’ or ‘reducing stress by not making a decision.’ But, he says, you can turn these negative thoughts down: ‘Say “stop” whenever they enter your head and then remind yourself of the benefits and values that you will be honouring by following your passion and goal. Ask yourself what capitulating to these negative thoughts is costing you and your career.’
Now do this Identify your values. If they’re centred around career advancement, go for the promotion. And if ‘a quiet, low-stress life’ and ‘having great friends in the office’ are your priorities, that’s OK, too – you can now slide into a more passive role at work and just see where the ride takes you.
You want to take up a wild new hobby
Your self-doubt says ‘You’ll be hopeless! You’re too old! Grow up!’
How to shut it up ‘Taking the first step in trying something is often hard because it can be intimidating,’ says Arturo Amador at Skydive Dubai. ‘Some people lack the time or energy, but some do lack the confidence.’
What can really help with your new hobby is finding a tight-knit community who go the extra mile to support each other and also help you to quell the feelings of incompetence.
For instance, even the most experienced skydivers, Arturo says, will take the time to give newcomers tips and make them feel welcome. A good example was when a total novice from Germany turned up last year with the goal of learning to skydive. She stayed for four months.
‘During her time here, she completed more than 100 jumps and progressed impressively,’ says Arturo, pointing out that she, too, quickly felt part of a like-minded community that – whatever your hobby – can help initial thoughts of foolishness quickly fade.
Now do this Tell yourself that we all have to start somewhere. Richard Adams, author of Watership Down, didn’t start writing until he was in his 50s; actor Brendan Gleeson (Mad-Eye Moody in Harry Potter films) was a teacher until he had a change of heart at 34. So just go for it!
You want to lose weight
Your self-doubt says ‘You’ve left it too late, buddy, and you lack the staying power anyway. A life without pizza? Forget it!’
How to shut it up The sad fact is that many people do leave it rather late to sort out their diet and fitness problems, by which time things can seem insurmountable. But while it might have been easier to nip things in the bud earlier on, Marcus Smith, founder of Dubai-based professional fitness trainers InnerFight, says it’s never too late.
‘What often gets people to the gym for the first time is that something bad happens,’ he says, ‘like a medical scare, or people see themselves in the mirror and remember what they looked like five years ago. So yes, people do often think they are past it.’
What Marcus tries to do is ensure no one feels like a hopeless case, and he reminds them that they still have the rest of their lives to live. ‘It may take a few months or even a year to put things back on track but that’s a short-term sacrifice. Once people get started, life starts to change for the better.’
At his InnerFight gym on Shaikh Zayed Road, Marcus and his team help all-comers, including people who have gone on to take part in Ironman triathlons. One of their recent successes was a guy named Mohammad who they helped to lose more than 100kg. He ended up appearing on the cover of a magazine, proving beyond all doubt that no one is too far gone.
Now do this Join a gym this week. Tell them your goals and have them help you create a routine that also addresses your diet.
‘The simple truth is that you are blessed with an amazing machine in the form of the human body,’ says Marcus. ‘So why not make it work for you?’
You want to make amends
Your self-doubt says ‘What for? It’ll probably only backfire on you so keep your mouth shut and stop whining.’
How to shut it up We often put off making up for something ‘because we fear humiliation or retaliation’, says Mona Moussa, PhD, a personal development trainer at LifeWorks Dubai. ‘Or we’re not able to assume responsibility for our part in a problem and our role in a mistake that has been made.’
Understandably, we often wrongly think mistakes are only committed by people who fail in life, and we don’t want to own up to being part of that group.
But, by failing to move on, we can ‘remain stuck in the past, and the guilt of a past mistake’, says Mona. She cites the work of positivity experts Nelson, Lott and Glenn, which suggests we should focus on the future. We should also assume responsibility for our behaviour, and remind ourselves that mistakes are ‘wonderful opportunities to learn.’
Additionally, says Mona, whoever is on the receiving end of your long-overdue confession or apology is ‘often much more likely to forgive than we believe. This is especially true if we’re able to admit our role in the mistake and try to solve the problem.’
Now do this If ’fessing up and trying to make amends is not going to lead to dire consequences, arrange to meet the other party, and talk things out. Assume responsibility for your part in it, apologise and try to work on a solution together. ‘Making amends can reduce feelings of guilt, and some people describe a physical sensation of feeling lighter, because a weight has been lifted off their chest,’ says Mona. Better still, making amends can end up making a relationship more valuable than ever before.