How to develop discipline and beat procrastination for good? Although I’ll be covering writing, this could serve for any part of your life.
I know a bit about procrastination.
Firstly because I’ve almost always worked for myself, which mean I didn’t have a boss for the majority of my work life, I was my own boss. This sounds fun, right?! It is also a nightmare. You have no one to please but yourself. You’re responsible for your own failure. So your beautiful brain starts thinking: if you rest for a moment, you’ll starve, your business will fail, and we will live behind a bridge.
I’ve always looked for methods of beating procrastination and developing self-discipline. This helped me a lot to achieve everything I’ve done today. So, now I’ll teach you. In the end, I’ll also add how to beat anxiety as well, although I’ll have a post only about it. Because it can be kind of crazy to have your own business and to be a writer. Focus on mental health first, folks, always.
What is procrastination? How can I develop discipline and beat procrastination?
Procrastination is when you don’t do what you have to do. Instead, you go look for other things to put in the place of doing the thing you needed. You can procrastinate in a million different ways, believe me. It can be by putting on a funny Youtube cat video. Or by doing the dishes, laundry, cleaning your room. Anything besides the thing you should be doing.
Why do we procrastinate?
It can be because of different things, but I bet that you are procrastinating right now due to a reason that you didn’t even know:
We usually tend to procrastinate hard work. Maybe it’s an essay due tomorrow. Maybe it’s writing that difficult scene.
We are afraid of failing.
The chore can be punitive for us, so we would rather do anything else besides that chore. We know we will have to face it sooner or later but our brains chose the “later” option. This is a problem for Isadora from the future, right? However, time can’t stop. And you’ll have to do it. However, since it’s so punitive, the anxiety comes.
You start blaming yourself for not doing it, cursing yourself: loser, failure, everything else. Am I right?
After much suffering, when you finally do it, you realize it wasn’t that bad. Then, you decide: I’ll never procrastinate again because it’s too much suffering, more than it’s worth it.
But, then, the next hard task comes.
Much of our procrastination comes from fear of failure and perfectionism
You simply don’t know what to do. The task looks huge and complicated. You are required to do it but you prefer to jump off a cliff than facing it right now.
It’s even worse if you are running your own business. The anxiety will come. All the bad thoughts, even an anxiety crisis. Until you punish yourself enough that you do it. And then you realize it wasn’t so bad after all. But it’s a cycle.
If you’re a writer, your thoughts can be something like this:
- You are no real writer. Writers write. You’re not writing. You’re sitting there watching stupid videos. You’ll never succeed, will you? I bet real writers don’t procrastinate like you, do they?
We’ve all been there.
Why stop procrastinating? Why should I care about develop discipline and beat procrastination?
Because procrastinating really hurts our mental health.
I know a lot of you might be thinking: I know I want to stop procrastinating. Why are you asking me that?
Because you have to really want it.
Have you ever thought something like: I work better with pressure? I like to leave things to the last moment possible?
You have to stop this thought for good. This is a good procrastination excuse. If you want to develop self-discipline and break this cycle for good, you have to make an effort to believe that you are not better with pressure. The only thing that happens is that when you leave for the last moment, you are forced not to procrastinate.
But you are able to not procrastinate since the beginning.
However, you’ll have to put some effort into developing self-discipline.
Discipline is freedom because you can accomplish anything you want.
For us writers, procrastination creates the writer’s block
I have a post right here about writer’s block.
You think about how big a book is. And that you are not writing it right now. And when you do write, it’s not as good as you’d like. Then the thoughts come. You are not good enough, you’ll never write a masterpiece. That’s enough for you to open the cat videos on Youtube and sit there, feeling miserable, an underachiever, blaming yourself, and still not being able to just go and write.
Been there, done that.
Then how to break the procrastination cycle and develop discipline now? I need it NOW. I need quick help! I need to develop discipline and beat procrastination NOW!
If you need a good method for breaking it NOW, I suggest you head over to my writer’s block article here. There, I give you a weird writing prompt that will help you unrevealing this writing thing.
But if you are procrastinating for something else, not related to writing, you might want to stop and think:
Am I doing it because I’m afraid of the task? Because it’s too hard and I’m afraid of failing?
The notebook technique to develop discipline and beat procrastination:
You really have to start analyzing your thoughts.
Anxiety doesn’t come from anywhere unless you have a chemical problem, in this case, you should look for a doctor because you won’t be able to solve it on your own. But for the rest of us, anxiety comes from our thoughts. And anxiety is the seed of procrastination.
Stop, get a notebook, and write down what you are feeling right now. Look at it and analyze it. Think: does it make sense? Is it true? Is it really true?
Do it, I mean it. NOW.
Lock the spoiled child we all have inside of us. Ground it when they start screaming and crying “yes, it is true, you are a failure now, you’ll always be”. Think rationally: just because you haven’t succeeded yet, does it mean you never will? How many attempts does it take for a writer to be successful? Did you learn to walk in a day or did it take you years? Think about how far you’ve come since you were a baby. All the things you did and all the things you’ve learned. Don’t say “I’ve learned nothing”. This is the spoiled child inside our brains crying. You’ve learned to walk, talk, read, eat, you got through school, you probably work.
Write it down: your feelings and the truest, most logical, answer you have for them. Are my feelings rational?
Then get the task and work on it.
You already know that you’re procrastinating because you’re afraid of failing it. You are afraid of it not being perfect.
Forget the perfectionism.
Allow yourself to just do it and see what happens next.
If you did this notebook technique, and it didn’t help immediately, I suggest you leave it alone for some time.
Are you telling me to procrastinate even more?
No, I’m telling you that right now your brain might be too tired, too beaten up because of the anxiety, and forcing yourself will be worse. Go do something you like, but do it consciously. Which means you’ll analyze why you are doing that: I’m stepping out of the task because I’m tired, and I’m going to relax, have fun, and come back to it later.
If you want, take your notebook with you, so you can eventually write down the thoughts that are leading to anxiety, and think truly about them.
When you come back, if you think: “no, I will do it later”, immediately stop and think:
- Am I still tired even after resting?
- Am I avoiding it again because of the fear?
- What is leading to this fear?
- Am I being a perfectionist?
- What am I thinking that is making me fear this task?
If you need, write it down again.
If you identify the thoughts that are leading you for this crippling fear and anxiety, and then think about them, trying to rationalize it, I guarantee you that you’ll beat procrastination for that moment.
If you’re having anxiety attacks, or if you are not being able to stop and even think about it, I strongly suggest you look for therapy. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with seeking help. I go to therapy myself. I learned all this there. But if I stay some time without it, I also freak out, and I’m not even able to stop and think about all this.
How to beat procrastination for good? So that it will stop happening? How to develop self-discipline? Develop discipline and beat procrastination:
Every once in a while, you’ll procrastinate. It’s normal. Sometimes we just don’t feel like doing the thing. What isn’t normal is for it to happen all the time and for it to develop the anxiety cycle of feeling like a failure.
1. Use the notebook technique to identify why you don’t want to do the thing. This is the most important tip to develop discipline and beat procrastination:
If you find out why then you can take action and do the other steps here.
Sometimes we are just tired. So, just leave it, rest, and come back later. You’ll be able to do it because you are identifying the real reason you’re feeling like that. You don’t need to be afraid to leave it and rest. If being tired is the real reason that you’re procrastinating, then you’ll come back to it after you’ve rested.
If it’s not, then you’ll find out what it is in your notebook. And then you’ll rationalize it. Is it true what I’m feeling? Or am I distorting it? Why am I afraid of doing this task?
2. Find two or more things you must do equally. When you procrastinate one, do the other:
This can sound funny but it works.
Let me tell you a story: one year after college, I decided that I would quit everything I did in my life to focus on only studying for a big selection process I wanted to get in.
I stopped exercising, I stopped working, writing, everything. I decided: I’ll only study. If I don’t do anything else, I can focus on studying. Nothing will get in my way, right?!
It was the most unproductive and depressing year of my life.
I didn’t want to study, and since I had nothing else in my life, I just laid there, feeling horrible, blaming myself, procrastinating hard.
We, humans, are multifaceted creatures. That’s why I tell you to base your characters on real humans, so they can get deep. We can’t possibly do just one thing 16 hours a day and stay healthy for long.
It’s not productive.
So, my advice is: find another thing you must do as much as this one thing you are procrastinating. If you don’t have one, create it.
For me, I divide my day into three parts: morning, I exercise and meditate. Goals: mental health and fitness health. Afternoon: I study for this test I just told you. Nights: Work on the blog and on writing.
If I don’t want to exercise, I write. If I don’t want to write, I study. If I don’t want to study, I exercise.
Of course some times I don’t want to do either of these, so I go back to the first technique. Am I just tired or am I procrastinating them all for some other reason?
But, if you do other things that are equally as important to you, then the probability of you wanting to work on at least one of these will be much greater than having just one thing you must do, and when you don’t want to do it, the only alternative is to procrastinate and feel horrible.
You have to be careful, though, because if you find too many things, you most likely won’t have time to finish them all, and you’ll get frustrated because you want to do things, but simply can’t because there are not enough hours in a day.
3. Break your days in blocks
It won’t be productive if you work on only one task for 10 hours straight. Your brain will get tired. You will burn out. The chance of you dropping that to watch cat videos is much bigger.
Divide your day into your activities. For example: for 2 hours in the morning, I will write. Then, I will do absolutely nothing for fifteen minutes. After this, I will go to work. I will come back and do one hour of exercise. Then, rest for half an hour. After it, I will write for 2 hours more.
It will be much better than you write for 4 hours straight.
Try to never burn yourself out because it can be hard to recover after it.
When I see people telling about quitting their day job to only write the whole day, I immediately go: DON’T. Because you need different activities during the day. If you focus on only one thing in your life, you won’t have more time to do it, you will have more time to procrastinate it. Our brain can only do one thing for so long, especially if it’s very intellectually demanding, or creativity demanding. This is very important if you want to develop discipline and beat procrastination.
4. Find a way to reinforce yourself between tasks
When you are working (for money), it is much easier to accept doing it for, like, ten hours straight because you are receiving a reinforcement: money. This is one of the most powerful reinforcement we have today in society. People would rather get money than eat. And eat is a natural instinct that keeps us alive. This is how powerful money is in our brains.
When you are working on a hobby, you have to be more cautious, because the reinforcement will take a lot to come. When we work without reinforcement, we feel it’s a punishment and we tend not to want to do it anymore. The same goes for studying, doing chores, working on a long time project. Your brain doesn’t want to know that you are going to get a big reinforcement in five years, it wants it NOW.
Don’t think things like: if I do a break now to watch my beloved cat videos, I’ll never go back working.
You must stop. You must reinforce yourself. And you’ll come back because you’re just resting. When you rest enough, you’ll go back to the task. You don’t need to be afraid. If you don’t want to go back, we have to return to point 1: Why don’t I want to go back to work? Am I still tired? Or am I afraid of the task?
I keep repeating it because it is very important. You have to analyze your thoughts. They are the ones that are generating anxiety and procrastination. When you think about them in a realistic manner, you’ll understand why you are behaving like that and you can take action about it.
If you don’t plan your reinforcement, your body will force you to go watch cat videos because you find it fun. The cat video is a reinforcement. But since it’s unplanned and it’s preventing you from doing the thing you were supposed to do, you start the procrastination cycle all over again. Anxiety comes: I’m super tired, but I must keep working without a reinforcement, otherwise I’m a loser, a failure.
This leads me to point 5:
5. Plan your day, including breaks
Many people tell me they can’t plan their days.
But, actually, you can do anything you want.
Just because you’ve never done it before, just because you’re used to doing things randomly, it doesn’t mean you can’t change if you want.
Literally, if you want to do it, you can. You can start now. You can learn and get yourself used to it.
Humans can adapt.
Also, there’s the other side: maybe you don’t want to do it. You don’t want to plan your day. You might find it very stressful. That’s fine. Everybody works best in their own way.
What I’m saying is that: if you’re having constant procrastination problems, if this leads you to unbearable anxiety attacks, maybe you could try this suggestion, even if it’s the first time you are doing it.
“I’m not like this”. Nobody is “like” anything. We learn these behaviors and we keep repeating them for years. But you can change if you want. You can do whatever you want if you put enough effort into it. If you want to become an organized person, you can, even if it’s the first time in your life you’re doing it.
I will explain how to plan your day for productivity in another detailed article. I thought it would be better to teach it separately since it’s very big, and aimed at people that are new to this world.
But, briefly, you have to list all the things you are planning in your day. Then, think if any of it has an established time to being. For example, you must get to work at eight o’clock. You can’t change that. You will accommodate the things with established times first. And then, you’ll work around it in blocks of times, with planned reinforcement breaks between them.
6. Find different places to work on different activities. This will help you develop discipline and beat procrastination:
I work in three different tables. One for writing, one for studying, and one for art. I find that if I change the places that I do different things, my brain kinds of “reset” itself to think: oh, now that we are in this different table, we are doing this different activity. It helps you to rest. If you do all the things in just one place, you might think that you are not doing anything differently since the background is the same. So this really helps me.
A word about anxiety:
Even after you’ve done all that, you can still be feeling anxious. You can still want to procrastinate.
Know that this is normal.
If you fail to put these things in practice, it’s okay.
If you tried to do the notebook technique, you identified the causes, but even so, you don’t want to work on the task, know that this is normal.
You’re not a failure. Things are very hard to get done, especially when you are not obliged to do. When you are working for money and for someone else, you MUST do it to get money. You will do it, wanting or not. When you’re working for yourself or in your hobbies, things are different. It’s much harder to do it because you’re competing with things more fun to do, that takes less effort, like binge-watching Netflix.
Even though you want to do it, it’s normal to procrastinate.
Don’t beat yourself down. This will only make things worse. Try to watch your thoughts. If you are being negative to yourself, stop. Just stop it. You can do it. You can try at least to control your thoughts. YOU CAN CHANGE. Try meditation, especially mindfulness.
Take things easy. Try to apply these techniques I taught you. Know that it’s a lengthy process, and it has its ups and downs. One day you’ll do great, the other you’ll want to die.
The most important thing is that you must know that you can change. Even if you’ve been like that for years, maybe your whole life. Believe me, you’ve learned this behavior, and you can change. Humans can adapt to any situation. You are not like that. You are not your anxiety. Really, you are you, a complex person that happens to be going through this, but you can change. You can learn a different way of being. It will be hard, but you can do it. Think about all the incredible things humans do. We build empires. We learn how to skydive. You can do it too. You are no less than anybody else. You can do anything you get your mind into.
My last advice is: seek professional help. Go to therapy. Everyone needs therapy. It’s not just for “crazy people”. Even if you think you don’t need it, go to talk about other things. It will help you so much. Also, there are some ways to find cheaper therapy if you can’t afford it. Some colleges offer free services for the community. Look it up. Look for help.
Everything will be all right. I believe you.