I have planned to paint my living room for years, but haven’t done it. Things came up. I had little time and no help. Besides, I hate painting. I’m not surprised that I had such avoidance and that it continues. However, even enjoyable tasks can meet with intense foot dragging.
A few weeks ago I found myself with writer’s block…or something. I like writing, I’m pretty good at it, and I enjoy my topics. Instead of my usual flow, I found I had to outline, point by dreary point and push hard through each point. After each paragraph, I cleaned the bathroom fixtures with Q-Tips and bleached the teapot. My finished article needed two rewrites because it was so stilted.
What is wrong with me that I can’t finish a project? Is there something wrong with the project? Boy, I hope not, because I experience resistance and procrastination on a frequent and regular basis. What is the solution?
We all know that one solution is fear. Fear of missing an employer’s deadline can get most of us off square one. Life coaches know this too and recommend unnatural “massive action” that would make me resist a Mediterranean cruise. Accountability partners can create a fear of embarrassment. These ploys can make us hate our tasks. That’s not ok.
Why does such resistance come up? Basically, it’s because you are doing something. You probably don’t have such resistance to watching videos or making a sandwich. The stakes are pretty low. But when you do something that matters, you can pretty much watch for it. The resistance will show up and be troublesome to some degree or another.
Having a taskmaster stand over you, with a board – even one with a rusty nail in it – completely misses the point. Resistance to taking action is common and normal, and in fact, you have a good reason for it.
Biologically, humans are wired to be very cautious about change. Anything new is a threat. Socially, humans are wired to be cautious about any threat to our place in the tribe. My article contained a controversial opinion, which could get me ostracized. This is a huge threat at a subliminal level.
It seems paradoxical, but foot dragging is a knee jerk reaction.
What is the solution? If all else fails, forcing yourself through a project can work, but it is far too stressful to foster quality work. For common, garden variety avoidance, I recommend baby steps. Each time you take a baby step and the sky doesn’t fall, it becomes easier to take the next. Allow time for each small step for man and pat yourself on the back after you take it. (Maybe bleach the teapot, too.)
For tasks that feel more threatening – and don’t expect this to be rational – it can be helpful to spend 30 seconds considering what is the worst that can happen. Once I did this with my article I could see that I probably would not be exiled for a radical opinion, but I watered it down a bit to make my point without offending anyone.
For big projects and life changes, resistance to taking action can be quite profound and this is where a support system is needed. Knowing you must report your progress to another keeps you from avoiding tasks. But there is more to good support.
In coaching, it helps to align tasks with the meaning and purpose behind the project. Even uncomfortable tasks have attraction if they are a meaningful part of the bigger plan. Creating steps with an understanding of the sense of threat that will be stirred up by each one can help you stay in action.
Also, support provides safety in numbers. Having someone else’s eyeballs focused on your plan is comforting. If others don’t see a threat, it calms resistance. If they do see a threat, you can strategize and be prepared instead of just scared.
Above all, never expect yourself to be above basic human emotions and what they are telling you. The message may be right or wrong, but it is never really silly.