Overcoming procrastination


The stages of the Action Spiral

We become AWARE of what we need or want to do when we are relaxed and open to input from our bodies, our environment and other people. This input comes to us through our senses (sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste), our physical sensations and our thoughts. Putting off allowing ourselves to be aware reduces the depth and quality of our experience of life.

We can procrastinate at the BEING AWARE stage by -

- being too busy to allow ourselves to stop and notice what's happening around us and in our bodies (ie by rushing from one thing to the next)
- being so exhausted and tense that we're not able to "read" the input we do notice
- by not giving what we notice attention or priority eg "I remembered it was your birthday but I forgot about it almost as soon as I remembered" "I noticed we needed a smoke alarm but I didn't do anything about it" "I knew I had a lump in my breast, but I thought if I ignored it, it would go away."


In order to make progress in what we need or want to do, we need to EXPLORE and EXPERIMENT with possible ways forward. We may explore physically, for example, by going to the fridge to look at what choice of food is available when we are hungry, or we may explore mentally, for example by thinking about whether to go out to a restaurant, and which one.

We can procrastinate at the EXPLORING & EXPERIMENTING stage by -

- being aware of what we want or need to do but not taking - or even visualising - the first step towards working out how to do it
- putting off or avoiding spending time at this stage by only ever making and moving immediately to the same choice, thus limiting more creative or constructive options
- talking and thinking about our options, but not doing anything in the real world to find out what would really happen
- exploring and experimenting TOO MUCH! - in other words, thinking of or trying out more and more alternatives, and resisting moving into the next stage of choosing between them. This can lead to - stacks of diet books but no weight lost, lots of exercise equipment but no exercise taken, many careers discussed but no jobs applied for .. you get the picture!


Once we've thought through and explored our options, we then need to choose the best way forward. This means saying "no" to all the other options, and dealing with how we feel about doing that. Then, we need to stay with the option we've chosen, and see the task through each step of the way (this gym, this job, this relationship and so on).

So we need good decision-making skills to make the choice, the ability to reject other options, and then determination and tenacity to stick with our decision and make it happen in reality.

Psychologists have a great phrase for when we make a decision, but then bounce back from it, thinking that all the other left-behind options were somehow better. It's called "Post-decision decision-making"! If this sounds familiar, you might want to spend some time developing your skills at this stage.

And of course some tasks take only a short time, but some choices - making a career, moving house, getting married, having children,- are long and involved, and require tremendous commitment to see through.

We can procrastinate at the CHOOSING & GETTING INVOLVED stage by -

- Going back on decisions we've already made and re-visiting all the options we've rejected
- Undermining our ability to get involved by comparing the disadvantages of the option we've chosen to the imagined advantages of the rejected options - becoming half-hearted
- making the decision in our minds, but not taking the necessary steps to actually bring the decision into reality
- starting with good intentions, but getting distracted or giving up when the original enthusiasm wanes or when the going gets tough


It's easy to know when you've done enough washing-up. It may be easy to know when you've had enough doughnuts. But there are many times in life when it's hard to say "enough is enough" or "what I've done is good enough" - or even - " this is not good enough, so I'm leaving". Each person's "enough" is different. Putting off saying "enough" means we never finish what we're doing, and we never get to test our own sense of "enough" against anyone else's.
Not completing means we don't have to experience what it's like to be free, and it also means we haven't really got space for anything - or anyone - new.

We can procrastinate at the Saying "ENOUGH & COMPLETING stage by -

- constantly trying to make every little last detail more and more perfect
- doubting our own abilities to know when enough is enough
- using our obligation to the thing we are doing as a way of hiding from what it would be like not to be involved anymore


After action comes withdrawal and rest. In this pause we can celebrate our successes, mourn our failures and losses, learn from our mistakes, re-build our energies and taste a different side of life. We can idle, day-dream, de-stress and allow our bodies to unwind.

In busy 21st century life it can be hard to remember our need for this natural phase of pausing. Constantly rushing on from one thing to the next without pausing is a quick way to a poor quality of life, exhaustion and an increased risk of health problems.

If you don't pause and reflect on what you've just done, you won't be allowing yourself time to feel good about achievements, or to take stock of what you could improve another time. It might mean you'll make the same mistakes again.

Sometimes withdrawing can feel empty, strange, or even lonely. So if you don't allow yourself time in the "creative void" - the place we enter like a field left fallow after several season's growth - to recover, replenish, before being made ready for re-planting - you may never experience a sense of life, energy, enthusiasm and interest beginning to grow again.

We can procrastinate at the "PAUSING & REFLECTING stage by -

- Rushing onto the next thing we need or want to do without stopping to savour success, review mistakes, and grieve our losses
- Not booking holidays or days off; not taking lunch-hours
- Filling time off with things to do
- Never switching off our mobiles

Want more information about how we learn to be effective at each stage of the Spiral, and why we start to procrastinate?
Isn't It About Time? "How to stop putting things off and get on with your life"
by Andrea Perry is full of more information and examples.

© Overcomingprocrastination.net 2011