27 December 2013

We've all done it.

Put things off.

Whether it's something little and boring, like cleaning the toilet, or something big and exciting (but maybe a bit scary), like taking a career break.

We make excuses. "I haven't got the right kind of toilet cleaner." "I haven't got a guidebook to Thailand."

We find obstacles. "I can't do it without rubber gloves." "I can't leave Mittens for 6 months."

We pretend there isn't a good enough reason. "The toilet isn't that dirty." "Australia isn't that amazing."

We get distracted. "Oooh, "Celebrity weight loss obsessive compulsive dancing" is on the telly." "One more tumbling kittens YouTube video then I'll start my research."

We put it off until some mythical point in the future. "I'll clean it when my mum comes to visit." "I'll go when I've got a promotion."

This is the real reason you're procrastinating

The first thing to recognise is that all the excuses, reasons, obstacles and distractions are just fluff. There's something else stopping you from doing whatever it is you need to be doing. And that's fear.

You might be asking: "How can someone be afraid of cleaning the toilet?" Or indeed, "Why would I be afraid of doing something I really want to do?"

And the answer is the same. You are afraid of failure.

Whether it's not cleaning the toilet perfectly enough, or going travelling and discovering that you've packed your bag all wrong, fear can stop us doing small but necessary tasks, and going on big, exciting adventures.

Why are you afraid?

There is one of two reasons behind your fear, depending on what sort of person you are and the kind of background and upbringing you had.

The first is perfectionism.

The second is anxiety.

You know which affects you. The 'why' is not important here (and besides, we can't get all Freudian in a blog post) - we're just going to show you how to fix it.

Tackling the fear - perfectionism

First of all, you need to learn how to not be perfect. Embrace the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi where beauty is found in things that are imperfect.

It can take a long time to learn to be imperfect after a lifetime of perfection.

Practise with little things. Here are some examples:

  • Leave the milk out
  • Send an email without spell-checking it
  • Wrap a gift quickly (and without making sure you cut the paper straight)
  • Wear mismatched socks
  • Make a phone call that you've been putting off - and don't rehearse what you're going to say

See how bad things get when you ditch perfection. The truth is, they won't get that bad. The milk might go off - but you can just throw it out and drink black tea. No-one will notice that the gift is badly wrapped. Your email probably won't even raise an eyebrow. Get used to being imperfect and enjoy the extra time you have now you're not wasting it on procrastination and trying to get things 'right' all the time.

Here are some mantras to help you along - choose your favourite to repeat to yourself as a reminder.

  • "Better done than perfect"
  • "Leave perfection to God"
  • "There's no such thing as perfection"
  • "Strive to be better, rather than perfect"
  • "Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it" (Salvador Dali)

Tackling the fear - anxiety

If you know you're not a perfectionist, then perhaps anxiety is the root of your procrastination.

You're afraid of what might happen. Of what could go wrong.

How will it affect you? How will it affect other people? Will you ever recover?

Lots of us (probably most of us actually) can blow things all out of proportion.

Dale Carnegie, in his book "How to Stop Worrying and Start Living" has a great piece of advice. He asks you to think to yourself "What's the worst that could happen?"

So, if you clean the toilet, the worse that could happen is probably that you spill a bit of cleaner that you have to mop up, or you miss a bit and have to do it again.

But taking a career break is a bigger risk. All sorts of things could happen. You might get lost. You could get ill. What if you're pickpocketed?

When you've thought of the worst that could happen, think about how likely it is. Around 100,000 people take a career break every year - and how many do you see on the news who've come to harm? That's right, hardly any. Sure, things might go wrong, but they very rarely go horribly wrong.

You'll also find that when you think about the worst that could happen - you have a few days of not feeling well, or you're out of pocket by a few quid - that these are all part of a challenging and life-affirming experience. Sure, a career break is a big risk, but with it comes big rewards.

The biggest risk of all

You must also consider the other side of the coin. What happens if you don't do the things that you are putting off?

In the case of the unclean toilet, probably not a lot. And you'll probably get around to it eventually anyway.

But what about when it comes to taking a big adventure? How will you feel in a year, 2 years or 5 years, if you've missed out on a big opportunity?

When your friends and colleagues have travelled the world, learnt a new language or volunteered in an orphanage, and you have nothing to compare it to?

By doing nothing, you're actually missing out on all the opportunities that are passing you by. You'll stay in your comfort zone, but regret it later on.

The biggest motivator of all

There's lots of tips and tricks people use and advise to get things done, but there's only one that really works, and that's to start doing it.

Motivation comes from action - you can sit here reading this until you're blue in the face, but unless you start whatever it is you want or need to do, nothing will change.

Get up.


And have a wonderful life.


Search for a career break here.