Every morning, Kim wakes at five o’clock to get ready for work. Most days, I just lie there. “I don’t need to get up,” I think. “I’ve nowhere to go.”
But I’ve learned that if I don’t get up, I regret it. If I stay in bed, I don’t make it to the gym. I miss work deadlines. I have less time to do the fun stuff, like hiking, and reading, and riding my motorcycle.
So, I get out of bed. I get dressed. As unappealing as it sounds, I go outside for a walk or a run — even when it’s raining (as is frequently the case here in Portland). The first few minutes suck. I’m tempted to go back to bed. Before long, however, I find I’m actually enjoying myself. I return home invigorated, eager to get things done.
If I were to wait for motivation, I’d sleep all day. By forcing myself to take action, I find the motivation that was missing before.
Feeling Good is a popular self-help manual by David Burns. The book helped a younger me through an extended bout of depression. Part of the solution was to overcome my chronic procrastination, procrastination brought about by fear. In Feeling Good, Burns describes the problem.
Individuals who procrastinate frequently confuse motivation and action. You foolishly wait until you feel in the mood to do something. Since you don’t feel like doing it, you automatically put it off. Your error is your belief that motivation comes first, and then leads to action and success. But it is usually the other way around; action must come first, and the motivation comes later.
Action primes the pump.
Anxiety is largely self-doubt and insecurity — an underlying belief that you cannot handle whatever is before you. Anxiety often causes fear and procrastination. Because of this, preparation plays a key role in mitigating fear.
When you prepare — to speak to a crowd, to hike through a bear-infested forest — you decrease your doubt. You can’t eliminate the possibility of failure, but you can drastically reduce the odds against you. You rehearse possible situations. You practice the required actions. You allow your imagination to explore (and cope with) worst-case scenarios. In short, you prime the pump, which prepares you to do your best.
And that’s the important thing: If you always do your best and you do what’s right, then you needn’t fear the results. Sure, bad things will happen sometimes. But if you’ve done well and done what’s right, the negative outcome isn’t your fault — it’s just how things are. If you’re unprepared, however, you must own the negative results.
When we’re prepared, we feel competent. When we feel competent, we feel confident. When we’re confident, our fears fade into the background.
Photo by Antony Mayfield.