We stumble across this all the time, when we sheepishly discover that a task we’d been putting off for days or weeks takes us just 5 or 10 minutes to complete.
“That wasn’t a big deal at all.”
Think of the mental calisthenics we regularly engage in to put off certain tasks: we schedule reminders, create lists, tell others that we are definitely going to get it done…next Thursday. This time and effort can end up dwarfing the task itself.
We tell ourselves that what’s going on is scarcity of time. Lacking time right now, it’s only logical that we spend a little time today to neatly place this task sometime in the future. But that’s just a smokescreen.
What’s really going on is a choice to spent time and effort today to gain emotional comfort today: “I’m willing do some work now in order to postpone something that I believe will be emotionally challenging now.”
Take some time to observe which sorts of tasks you put off and why: writing the first paragraph on a proverbial blank sheet of paper; reaching out to a new person; calling someone you’ve been thinking about a lot lately; having a difficult conversation about something that just happened; beginning a tough workout or a meditation.
At the heart of our perpetual procrastination is our over-estimation of the emotional labor a task will require and our willingness to create new work that enables us to avoid shifting gears from a state that is busy with low emotional effort (read: comfortable) to one that requires greater emotional effort.
The ultimate irony is that most of the things we’re putting off aren’t all that bad, and time and again, if we just start, we find ourselves wondering what we were so worried about in the first place.
The only antidote is the practice of regularly doing uncomfortable-feeling things, and choosing to observe the repetitive cycle of: self-dialogue—resistance—starting—doing—relief. Through repetition we learn that our dramatic self-dialogue both serves no purpose and contains no meaningful information about the task that lies ahead.
Most important, what we find time and again is that our fear evaporates the instant we start doing the work: the act of crossing the threshold from anticipation to action causes fear’s grip to loosen until, in the blink of an eye, we are free.