Nowadays, I’m one of the most disciplined people I know. I wake up early, exercise regularly, meditate daily, stick to my morning ritual, eat healthy, take cold showers, go to bed early, pay my bills on time, keep my room tidy, and so on. Best of all, I finally feel in control of my life.
So, how did I do it?
Looking back, there are four core strategies that made all the difference for me. We’ll now discuss them one after another.
1. Becoming a Learning Machine
Once I realized the severity of my procrastination, I made a commitment to fix it no matter what. The first thing I did was order a bunch of books from Amazon. Over the course of a few months, I read and implemented information from many of them: The Now Habit, Getting Things Done, The Procrastination Equation, Eat That Frog, Solving The Procrastination Puzzle, and so on.
Getting into the habit of reading books was tough in the beginning. My mind kept telling me, “Why not watch TV instead? This is useless. You’re a last cause. I want to play video games!” But I persisted, and nowadays I read around 100 books a year. To say that reading completely changed my life would be an understatement.
So, how exactly did reading help me overcome my severe procrastination? Well, it’s the things that I learned, which helped me overcome it.
I learned about the importance of effort and hard work. I learned that talent is overrated. I learned about self-compassion. I learned about meditation and mindfulness. I learned about strategies for improving my energy levels. I learned about time management. I learned about emotion regulation. I learned about the importance of perseverance.
All these bits of information – and there are many more! – help me improve on my procrastination tendencies in one way or another. You’re about to learn exactly how mindfulness, self-compassion, and something else I learned from books have helped and still help me to this day.
2. No More Running Away From Myself
The most important lesson I learned from the countless books I read is that I need to stop running away from myself. More precisely, that I need to stop avoiding my thoughts and emotions.
Escaping is the wrong way for dealing with negativity; mindfulness the right one.
Mindfulness teaches us to face our reality, to allow our thoughts and emotions to be just as they are, to watch them with detachment, without judging or trying to change them in any way. If we nonjudgmentally observe positive emotions, they blossom. If we watch negative emotions, they go away – first temporarily, then forever. That’s the alchemy of mindfulness.
And so I started practicing. When I felt guilty for being unproductive, I watched that guilt. When I felt ashamed after sleeping until 1pm, I watched that shame. When I wallowed in self-pity after procrastinating for days, I watched that self-pity.
In the beginning, this was unbearable. After all, there’s a reason so many of us dread even a moment of being alone with ourselves. Facing the emotional garbage bubbling up within us is tough, painful, and nerve-wrecking at times. For days and weeks and months I just kept watching myself in this way. I had no clue whether I was doing it right, and I often thought that I was wasting my time or making things worse by focusing on the negative.
After a while, however, I started noticing changes in my life. While I could barely stay with negative emotions for a minute or two in the beginning, I could easily do it for extended periods of time once a few weeks of practice had passed. During the very early days of this experiment, I often cried out of despair. After a few weeks, the crying mostly stopped. I was able to watch my emotions from a larger distance. I was less involved, less identified with them. There was a gap emerging between “me” and “my thoughts and emotions.”
Instead of buying into the negativity of my mind, I started just being aware of it. “Oh, there’s anger.” “Oh, here’s guilt.” “Oh, I’m feeling a bit depressed today.” I wasn’t so much at the mercy of my inner experience anymore. Sometimes I felt good about myself; other times I didn’t. And I was okay with it.
Since then, I don’t experience the negative emotions as strongly anymore. They’re there, but in a soft rather than hard way. They don’t overwhelm me anymore. An unproductive day in the past piled on so much guilt that I couldn’t help but run away. Today, an unproductive day still makes me feel a bit guilty, but it doesn’t bother me as much anymore. It’s much more manageable. And because of that, I don’t need to start the whole procrastination cycle all over again. I don’t need to numb myself with video games or watching TV.
Even better, I can actually be productive in spite of feeling guilty, disappointed, ashamed, or whatever. I can follow through with my plans and do the right thing whether I feel like it or not. “So what if I’m feeling unmotivated today? Let’s just get it over with. Otherwise I’ll feel guilty again, which puts me at the risk of starting the whole procrastination cycle. No thanks!”
So, in the past, negative emotions made me run away and consistently led to the procrastination cycle (e.g., procrastinate à feel guilty à escape negative feelings and numb myself with video games à feel even worse à need to keep escaping in order to not face bad feelings). Nowadays, I am not at the mercy of negative emotions anymore. I don’t feel the need to run away from them. Plus, I can do what needs to get done in spite of them.
That’s all thanks to mindfulness. Like I said so many times before, mindfulness is the #1 most important skill we can ever learn.