In order to achieve your goals, you must take action. Simple, right? Well, if it is, then how come most people fail to take real action?
Instead of taking real action, what many people do instead is think about, talk about, and even plan out their goals. Planning, visualizing, all of these things are great but without actually doing something to move you a step closer to your goal, you won’t get anywhere.
What happens to many people is they procrastinate. This is one of the biggest causes of failed dreams, a mediocre existence, and a life full of regret. Why then, do so many people do it? Let’s take a look.
Pain and Pleasure
One of the reasons people often procrastinate on their goals is the fear of failure. The thought of putting in all that time and effort only to fail and perhaps be laughed at or ridiculed can be mentally debilitating for many people.
The real root of procrastination really comes down to the avoidance of pain. The pleasure principle describes our need to seek that which is pleasurable and avoid that which is painful.
Think about the last time you procrastinated. Most likely, you associated some type of pain to doing what you were supposed to be doing. Instead, you did something else, something you associate to as more pleasurable. People typically take action when they believe doing so will lead to more pleasure than pain or, NOT taking action will lead to more pain than taking action.
A good example of this can be seen in students who wait until the last day to start on a project or write an essay or study. The reason they waited so long to start is because they associate too much pain to starting. Pain in this case could mean boredom or frustration, etc.
So how can these students end up overcoming that avoidance of pain and get the project done once time is running out? The reason is because the thought of getting a failing grade becomes more real and is more painful at the moment then simply finishing the project.
In other words, the avoidance of pain will usually beat out wanting pleasure but when both options involve pain, avoidance of the greater pain will win.
Another example a lot of people could relate to is staying in bed after the alarm goes off. How many times does the snooze button have to be hit before one decides to finally get out of bed? Usually, the answer lies in how much time they have left. The pain of being late will usually overpower the pleasure of staying in bed, which is why most people are pretty motivated when that time threshold is hit.
This ties into one of the keys to helping you get started on what you need to do to reach your goals, that is, a negative consequence.
Consequences – The Ultimate Motivator
One of the things that is usually taught when it comes to goal setting is to set a deadline. Having an aim of when you’ll achieve your goal can be a great motivator. However, if not reaching your goal by a predetermined time isn’t going to result in any bad consequences, you could find yourself not even caring if the deadline is approaching.
In the 2 examples above, there was a negative consequence.
The student who doesn’t study at all or doesn’t complete an assignment will get a bad grade. Too many of these will lead to not graduating, parents being disappointed, and a potential life time of mediocre, dead end jobs.
The person who remains in bed might be late for an interview and miss out on a job opportunity or late for work and end up being written up or even fired. Both leads to less money, possible financial stress, bad credit and so on. This is an extreme example. A more common consequence would be the feeling of being disappointed in one’s self for lacking the discipline to do what they told themselves they were going to do.
Pain is the Key to Motivation
A negative consequence leads to pain and as stated earlier, we tend to do things to avoid pain. So, if you’ve been procrastinating a lot and don’t know how to break the pattern, try creating more painful consequences. The bigger and more immediate it is, the more effective it’ll be in getting you to take action.
Skipping a workout session won’t really cause you any pain. The most you’ll probably feel is a little bit of guilt or disappointment. Would you be a bit more motivated if not going to the gym meant you’d lose some money? This is why many people hire a personal trainer, to keep them accountable. Whether you show up or not, they’re getting paid.
Whatever your goal is, it can be broken down into small action steps. Your focus each day is to complete those action steps. Come up with a negative consequence big enough that you’ll avoid it at all cost. For many, losing money is painful and if that applies to you, whenever you don’t follow through, give $100 away or whatever amount is big enough that will make you take action. Since you can always not follow through on the consequences, have someone else hold you accountable.
If you want to really up the game, make your consequences public. By doing this, your friends and family will all help keep your accountable especially if they get rewarded for doing so. If you do this, keep in mind that the negative consequence should be tied to whether or not you take action and not whether or not you achieve the results you’re after. Taking action is completely under your control while the results you get isn’t.
Pleasure Also Works
For some, pleasure might work better. Giving yourself a reward for follow through might be a great motivator for you. Just be careful not to get too carried away. Some people have actually rewarded themselves with junk food for going to the gym.
Since some of you reading this may be thinking it, yes, sex is also a great motivator. Think of some of the things people, especially guys, have gotten themselves to do just to have this form of pleasure. There are some college students who are extremely lazy when it comes to school work but when it comes to attracting the opposite sex, they can all of the sudden be a completely different person, super motivated, responsible, well kept, you name it.
Recreate Your Identity
Procrastination is something we learn, it’s not something we’re born with. Procrastinate enough times and it’ll start becoming a habit. Like with any habit, if it can be formed, it can be broken. The way you break this habit is to do whatever you have to do to take action when you’re supposed to. Do it enough times and taking action will become your new habit.
Pain or pleasure, whichever method works for you, use it. The goal is to get you to become the kind of person who follows through on their plans. What you’re aiming for isn’t just a change in behavior but a change in identity.
When you identify yourself as an action taker, someone who’s in control of his/her destiny, someone who has mastered self-discipline, just like how an adult non-smoker won’t even consider smoking, procrastinating won’t even enter your mind.
It’s not going to be easy because putting things off is way, way easier than taking action but there in lies one of the key differences between those who struggle in life and those who excel. Those who struggle tend to take the easier path while those who succeed tend to take the path they know they should be taking.
As Jerry Rice once said,
“Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow I can accomplish what others can’t.”
If you want to skip all of this consequence and pain/pleasure stuff, then keep things simple; when it’s time to do what needs to be done, just do it.