3 Things You MUST Understand If You Want to Beat Procrastination
I’ve been helping people overcome procrastination for years now, through my articles, books, and coaching.
To that end, the one question I have to keep asking myself is this:
“What do people need to know, believe, and do in order to beat procrastination?”
It’s easy for me to get lost in the science, because it’s so fascinating to me. It’s easy to get lost in new discoveries I make in my own life. But I find that I get the best results with people when I focus on that question.
It forces me to boil down everything to what matters, to the few pieces of knowledge and the few actions that truly move the needle in overcoming this dreadful habit.
So in today’s article, we’ll discuss three things you MUST understand to beat procrastination as quickly and effectively as possible.
1. Yes, You Can
I’m not a big fan of motivational speakers, the you-can-achieve-anything-you-want-in-life kind of guys. I cringe when seeing people on stage shouting and clapping and jumping around. I’m a calm dude. Introverted. Quiet. Reflective.
That said, I do believe that you can achieve almost anything you want in life. Whether you want to drive a fast car, become a multimillionaire, travel the world, marry the love of your life, or move into your dream house – those are up for grabs.
It won’t happen overnight. It won’t be easy. It won’t necessarily be fun. In fact, depending on what you want to achieve, it will take decades of dedication, hard work, sacrifice, and discipline. But if you want it bad enough and your goal is within the realm of basic laws of physics, then, yes, you can.
Don’t be stupid in choosing your goals, of course. You won’t become a basketball pro if you’re 30 years old and never played in your life, and you probably won’t become the next Mark Zuckerberg, either. You have to be somewhat realistic.
Yet the truth is, we live in a world of cause and effect. Neither “success” nor “failure” happen by accident. Any success is the result of doing certain, specific things over and over again. Any failure is the result of doing certain different, specific things over and over again.
“If you want to be successful, find someone who has achieved the results you want and copy what they do and you’ll achieve the same results,” says Tony Robbins, funny enough one of the motivational speakers that tend to make me cringe.
Achieving your goals has very little to do with talent, or intelligence, or looks, or background, or anything like that. Instead, it has everything to do with the law of cause and effect. If you want to become rich, there are certain beliefs and actions that will get you there. Likewise, if you want to overcome procrastination, there are certain beliefs and actions that will get you there. It’s just a matter of figuring out what those beliefs and actions are – which is, of course, the topic of my articles, book, and course.
Bottom line: You can overcome procrastination. And you can become a highly productive and disciplined person. Someone who gets up early in the morning, exercises regularly, treats people with kindness and compassion, gets done what needs to get done, dispatches tasks easily, and so on. You just need to install the right beliefs and perform the right actions. It’s no miracle. It’s a matter of cause and effect.
(Note: If the law of cause and effect doesn’t fully convince you that change is possible for you, check out Carol Dweck’s work on the growth versus the fixed mindset, or anything on the science of neuroplasticity.)
2. It Won’t Be Easy
Once you accept that change is possible, you must understand that it involves a lot of hard work, effort, discipline, sacrifice, and pain – blood, sweat, and tears if you will.
Digging myself out of my procrastination misery was one of the hardest things I ever did. I was brought to my knees many times by the guilt, disappointment, and self-criticism. Every progress I made was immediately followed by a setback. Every inch of forward-movement cost an insane amount of effort. Every day I was battling with myself, slowly building up a little bit of discipline until eventually changes started to stick and things got easier.
Listen, I would love to tell you that overcoming procrastination was easy, that being disciplined was easy, that reaching your goals was as simple as doing some visualization exercises. But it’s not true. Unless you’re one of the lucky few who’ve had “tough” childhoods and come out with a work ethic and levels of self-discipline most of us can only dream of, you’ll have to work for it. You’ll have to put in tons and tons of effort to slowly build up that discipline and work ethic.
The truth is, anyone who’s achieved magnificent things in life had to work hard for it. The media – newspapers, tv programs, and so on – just won’t show it to us. We see the gold medals, fancy cars, individual honors, and scream out, “Oh, what a legend! What a natural talent this person is. So talented. So natural. Different from the rest of us. Born a genius!”
It’s bullshit. The reason Bill Gates, Kobe Bryant, Jay-Z, Arianna Huffington, J.K. Rowling, Oprah, Tiger Woods, Mark Zuckerberg, Ellen DeGeneres, or Roger Federer are so successful is because they work insanely hard.
Just consider the following examples…
“Work like hell. I mean you just have to put in 80 to 100 hour weeks every week. This improves the odds of success.” – Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX
“I can’t relate to lazy people. We don’t speak the same language. I don’t understand you. I don’t want to understand you.“ – Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest basketball players of all time
“The harder you work, the luckier you get.” – Gary Player, one of the greatest players of all time
“The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is I'm not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be out-worked, period. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me, you might be all of those things you got it on me in nine categories. But if we get on the treadmill together, there's two things: You're getting off first, or I'm going to die. It's really that simple, right? You're not going to out-work me.” – Will Smith, one of the most successful and best paid actors of all time
“It’s not about money or connections — it’s the willingness to outwork and out-learn everyone.” – Mark Cuban, self-made multibillionaire
“For me, education has never been simply a policy issue - it's personal. Neither of my parents and hardly anyone in the neighborhood where I grew up went to college. But thanks to a lot of hard work and plenty of financial aid, I had the opportunity to attend some of the finest universities in this country.” – Michelle Obama
“I believe in hard work and luck, and that the first often leads to the second.” – J.K. Rowling
“I’ve never met anyone that works harder than me in my industry.” – Beyoncé
Do you think any of these people wastes hours every day on social media? Watching television? Reading gossip? Watching Netflix? Eating crappy food?
Face it, if you want to overcome procrastination and create an epic life, you need to start putting in the work.
3. It’s a Marathon, not a Sprint
“You” is really all you have. Your beliefs, skills, knowledge, experiences, health, fitness, awareness… Everything can be taken away from you except who you are as a person. So, doesn’t it make sense to invest in that?
Charlie Munger, self-made billionaire and business partner of Warren Buffett, writes in one of my favorite quotes of all time, “I constantly see people rise in life who are not the smartest, sometimes not even the most diligent, but they are learning machines. They go to bed every night a little wiser than they were when they got up and boy does that help, particularly when you have a long run ahead of you.”
“Spend each day trying to be a little wiser than you were when you woke up. Discharge your duties faithfully and well. Step by step you get ahead, but not necessarily in fast spurts. But you build discipline by preparing for fast spurts. Slug it out one inch at a time, day by day. At the end of the day – if you live long enough – most people get what they deserve.”
Albert Einstein said something similar, “Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong learning attempt to acquire it.”
You’re an unpolished gem, an entity of near-unlimited potential. Why not continuously work on yourself? Why not try to get a little bit better every day? A little bit smarter? A little bit more disciplined? A little bit more kind, compassionate, and loving?
If you’re serious about overcoming procrastination, your best bet is to keep at it. Don’t give up after setbacks. Get back on track. Come back stronger. Learn from your mistakes. Do that for a long enough period, and you’ll be shocked at what you’re capable of. But keep investing in yourself. Realize it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed these tips and found them valuable. If you did, you’ll love our brand new online course, Procrastinator to Producer.
It’ll show you step-by-step how to overcome procrastination, build self-discipline, and become more productive.
Best of all, you’ve got nothing to lose by signing up. If you love it, great. And if you don’t, just ask for a refund and you’ll get your money back. No big deal, we’re easy.
Nice write-up, Good Job!
I really enjoy this article, my alerts turn on because I am the kind of person with big dream but struggle to reach them out. Procrastination is a hard word but a real stopper, thanks for remember it me.
Hello, Thanks for the wonderful article. Based on my personal experience, I feel bounded when I follow the routine. It gives the feeling of suffocation or jailed. How to handle those feeling while maintaining the discipline?
When you follow which routine? Or what kind of routine?
I mean to avoid procrastination, you make a plan, how you are going to execute. The another aspect is power of repetitions, when you keep on doing the same thing over period. For example, I decide to wake up at 6 am and do the gym. I can not continue it more than 1 week. I start feeling suffocation in that routine and I gave up. How to overcome that feeling?
Huh, that’s an interesting way to put it. I’ve honestly never felt “suffocated” from repeating the same routine over and over again. Sure, I struggle with lack of motivation when repeating routines, but feeling suffocated? That’s not something I experience.
In any case, what do I do when I don’t feel motivated to perform certain habits? For starters, realize that habits are what make or break you in the future. Building good habits/routines is an investment in your future. If you don’t feel motivated to follow through, just remember that it’s an investment and it’s normal to not feel like doing it. If you repeat the habits long enough, they will become second nature and you’ll just do them – whether you feel motivated (suffocated) or not. It will just be something you do automatically.
Another thing I would tell you is that trying to overcome that feeling is probably not a great idea. Why? Because whenever we try to get rid of a feeling, it only becomes stronger. Suppression doesn’t work; acceptance does. So instead of fighting that feeling of suffocation, your best bet is just to accept it and do what needs to be done in spite of it. Don’t give the feeling too much importance. Put it aside a little bit. Accept it. But don’t pay too much attention to it. Another way to put it: Stop thinking so much. Just go through the routine and get it over with. Sooner or later (when the routine becomes more habitual) the feeling will lose its power and you’ll be on your way of integrating a habit you’ll potentially benefit from for a very long time.
Hope that helps! 🙂
Thanks Nils. That was really great answer. I will work on that. I have a few question about loneliness and lack of motivation. I guess this is not the right forum to talk about it. Can you tell me where to reach for those questions?
Feel free to ask your questions here. Or shoot me an email to email@example.com.
Hi Nils and Dip. I love this conversation. Dip I am a creature of habit and without routine I achieve little! But it doesn’t come naturally to me. It always hurts when the alarm goes off early. Every. Single. Day. I just get up at 5.30am and by the time I’m at work at 7am and have my tea and cereal, I am my most productive for the first 3 hrs. It’s only after I’ve achieved some small goals that I start to feel good and then I tackle some really big ones. I often get that feeling you might express as suffocation. For me I feel a little nuts, crazy even, with a mix of deja vu thrown in. I try to set myself little challenges to gain a sense of achievement and progress to counter but not get rid of these feelings. Like maybe I can hang all the washing up in just 15 mins?! And I go for it. Or maybe I can even do it in such an efficient way that I don’t have to sort or iron or take any more time to get the washing in a folded, organised, waerable state. It adds a little edge and joy to a task that I otherwise hate and feel I could procrastinate all day every day on!! I actually get great satisfaction from pushing through the yucky feelings and striving towards quickly and perfectly smashing tgat task and getting on with other stuff. I hope you find this helpful too!
Thank you so much for your input, Melinda. There seem to be two approaches to getting momentum in one’s day…
1) Eat that frog. This is the philosophy of starting the day by tackling the hardest task first (the frog, if you will). The idea is to get the toughest task off the plate, while the willpower, energy, and concentration tasks are still at their fullest.
2) Get momentum and a sense of accomplishment by getting easier tasks done first. Then, with that positive momentum, tackle the harder tasks.
I tend to use both approaches, depending on my mood, potential deadlines, and other factors. Today, for example, I’m starting the day with fairly simple tasks – answering emails and replying to comments. Once I’m done with that, I’ll move on to the much harder task of writing an article. With the smaller things out of the way, it makes me feel like everything’s done and I’m ready to fully focus on more higher-value activities.
Another thing I’ll often do when I don’t have the motivation for the tough tasks is to procrastinate productively. I’ll clean the house, declutter, get organized, shave, prepare food, bring the garbage out, and so on. This allows me to feel productive and get the small things (that need to get done anyway) out of the way. I did that yesterday for four or five hours straight. I felt incredible when I was done – clear-minded, calm, accomplished, and even a bit proud of myself. And would you know it, that positivity helped me add two hours of editing on top of it.
i am 17 and i am from india. i really had a useful time here.
i also have a problem with my handwriting.i dont have a particular style of writing.
i am wanting to buy your books but i just had got one. so i may have to wait till my birthday. but i must buy one book atleast
No better time to start getting into this stuff than at 17! You’ll be miles ahead of everyone else in a few years time 🙂
Beautiful article. I am wowed…
Thank you! 🙂
This made me president, thanks.
Haha, my pleasure.