Everyone knows that ambition is key to success. If you're not naturally driven, acquiring ambition can feel like an impossibility. While I can't promise I can turn a torpid procrastinator into a dynamo, I have been able to help my clients see moderate improvement. And one of the world's top experts on procrastination privately told me, "Marty, I gotta tell you. After all these years, I've come to believe no one can cure procrastination."
So with those disclaimers made, here are the strategies that have most often helped my clients develop more ambition. Might one or more help you stop procrastinating?
Realize that productivity is key to the life well-led.Most successful and emotionally content people value productivity over pleasure. Indeed, they cherish the privilege of being able to be highly productive. Of course, where possible, they choose work they do well, which makes work more pleasurable. Even so, they don't expect work to be as fun as recreation, but they feel it's a worthwhile tradeoff. So they work, not as little as they can get away with, but as much as possible without hurting their health or quality of work. In turn, whether they're a clerk or CEO, they put their heads on their pillows each night feeling good about themselves, the role models they are for their families and friends, and that they're not parasites on the world but substantial contributors to it.
Make it fun.Yes, some tasks are inevitably not fun -- doing my taxes comes to mind, but most tasks can be done in a way that's more enjoyable or in a way that's less so. Ongoing, ask yourself, "What's a fun way to do this?" or "Can I game-ify this?" That technique is particularly effective with fun-loving procrastinators because it doesn't require them to change their valuing hedonism.
Be aware of the moment of truth.There's a moment when you decide, consciously or not, whether to do the task or to escape it by doing something more fun. Try to make that choice consciously. You'll usually realize that the short-term benefit of avoidance is much outweighed by the long-term gain of getting the task done and not suffering the results of procrastinating: the guilt, the shame, an angry boss, damaged career or personal life -- or simply the feeling that you could have done a better job if you had started the task right away rather than waiting until the adrenalized last-minute.
Focus on the next one-second task.We all can get overwhelmed if we think of all the things on our plate. The key is to focus on the next one-second task. Don't know what that is? Well, that's your next task. Can't figure out the baby steps? Ask someone to help you.
Some people have trouble motivating themselves to do even a one-second task. It may help to remember that at least two benefits derive: It feels good to get it done, and it's a baby step toward your long-term goal. There's often a third benefit: You learn something, for example, from reading that next sentence or in trying to prevent or fix a problem.
Accept that it needn't be pleasurable.Sure, it would be nice if you could make all tasks pleasurable, but you can't. It's worth reminding yourself that you can survive a measure of unpleasantness. When facing a task, ask yourself if the unpleasantness is worth it? I'm sure Mother Teresa didn't find it pleasurable to work amid the sewage stench and biting scorpions of Calcutta's streets but knew the benefits were worth it. Of course, not everyone can or wants to be Mother Teresa, but do picture the benefits to you, your boss, your family, and society of your doing some less-than-fun work. The good news is that usually, the task turns out not to be that unpleasant. Often, once you start, you'll find it more enjoyable than you thought. And if you try to make the work as fun as possible and get help when you get stuck, you'll usually end up reaping far more net pleasure than if you procrastinated.
Address any substance abuse problem.Nothing kills drive like a drug or alcohol problem. Most abusers are unaware that they have a problem so if you have even a bit of doubt whether you do, be brave enough to ask those closest to you. And if you do have a problem, please get help. You'll likely be so glad you did. For some people, family support is enough. Analytical types often do best with short-term cognitive therapy while feeling- or spirituality-centered people may be helped more by a 12-step program.
Get the right work.If, too often, you find work painful, maybe you need more training or to find different work -- a job you can do well enough so that the benefits of being highly productive outweigh the pain. If you think that might help you, you may want to see my 21 top career picks. Or might looking for another career just be a way to procrastinate addressing your global lack of drive?
Practice.You've suffered from lack of drive for a long time, so just reading these strategies won't change you, let alone enduringly. Print out the strategy(ies) you want to try, tape it to your computer monitor, read it aloud (with expression) a number of times a day, and then force yourself to use the strategy, again and again. That's how to maximize your chances of developing more drive.
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