Part I of a 4-part series on: Procrastination.
What stops you from starting that task?
Perhaps the answer is one of the usual suspects: task too overwhelming, task too tedious or boring, an element of the unknown, a fear of success or failure, etc.
There may, however, be another element at play holding you back, which often goes overlooked: Our choice of words and phrases.
How often do you say ‘have to’, ‘need to’ and ‘should’?
“I have to do my taxes this weekend.”
“I need to write a business plan today.”
“I should sort out the spare junk room tomorrow.”
Without realising it, our speaking habits put a positive or negative spin on our attitude. Do you notice it here?
Though subtle, these statements convey a sense of obligation, pressure, even guilt. In this context, they diminish our sense of power and options.
Now, it may well be that certain tasks are required of us. Filing taxes is always a good idea, perhaps you’ll need that business plan to obtain funding and maybe a home office isn’t feasible until you’ve sorted that room.
But if the prospect of any of these things sounds heavy going to begin with, saying that you have to, need to or should doesn’t help the cause.
Let’s briefly look at each:
1. “I have to do my taxes this weekend.” The issue with ‘have to’ is that it feels restrictive and removes options.
Yes, if it’s tax season and taxes are due, then it’s in my best interest to handle it. Even so, the action or event of ‘doing my taxes this weekend’ is a choice. I don’t have to do anything. The consequences would be another story, but that’s not the point.
The point is, I have options. We just don’t hear the options when the task is stated as ‘I have to…’
2. “I need to write a business plan today.” Here, the phrase I ‘need to’ feels oppressive. By default the task sounds like a burdensome chore.
‘Need to’ sounds obligating and puts additional pressure on us. Hear the negative undertone?
The irony is, there’s almost always good reason and benefits for things we ‘need’ to do, yet stated this way it’s not as apparent.
3. “I should sort out the spare junk room tomorrow.” Is there a word as demotivating as ‘should’? Should comes with all sorts of implications, one being of guilt. There’s something about ‘should’ that takes the wind out of our sails.
The more we don’t do that something that we tell ourselves we should do, the worse and worse we feel and yet the less inclined we’ll be to do it.
So, what can we do differently?
The trick to turning this around is surprisingly simple.
Replace ‘have to’, ‘need to’ and ‘should’ with …‘could’.
Rephrased, listen for the difference:
“I could do my taxes this weekend.”
“I could write a business plan today.”
“I could sort out the spare junk room tomorrow.”
I feel liberated already! That’s better, isn’t it? Much lighter, less weighty obligation, and suddenly more choice. ‘Could’ denotes a position of power and ability to choose. Stated this way, it’s implied that there are several things I could do this weekend, and taxes could be one of them, if I so choose.
I’m in the driver’s seat.
Plus, this approach makes the benefits and positive side of starting the task more apparent and appealing. Consider:
- I could do my taxes this weekend …so I can file stress-free well before the deadline and enjoy my holiday.
- I could write a business plan today …so I can get the ball rolling on the funding application and bring my business dream to life.
- I could sort out the spare junk room tomorrow …so I can finally turn the room into a great home office.
Yes, of course it’s still up to us to act on these things, but I suggest you’ll find you’ll dig your heels less being in a positive position to choose.
Pay attention to your verbiage. Choosing our words carefully can be the difference between powerless and empowered.
- First, identify one to three tasks where you’ve been procrastinating. How do you normally state it to yourself?
- Next reframe the tone of the task(s), replacing any oppressive phrasing with a positive, empowering ‘could’.
- Finally, expand the task into an appealing statement by adding one or two positive reasons why you could take action.
What could you do today?
Watch this space for Part II when we look at the impact of timing.