This is the first post of a 3 part series on Why We Procrastinate & the 5 Steps to Transform Procrastination Into Your Groove.
In this article you will learn:
- How I dealt with my procrastination and almost killed myself and my fellow hikers
- The 2 main reasons we procrastinate (that most people don’t realize stops them from their success)
- 2 Easy & quick solutions to stop procrastinating now
- The most effective technique I discovered to deal with the root cause of procrastination
How about a wedding and a volcano meditation hike?
With the windows closed to block out the noisy NYC streets, I sat in my quiet apartment as my eyes glazed over the plans I had for the launch of my website. Sigh…I felt anxious and very unhappy. “Why wasn’t I making more progress on my blog and video show?”, I thought to myself. Worse, despite living a more balanced life and regularly meditating, I still often felt depressed.
Then my phone rang, it was my sister! Awesome, for a moment a brief distraction from myself and my work.
Being the maid of honor for her upcoming wedding that would be held in Hawaii in a few weeks, we talked about some favor and color details. Then as the conversation quieted…she blurted out,
“Kris!! Oh my gosh a few weeks after the wedding Hele Malie is taking place. You have to and go to it! It’s perfect timing!” Hele Malie, which meant to walk peacefully in some other language, was a 5 day meditation hike the Palolo Zen Center (where my sister and I meditated in Hawaii) did on the Kilauea volcano.
“Kris, it was seriously one of the most amazing experiences I ever had.” She had done 3 of them I think.
“Err” I said trying to think of a way to not disappoint my bride to be sister. “Yaaah I haven’t really hiked too much, I don’t think I can do it.” But my sister just continued and continued with so much enthusiasm how it was life changing.
Life changing huh? So in 5 days my life could be changed?
My whole vision was and is to figure out how to be productive and be truly inwardly happy (like where if you looked at me hearts and smiley faces are coming out of my butt and ears). “This could really help me reach my vision,” I thought to myself. So based on my trusted referral, I, a non-hiker who has never camped a night in my life, signed up to cross a volcano.
From visioning we can begin to take action
In my very first blog post I wrote about the effectiveness on visioning to achieve our goals. Visioning is 1 of the 4 major components of the Vibrant Life Formula.
Good news, I finally get to share with you the second major component of the Vibrant Life Formula! I present to you Action.
From visioning we can use that energy, information and direction to to take action. Another way to look at it is – once we understand clearly our vision (what a successful finish looks like), all we need to do next is figure out the action steps to get there.
Action to achieve our goals in itself is obvious (unless you are watching The Secret, jk), but what’s less obvious, and which I rarely hear self help books talk about is:
How do we approach taking action so we don’t procrastinate and actually get into the groove?
The first day: Success I got myself on the path!
I send in my money for the trip but after that, how could I put it…I procrastinated, until just a few days before the trip. Luckily, thanks to a last minute 10 pm trip to Walmart’s well stocked camping department (actually impressive – who knew camping was this popular), I had everything I needed.
Fortunately the first day of the hike was a 3 mile steep cliff side descent with the backdrop being 360 fogginess from tropical storm Henrietta, that basically ominously whispered in my ear, this is scary.
How we started each morning’s hike was to sit in meditation for 10 minutes, and then in a pre-decided order, one by one each of us would put on our pack and walk off to the path alone, usually about five minutes after the previous person.
Finally it was my turn, I couldn’t put this off any longer. I stood up, hoisted and buckled my pack on to me, and started my first part of the hike down the cliff. I was finally on the path! I was doing it.
Why Kindergarteners get more done than me
On the days of really bad cases of procrastination, I sometimes get disgruntled at kindergardeners. I swear they are getting more done than me. Sometimes when I procrastinate and take a walk outside I bump into these little show offs, touting all their finger paintings and paper ring necklaces they made that day to their parents, or in NYC their nannies. While I on the other hand didn’t get anything done, just worried and maybe had a cleaner desk.
I may sound below them, hopefully not worse than a preschooler when I say this…but it’s not fair! They have 2 fundamental things going for their success:
- A social environment with peers & a leader
- Very structured Schedule
Ohhh I bet they even have show and tell. What I would give sometimes to show my draft blog to a group of peers that are forced to say good things about it.
3 Quick & Easy tips to stop procrastinating now
This is why co-working spaces are so popular these days for the self employed. If you feel like procrastinating on reading the rest of this article (it’s ok I won’t hold it against you), here are 3 quick tips to stop procrastinating now (especially if you work on your own):
- Create structure in your time by creating a schedule:
- Create and document on paper a daily, weekly, and monthly scheduled routine that you follow within each of those time periods. Put it in your digital calendar. It’s ok to move the blocks around, that is infinitely easier than recreating a new schedule each day, week and month.
- Work with friends:
- Join a co-working space.
- Cheaper options: Go to Starbucks and find the cheapest thing on the menu (I think those biscottis are just $1.75)
- Go to the library, and bring a jacket.
- Find a friend who is also goal oriented and set up a time, maybe once per 2 weeks where you report to eachother what you have finished and plan to do.
- Join a co-working space.
Besides the fact our transportation had left, the main reason I finally found myself hiking this volcano was the peers I was going with and the structured format of the hike.
But, something inside me was still killing me & almost the other hikers with me
A tumbleweed rolled down a cliff…and that tumbleweed was me
I was on the path but inside my nerves were killing me. About half a mile down the path and millions of worried thoughts later I still felt unsettled. My mind worried (yes I know I was supposed to be meditating) if my back pack straps were adjusted correctly when I lost my balance. Then my foot slipped and I began to literally, head over feet, tumble down the side of the cliff. Finally on the third flip I finally got a good grip on some wet grass, bringing my gymnastics to a stop.
The next thing my mind leapt to was that the person behind probably freaked out that I was stupid enough to kill myself less than a mile into the hike. So as soon as I stopped my fall, I jumped to my feet, looked up behind me, half grinned, and did a double thumbs up to a figure up the cliff behind me.
Sigh…it was funny right? I wanted to laugh it off…logically it was comedic. One day…oooone day….when I’m writing a blog post…this will be funny.
Ohps…On almost killing the hikers behind me
Lost and receiving some direction
As I made it to the base of the cliff, my mind was still reeling from my tumble. I kept walking but felt confused if I was on the right path. Then I heard a whistle, the hiker before me was passing on a path direction message.
“Ok great!” I thought, “Phew.” I felt pretty lost, so this relay message came at the right time to get me back in the right direction.
Ohh…that message wasn’t just for me
About an hour and a half later I was given another relay. I looked behind me to give the relay to the hiker behind me but didn’t see anyone across the somewhat flat plane for at least a mile. Hmm, that’s odd I thought. The person behind me was pretty fast….wait a minute?! I don’t think I passed on the first relay to the person behind me!
My mind went blank asking myself, “Did I really spaz out like that?” and “Why I would do that?” I waited and waited as panic started to fill my body. 5 minutes passed, then 10 minutes, then 20 looooong minutes passed.
I put my pack down and ran to the nearest mound to look farther out out for them and didn’t see anyone. I was supposed to be meditating right…ohhh but all I wanted to do was press that panic button.
I worried to myself, “I killed the hikers behind me! How could I forget that relay? Where were they? They didn’t have a cell phone, how would we find them? Should I retrace my steps until I find them?” and of course, “OMG what will people think?!!”
Let’s press the panic button
My mind continued on this worrying race track while also trying to stay somewhat calm (haha…fail). 25 minutes passed. I squeezed my eyebrows together nice and tight. “Ok, guys let’s pull out that panic button.” I said to myself.
Then I saw someone off in the distance. Relief! I think. I ran back to my backpack and stood in the gaosho (hands in prayer position) to pass on the relay. Before I could relay the direction to them I had to wait for their bow, their acknowledgement to me that they were ready for the direction. A few minutes passed and they still didn’t bow back to me. What if it was a different hiker. Finally as they got closer they did bow. Hallelujah…or in Buddhist terms ohmmmmm.
So. This is how the first day of my hike went. Yes I was so overwhelmed with fear that I fell down a mountain and almost lost my hiking compadres.
The cause of procrastination: Fear & self criticism
If I hadn’t had the structure and social group to take on this hike, I probably wouldn’t have done it. So this got me on the path, however it didn’t make the cause of procrastination go away: fear and self criticism. And, as we witnessed on the first day of my hike, the fear and worries were so overwhelming I sort of spazed out.
The early signs to a bad case of procrastination
Two days ago on my calendar was to create my first video show that would accompany this blog. I had most of it written out, and all the tools I needed. However, I found myself trying to do everything else except shoot the video. So I decided to check out some other video shows for ideas. Immediately my mind started to play thoughts like, “Wow their website is so nice, I don’t know if I can do that. I have barely written 2 articles and they have hundreds!” and, “They seem to effortlessly have comments and retweets. I am lucky if I can even get my mom to read my blog. Maybe I don’t have what it takes.”
I was so overwhelmed with fear and self doubt that I finally just took a walk…then I ran back home…it was 3pm, so too many kindergartners around.
When going from not doing to not doing…is complete utter relief
My mind was caught up in a tornado of negative thoughts.
This is the point for a lot of us where it feels unbearable to sit in the whirlwind of worries and self-criticism, that stepping away is a huge anxiety relief. For me this is when I start thinking how nice it would be to eat a snack, read the news, check my email, anything but actually work on my goal.
We basically go from not doing anything (but worrying and being critical) to also not doing anything (but not trying anymore) and feel slight relief.
To me this is an interesting phenomena because nothing had changed. In addition there is nothing truly dangerous about me sitting at my desk, yet I feel so much fear and dread. This brings me to my refined question:
How can I work on my goals and not experience the cyclone of negative thoughts? Could I hike and not be filled with worry and actually enjoy my hike?
The second day: Less almost killing, & more peace
The second day, I started the hike again battling worries of, “Why did I sign up for this?” and “I hope I can make it.”
Then I remembered my talk with my teacher the night before. From it I felt a better understanding of how to use the walking meditation technique. I mainly had to count my steps. So I did this. My mind wandered off and on a lot but I kept trying, 1…..and ….2…and…3.
Then as I got into it I started to count as if my whole body was saying the count. All of a sudden intermittently I started to feel this joy inside of me. Here and there I could see my mind slow down or even quiet for a whole 1 second. I just felt one with my whole body and a sense of peace that no therapist could have coached me into. I was amazed.
The radical realization that got me into my groove
What was I doing that got me to that action zone, where my mind quieted, and each next step I needed to take just came to me effortlessly? I realized the main thing was:
I have to put my focus on my physical body and my physical body’s actions via my counting of my steps.
Then, I sensed my breathing with my whole body, I’m talking about down to physically sensing my fingers, my toes, and even my stomach and lungs being filled with oxygen.
This body awareness took my attention away from my mind, which was my worrying head-quarters.
In addition, I was reminded how exhilarating being present in my body was. Like that all natural feeling after you have worked out (aka runner’s high), I promise you this body awareness can bring you so much peace & fulfillment in this moment (I re-test this theory daily).
I was amazed! I had been searching for a direction on how to move (so not just meditate by sitting and staring at a wall) and feel some level f awareness. It turned out it is possible!
Getting physical in front of my computer
When I got home there was a lot to catch up on. I sat in front of the computer, and started to feel that feeling that all I wanted to do was something else, then I started to notice how my thoughts were worries and self doubt.
Aha! Time to practice what I learned from my walking and counting. The main thing was direct my attention to my physical body and physical actions. So what I did was:
- I focused on the sensation of my finger tips as it hit the keyboard, then listening to my heart beat, and then relaxing my stomach (about 30-45 seconds).
- I noticed my mindset shift and relax. Then I breathed with my whole body.
- Finally I just focused on the next physical step. In some cases it was just typing with my fingers. In others, I had to think it through, and realized it was me taking out a piece of paper using the pen to jot down my thoughts from my head (notice how all the words were physical actions vs. come up with a new idea for a blog post).
I saw my myself starting to move and take action! I wasn’t cured completely of all my fears that lead to procrastination. In fact that wasn’t the point, the point was just to let it go enough in that moment to focus on the now, reduce fear and get the action started. Finally! This unorthodox approach was finally the direction towards happy action taking I was looking for.
Bonus: How to walk and experience peace
A secret technique used for thousands of years
First let’s start with how to enjoy and feel more connected to ourselves while we physically move. Everyday we walk, so to start off let me teach you the technique I used that led to my physical presence realization. This technique has been used by many people before me to feel more present, mindful and joy as they walk, and now you will know it.
In fact, it turns out this practice of connecting with ourselves while we walk dates back thousands of years to different monks walking mindfully looking to understand the way of the universe. Using this technique was the difference between me agonizing about reaching the next camp ground, and me actually enjoying each step of the journey.
Good news, now you get to give it a try!
WARNING: Before you read any further please be warned:
- It takes a few sessions to experience it’s full effect. Make sure to try it on 4 separate sessions for at least 10 minutes each, giving it your full attention
- It’s deceivingly simplicity might lead you to dismiss it’s effectiveness. I had some doubt initially, but after 5 days of my own testing of it, I am amazed at it’s effectiveness.
3 Steps to a magical walking experience
Take a step, starting with your left foot. The moment your foot touches the ground, count 1.
Then every other left foot step, count again to the next number, until you reach 10. Your goal is to keep your mind focused on the counting until it reaches 10. Then start from one again.
As you get into the groove (for me it takes a few minutes at least or more!), say the count with your whole body.
Yes try this at home! This is perfect for walks with the dog, strolls in the park or walking across the parking lot. I highly recommend doing this during the first 15 minutes that you wake up and at the end of your day.
Notes: When my brain is especially distracted I found counting each step or each left step is the immediate feedback I need to slow down my thoughts.
How did trying out the walking with exhilaration exercise go? I would love to hear your thoughts.