How to Conquer Procrastination - Tame Your Outer Child

Procrastination is Your Outer Child’s Favorite Ploy


Procrastination is your Outer Child’s favorite ploy. It uses passivity and avoidance to keep you stuck in status quo, and growing stucker by the day.  Procrastination is why you have goals that remain unreached, a body that remains untrimmed, and a bank account that remain unreplenished.  Procrastination is why you have overflowing closets, stacks of clutter, and a to do list so long, it overwhelms you into inertia. 


Your Outer Child may hate change, but YOU don’t.  Outer Child's idea of change is shopping. 


When you attempt to overcome procrastination, one of the biggest obstacles to getting started is all-or-nothing thinking.

             “My garage is such a nightmare, I can’t face it.”

            “My to do list is so long, I’ll never get it done. I’m defeated before I even start.”  


Your Outer Child might be strong, but you don’t have to let it continue clogging up your life. 


Overcome All-or-Nothing Thinking


The thought of having mountains of work to do before you reach a goal is paralyzing, especially if you think it’s all got to happen in one fell swoop.  To help put that self-defeating thinking aside, I offer two simple, handy, practical tools that help you achieve your goals gradually, but surely. 


The first tool comes from my mother who taught me a policy she called ‘First Things First.’  It means that if you’re all set to enjoy something – getting a snack from the refrigerator, running to the mall, or calling a friend – use it as an incentive to first get one small thing done on your to do list.  Use the snack as a reward. 


With First Things First, first you call to schedule your mammogram, and then so ahead and call that friend as a reward.  First empty the garbage, and then go to the mall.  First pay the water bill, and then leaf through your favorite catalogue. 


As First Things First becomes a habit, your life gets ordered a few things a day – perhaps a small dent in your to do list – but at least you’re able to enjoy life’s little rewards guilt free (because you took care of a few things first) and with greater consciousness. 


The second tool I call the ‘The 10 Things Rule.’ This technique helps you break down what might seem like a superhuman task.  When you’re faced with monstrous clutter, rather than let it overwhelm you, take a reasonable number of baby steps toward your goal a few minutes at a time. Say you had a party and your house is a disaster area. Pick up just ten dishes.  If you create a little momentum along the way and wind up doing more, fine.  And when you run out of steam, stop.  Next time you approach the mess, pick up just ten wine glasses.  Rest easy knowing the task will eventually get done, ten things at a time.


Of course ten isn’t a magic number.  Think of a task and decide on the number of baby steps you want to take at a time.  If you have clothes piled up all over your bedroom, just put away three things.  Clean jeans go in the drawer, dirty shirt in the hamper, shoes on the rack. Okay, you’re done!  (unless momentum carries you further).  Next time put away just three more things, or ratchet it up to five if you feel like it. 


These two tools are effective in that they create hope – whether your house is a just a little messy or you have stacks and piles that take over your entire living space.  First Things First and the 10 Thing Rule are about direction – moving you in the direction of achieving your goals.  Here are some pointers: 


1)      What to do first?   Create a hierarchy for items ranked from easy to hard, pleasurable to disagreeable, and start with just a few of the easy, more pleasurable stuff.  Don’t bite off more than you can chew:  You might be able to get rid of a stack of outdated newspapers first, for example, and then perhaps put your overdue library books in the car.  (Then reward yourself!)

2)       You’re a work in process. With each baby step you take, consider yourself in the process of getting your life in order. 

3)      It takes as long as it takes.  Progress can be slow, steady, and sporadic and still get you where you need to go. Expect it to take time.  Be patient with yourself and the process. 

4)      It’s uncomfortable, but you can do it.   Remind yourself that some discomfort is involved in tackling your to do list, even though you’re taking baby steps.  Being emotionally prepared for a strong challenge is a good coping strategy. 

5)      Keep holding a positive future vision in mind.  Create a picture in your mind – a mental refuge of a time set a little in the future. Imagine yourself feeling peaceful and calm because your life is under control and your goals achieved.

6)      Stop and smell the roses.  As you take steps, take in the moment, find the joy in it.  Reward yourself with the knowledge that you’re moving in the right direction.

7)      It’s Outer Child’s mess. Continue attributing your procrastination to your Outer Child to prevent self-anger and self-hatred from infiltrating your sense of self.  Just blame your bad old habits on Outer and then work to improve your life, and with it, your relationship with yourself. 

8)      Your Higher Self is in charge. When you take a baby step, take it as your volitional self – your higher self.  A stronger Adult Self is able to make peace with your Outer Child and use its energy to keep your life, schedule, person, and home in order.  

9)      There will be setbacks.  Give yourself permission to be human and expect to do this imperfectly.  When you have a setback, be gentle with yourself; you can just pick up where you left off.

10)  Day by day.   It doesn’t mater if it takes hours, weeks, months, or years to reach your dreams.  Keep your focus on today – on this corner, on this moment.  As they say in 12 step programs:  Keep it in the Day.”