Victor Frankel learned a lot about human behavior by observing people under the most inhuman circumstances.
Victor wasn’t just observing the behaviors of others under horrible conditions. He was also living under these oppressive conditions.
Victor and the people he observed were beaten mercilessly, forced to do grueling manual labor, and randomly executed.
Victor’s observations of human behavior occured in concentration camps. There many people declared “undesirables” were subjected to brutal, inhumane treatment on a daily basis.
Victor learned from his “observations” the secret to human survival.
He noted that it wasn’t those with most physical strength who were able to endure and survive this harsh treatment.
The best survivors were people who found purpose in the midst of their suffering.
Those people who lost their purpose died.
This surprising observation, led Victor to the insightful conclusion:
“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose … He who has a WHY to live, can bear with almost any HOW.”
Victor Frank documents his experiences and insights in his groundbreaking book Man’s Search For Meaning.
I encourage you to read or re-read this amazing book. I find it to be an inspiring and insightful account of the centrality of purpose to the human experience.
As I recently reflected on the importance of purpose, I identified three distinctive benefits that come from having a clear purpose in our lives.
This list of the benefits of purpose is not meant to be comprehensive. But it reflects what I believe to be the most valuable gifts we gain from knowing and living our life purpose.
I hope this list inspires you to take invest in discovering and expressing your life purpose.
Here are the three top benefits that we gain from having a clear sense of purpose in our lives.
Discovering your life purpose will give you focus.
It will help you to make decisions in a way that’s easier and less stressful.
This is because purpose helps you to identify what’s important in life. This will help you be less conflicted and experience less anxiety about saying no.
You are free to make decisions about how you spend your time, money, and energy based on whether it aligns with your life purpose.
There are lots of wonderful things that you could be doing with your time or with your money. But they are not all good things for you to do. Having a clear sense of your purpose helps you to distinguish between the two.
When I first started my career as a college professor, I was so excited to finally have position that I’d worked towards for so many years. I wanted to be of service to the students, the community, and my University colleagues.
I was overcommitted and stressed out!
I found myself getting involved with something just because it was a good idea. But, as I got more clear on my purpose I decided that I could not invest in every good idea presented to me.
Before I agreed to take on any new commitments, projects, relationships, I asked myself a critical question:
“Is this in line with my purpose?”
This was how I raised the bar in my life.
Now, it’s much easier for me to say “no” to most requests. This habit makes it possible for me to give a resounding “yes” to the opportunities aligned with my purpose.
I now have the time, resources, and energy to invest in the things that are important to me. I am able to do this without feeling overwhelmed and stressed out.
My purpose has given me focus.
Having a clear advice purpose helps you to live longer and a healthier life.
A study published in the 2014 issue of Psychological Science, documents the life extending effect of purpose.
In this national study, the researchers survey people and asked them to rate their sense of purpose in life from low to high.
Fourteen years later, those participants with a low sense of purpose were much more likely to have died. All other things being equal, having a sense of purpose made all the difference in their life expectancy.
I was surprise to find this relationship holds true in every age group.
It wasn’t just for older people that having a sense of purpose help them to live longer. It was true for middle aged people and for people in their twenties.
The researchers concluded that having a sense of purpose gives people “protective benefits” to their life. Purpose enhances your physical well-being and has a cumulative effect.
So it’s actually better to develop a sense of purpose as early on as possible. This gives you more time to continue accumulating all the benefits that come with having a strong sense of purpose.
But, it’s never too late to invest time in discovering you purpose.
At whatever moment you get clear your purpose and start living out that purpose, it will extend your life.
Resilience allows you to bounce back from the setbacks that are inevitable in life.
When you’re resilient you, setbacks don’t stop you. Resilient people are able to use those setbacks as stepping stones to their success.
Resilience is the result of having a clear sense of your purpose.
Once you understand why a goal is important to you, you can overcome tremendous obstacles to acheive that goal.
Think about the remarkable survivors that Victor Frankl observed. They did not break even under brutal inhumane treatment. Their purpose gave them to resilience to endure.
I often think about Nelson Mandela who spent 27 years in prison. Yet, he was able to walk directly into world leadership upon from his release.
I’ve spent years teaching in prisons and I know that prison is a horrible place for anyone to be. Everyday, in both big and small ways, there are constant assaults on your safety, dignity, and humanity.
But because Nelson Mandela was clear on his purpose, he was able to walk out of prison as a whole man with a vision.
Mandela’s strong sense of purpose enabled him to lead South Africa into a new era of peace and justice.
That’s the power of purpose.
When I’m talking with people about the importance of purpose, people often tell me that don’t know their life purpose. And that they don’t know how to discover it.
The best way to start uncovering your life purpose by reflecting on how you already bring value to others. Think about times in your life where you’ve made a difference in somebody’s life.
Your purpose is for others. Thinking about the ways you already add value to others can help you better understand your purpose.
Another reflection to get clarity on your life purpose is to consider the activities that place you in your flow.
What are the things you do that give you a feeling of timelessness?
These are activities that you could be doing this two hours, but it feels like just twenty minutes. That’s your flow. It’s that kind of work where you are so fully engaged in the process that time seems to disappear.
Your flow is an excellent window into your purpose.
As you clarify your life purpose, you want to highlight it and expand it. This means organizing more of your activities and goals living out your purpose.
For those who are ready to live a life of purpose that connects with your passions, join us for a FREE 5-Day Challenge to Creating a Life Filled with Energy and Passion.
This challenge empowers you to create a life of purpose that fills you with energy and passion, drastically reduces your stress, and allows you to accomplish your most important goals.
How would it feel to be filled with confidence, energy, and be extraordinarily productive?
Whether you are struggling to stay above the growing to-do lists or wanting to get the most out of each day, this 5-Day Productivity Challenge will give you simple and powerful tools to help you tap into your unique talents and energy to create the rich and rewarding life you deserve!
Get from under the pile of unending tasks, connect with your purpose, and reclaim your life. Click here to join our 5-Day Challenge to a life filled with energy and passion!
Having a strong sense of purpose benefits you and others. Commit to discovering and nurturing your purpose today!
Wishing you a life filled with meaning, purpose, and joy!
We like to think of some people as particularly gifted or talented in some areas. We think they they are born with innate abilities that make them masters in specific arenas. Yet, the mythology of giftedness is damaging to us as individuals and as a society.
First, the ideology of giftedness is problematic because it is empirically untrue. Second, the belief in giftedness perpetuates social inequality. Third, the myth of giftedness encourages people to avoid the pursuit of their dreams. In this article, I discuss how you can avoid the pitfalls of the gifted myth. You do this by using a growth mindset to fully develop your talents and achieve mastery in your chosen field.
Research has shown that our ideas about innate giftedness does not explain outstanding performers. They argue that we should not think about the distinction between mastery and proficient as the product of innate talent. Rather mastery, and what we call talent, is the product of consistent practice.
K. Anders Ericson’s research produced the 10,000 hours rule of thumb. He observed that it takes approximately 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to achieve mastery in any area. That’s approximately 3 hours of practice a day for 10 years. Thus, the difference between the individuals at the top of their fields and the amateurs is many, many, MANY hours of practice.
In a study of young musicians, Ericson and his colleagues asked teachers to rank the students according to their “talent”. The teachers were asked to identify those individuals who were the most talented. These were musicians that the teachers believed to have the most promise for international music careers. Surprisingly, the teacher’s evaluation of the student’s talent was actually a reflection of the students’ hours of practice. Those students who were judged as most likely to have outstanding international music careers practiced on average for about 10,000 hours. Those identified as “good” by their instructors had practiced for approximately 8,000 hours. Those considered the least accomplished practiced for approximately 5,000 hours.
Thus, what we are labeling as evidence of “talent” is the reflection of differential amounts on practice.
Ericson asserts that 50 hours of training is enough to allow you to become competent. This average is applicable for any skill with a moderate level of difficulty. These fifty hours of training allow your body and mind to learn how to make the appropriate response automatic.
Yet, those individuals achieve the mastery level commit to never stop learning. This is what enables them to dominate their field. The masters work with coaches who give them the feedback needed to constantly improve their performance. In the video below, legendary basketball player Michael Jordan discusses the importance of practicing with a coach. He identifies consistent practice and direction from his coach as responsible for taking his game to master level.
The ideology of innate levels of giftedness supports the practice of tracking in our schools. This logic suggests that students will perform at the best level for them when grouped according to ability.
Research shows that tracking doesn’t improve student learning. But tracking does expand social and economic inequalities. Rather than an assessment of ability, the notion of giftedness is often a reflection of social privilege. Those individuals from more privileged families (e.g. higher SES, white) are more likely to be evaluated as gifted and placed the more advanced educational tracks. This is a pervasive pattern that has been observed in a variety of schools and states across the country.
We deny opportunities for learning and success to many students by reserving the “enriched” curriculum for those identified as gifted. Yet, schools that are effectively “detracked” show high achievement across all groups of students. Countries such as Finland that do not practice tracking students according to ability demonstrate the highest overall scores of educational achievement. They also show the smallest range of achievement gap amongst its students. Rather than seeing intelligence and ability as a fixed entity, we now know that our capacity changes with our environment.
In her groundbreaking book, Mindest: The new psychology of success, Carol Dweck shows that perceiving our intelligence, talent, and abilities as something that can grow improves our performance and happiness. This growth mindset suggests that we can expand our ability in any area. But the fixed mindset implies that our level of ability can not be changed by our efforts.
Dweck’s research shows that you truly are what you believe about yourself. Individuals with a fixed mindset experience lots of stress from trying to prove their ability over and over again. They are more likely to give up or not try when things are challenging. Yet, individuals with a growth mindset experience challenges as learning opportunities. As a result of this growth mindset, they are likely to improve from their efforts.
Thinking of yourself and others as possessing an unknown and growing capacity for greatness inspires actions that produce such greatness. It provides opportunities to all. It focuses our attention on learning and growth rather than proving our worth. These are just a few of the many benefits we receive from discarding our erroneous ideas about giftedness.
The belief in giftedness encourages some people to play small and avoid pursuing their dreams. They believe that if a particular skill doesn’t come easily for you, then it’s not likely your area of success. This mode of thinking encourages us to give up on our dreams. We give up because we haven’t already demonstrated our “potential” for success.
Yet, there are many examples of successful people who looked like they had no potential for such success earlier in their lives. James Earl Jones has earned three Emmy awards. He is also the iconic voice of Darth Vader (Star Wars) and Mufasa (Lion King). But James Earl Jones had a stuttering problem for years as a child. In fact, he practiced poetry, public speaking and acting to help correct his speech problem.
Author Jennifer Egan won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel A Visit From the Goon Squad. But she experienced public failures early in her writing career. In fact, she said her first novel was so bad that even her mother hated it. Rather than throwing in the towel and proclaiming she was not a good writer, Egan continued to learn and improve in her craft as a writer.
Before becoming the youngest self-made millionaire, Bill Gates was a college drop-out. He was also the co-owner of a failed business. Yet he did not interpret these occurrences as a sign that he could not be a successful entrepreneur. Rather, he allowed his passion for computer programming to continue to lead him. Eventually Gates built Microsoft, one of the world’s most successful technology companies.
What these people had in common was a belief that past failures did not prevent their future success. They demonstrated a growth mind-set. They each continued learning and cultivating their interests, regardless of how others judged their likelihood of success.
Don’t fall into the trap of giving up on your dreams just because you weren’t a child prodigy. Don’t assume that just because you haven’t experienced a visible level of success, it is not in your future. Failure is not proof that you can’t be successful. Rather it is an opportunity to learn a key component of your future success.
Understanding that giftedness as a myth liberates us. It frees us individually and collectively to invest in ourselves and others. Rather than thinking about talent as a limited resource and directing our focus on identifying those with innate talent, we are now free to focus on interest and effort. If a person is interested in a particular skill or field of knowledge, they are more likely to invest the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice needed to excel in this area.
What topics, skills, questions, goals interest you? How are you pursuing them? Now there is no excuses for why you “just aren’t college material” or “don’t have the business sense to become an entrepreneur” or any other excuses that may have justified you not pursuing your goals. Whatever you are lacking now can be learned. You only need to identify your method of getting the information and commit to 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.
There are many course, books, programs, videos available to teach you the skills needed to become a master in your chosen area. In this information age you can easily identify resources to teach you almost anything you want to learn. Getting the information is only half the battle. The other part of the equation is logging in your 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.
Follow the lead of those who have already achieved mastery in their respective areas. Get yourself an expert coach. An experienced coach can design an individualized training program for you and give you the feedback needed to improve your performance. This allows you to focus your full attention on carry out the program. There’s no need for you to try to be both the performer and the evaluator of your performance.
Making the same mistake over and over again will not get you closer to master status. Mastery requires adjusting your performance based on feedback. This feedback loop allows you to get closer and closer to your goal. Your coach provides you with the feedback necessary to recognize errors and correct them. The expert eyes if a coach are a critical component of your journey to mastery. This is how you work smarter, not harder.
What’s the next step in your personal journey to mastery level? Have you identified your goal? Are you learning the skills needed for your craft? Are you putting in your 10,000 hours of deliberate practice on a regular basis? Do you receive personalized feedback on how to improve your performance from a coach?
If your answer to all the questions above is yes, then let me say “Congratulations!” You are well on your way to achieving master status and dominating your chosen field. No matter how far away it may feel, just remember that if you keep your focus you WILL achieve your goal. I am so proud of you and excited for what you will contribute to our world through your commitment to mastery.
If your answer to any of the previous questions is no, you now know the next step in your journey to mastery. The fact that you have the interest and commitment means that you CAN achieve your goal. You still need to combine that with instruction and 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to realize your dream. I wish you success on your journey!
If there’s anything that I can do to support you on your journey to mastery, please do not hesitate to contact me. If you have suggestions for others on the journey, share them below. Also, please share your success stories as a form of encouragement to others. Wishing you a life full of purpose, meaning, and joy!
Discovering and developing your talents is your key to freedom, success, and happiness. Developing your talents may or may not include formal schooling. Sometimes your career will be the manifestation of your life’s purpose. Other times your career may be the vehicle that supports your ability to do your life’s work. Either way, a meaningful and successful life is dependent upon celebrating your talents.
Celebrating your talents involves reconnecting with your innate curiosity, interests, and abilities. It also includes designing a plan to nurture these talents. But how do you identify your innate curiosity, interests, and abilities?
For people still grappling with identifying your specific talents, this article can guide your self-discovery process. Learning and self-discovery is a iterative process; so you need not know all the answers now. The questions and interests that you identify now will lead you along a path. As you proceed on that path, you will identify even more questions and interests.
Isn’t it exciting to know that this process of discovery and growth continues throughout your entire lifetime?
Once you learn how to ask yourself the right questions, you never have to worry about being bored or retiring from life. Connecting with your inner fire and curiosity will fuel your productivity, energy, and growth. Activating these resources will make you a life-long learner and contributor to our world.
The quality of any relationship is based on the quality of the conversations that occur within that relationship. In my coaching practice, I support my clients in improving the quality of the conversations (and thus the relationship) they have with themselves.
So how do you improve the quality of conversations with yourself? Simple. By asking more powerful questions of yourself.
Questions are more powerful than answers as they open up a dialouges and invite new ways of seeing the world.
A good answer can do the same thing because good answers also contain more questions. Unfortunately, our model of schooling often teaches us that answers close the dialogue. We are taught that there’s no more need to raise a question because “we already know”. This shuts down curiousity and is the opposite of learning.
In both my personal and professional life, my focus has been on asking better questions. I’ve found that the right question can fully activate our whole being, mind and body. Asking myself the right questions gives me energy to sustain my process of growth and discovery.
Below I’ve listed some powerful questions that can help you discover your unique gifts and abilities. These gifts are the basis of your contribution to our world. Thus, it’s important for us all that you discover, develop, and share your talents.
I urge you to write down your answers so that you can more clearly see patterns in your responses. These patterns are your clues to discovering the talents and interests that may have been suppressed by the expectations of others. You owe it to yourself to identify your unique gifts and share them with the world.
Grab your journal and ask yourself the following powerful questions:
Whether they gave you messages of encouragement or discouragement, the feedback from these people was more about them than it was about you. In the spiritual book The Four Agreements, we’re advised not to take anything personally. This is because people’s responses to you are actually their responses to projections of themselves. Even messages that seem discouraging or critical may have been grounded in love. A father may discourage you from pursuing a career as a dancer because he is concerned about your ability to become self-sufficient in that career. His comments are products of his worldview, his fear, and his love for you.
The purpose of this activity is not to judge others for the way that have or are currently responding to your life dreams. It is only to allow you to see that their responses do not have to shape how you respond to yourself. You have the power to choose to honor your dreams and decide how you want to nurture your talents.
Now you can more clearly see what you admire about yourself and what you desire in your dream job and life. You can distinguish your own desires from those of your loved ones. You are prepared to take responsibility for your dreams and begin making them a reality.
If you’d like additional support in building a life that engages your talents in fulfilling your life purpose, sign up for my free Life Planning Tool and for an advanced order of my upcoming book Your Life as a Celebration.
Each day is an opportunity to make a change, to shift direction, to come a little closer to the desires of your heart. This is accomplished by identifying your unique gifts and committing to develop them on a daily basis. Do it for yourself!
Comment below some of your unique gifts as well as how you plan to nurture these abilities.
It always seems impossible until it’s done. – Nelson Mandela
Have you ever had someone refer to you as a “dreamer”? Was that intended to be a compliment?
Many times people speak about dreamers as if that is something negative. They seem to imply that you should give up your dreams and live in the “real world.” Yet everything in our “real world” existed first only in the dreams of someone.
Google is well known for being on the cutting edge of technology and creating the tools and ideas of our future. Astro Teller, Captain of Moonshots for Google X, shares how Google produces such innovation. The company creates a team that encourages people to develop moonshot projects.
Moonshots are experimental projects focusing on solving some of the world’s biggest challenges. The moonshots team dream up bold ideas to solve these pressing social problems. Then they works to turn today’s moonshot dreams into the realities of tomorrow. In his Ted Talk, Astro Teller identifies four habits contributing to the success of moonshot projects.
I’d like to share how you can incorporate Google’s secrets of success into your life. By practicing the habits of the Moonshot team, you too can bring your bold dreams into reality.
Dreams are what allow us to create a better future for ourselves and our world. Dreams inspire us to reach beyond ourselves and accomplish more than we have thus far. In fact, dreams promote our personal growth. This is because we often have to learn new skills or habits to fulfill our dreams. Honoring the soft whispers of our hearts is the first step in cultivating a life of greatness.
Our dreams are deeply personal to us. They are the specific longings of our souls and they compel us to explore, learn, and grow. You owe it to yourself and to our world to develop your dreams. They are the vehicle through which you make your unique contribution to our world.
It may not materialize the way you expect; dreams rarely do. But the journey of pursuing your dreams will grow you into the person you are meant to be. It will fill your life with joy and meaning. It will create a meaningful impact on the lives of others.
“A dream without a plan is just a wish.”
Dreams inspire us to action. Our motivation to see our dream fulfilled, energizes us to put in the work to do it. If you have dreams that you are not willing to work for, I would argue that those are not “your dreams.” They may be dreams other people have for you or dreams you believe you should want. But they are not yours. Your dreams will inspire you to work to achieve them.
Your dream encourages you to stretch beyond yourself. There’s a quote that says:
“If your dream doesn’t scare you, then it isn’t big enough.”
Big dreams provoke us to plan how to get from here to there. The planning process requires us to honestly assess where we are currently . It also helps us to identify the additional actions needed to reach our goal.
No one accomplishes her dream on the first try. Remember dreams are much bigger than us. We must grow into them. That increase in skill, knowledge, and maturity takes time and deliberate practice.
Deliberate practice is where you do an action and get feedback on its effectiveness. You then incorporate that feedback into your revised action and reassess your results. This cycles of action-reflection-revision continues until you have reached your goal. So practice itself doesn’t make you better. If you practice doing the same mistake over and over again, you will not get better. But learning from our mistakes does make us better. This is why “failure” is actually a great teacher and critical to us accomplishing our goal.
Celebrating failure helps us to recognize and honor critical moments in our success journey. The fact that we have failed shows that we have tried something new and different. That itself should be celebrated. It means that we are stepping out of our comfort zone and adding to our knowledge and experiences.
Failure also shows that we were courageous enough to try. It is much easier and safer to stay the same than it is to grow and change. But growth and change are a part of life and whatever does not grow or change dies. There’s a saying:
“If you stop learning today, you stop teaching tomorrow.”
Lifelong learning is important to our development, regardless of our profession. Failing simply means we are learning something new. That is worthy of a celebration.
Another reason to celebrate failure is that failure helps us to learn. This is true whether we are attempting to learn a new skill, habit, or develop a character trait. If we use failure as an opportunity to reflecting on the results of our behavior, we are better able to adjust our behavior to get improved results. Teachers or coaches are useful in providing feedback on how to adjust our behavior to get better results. Yet, the teacher or coach can not give the needed feedback that without observing our failure. When we try our best and miss the mark, we learn what specifically needs to be added to our best. This knowledge should be celebrated. Thanks to failure, we are now better equipped to achieve our goal!
We often have more than one dream. And our dreams are so big that they have many new steps and skills needed to reach the goal. If we are not careful, the knowledge of how much needs to be done to reach our dreams can immobilize us. Our we can switch from one dream to another in a manner that never allows us to make sustained progress on any. Prioritization helps us to avoid these problems.
Prioritization requires us to ask ourselves:
“What is the one goal that can produce the most benefit for achieving my dream?”
Continue asking yourself this question until you’ve drilled down to a specific goal. The goal should be specific enough to begin today and focus all your attention on it. You no longer have to question whether we should be doing this action. You’ve given thought to the big picture and decided that this is the most useful focus of our time. Now, you can give yourself wholeheartedly to accomplishing this goal. This is because you know accomplishing this goal will bring you maximum benefit. It will move you closer to your larger goal. This level of focused action in needed to create forward movement on our dreams.
Brilliantly, Google X encourages the people most invested in the ideas to be the strongest critics of the project. The Moonshot employees would create a series of test designed to kill the project they’d conceived. The company would then celebrate their failed projects. Why? Because the employees showed they had courage and integrity. It takes courage to propose and moonshot idea and integrity to acknowledge it is not workable.
Too often we romanticize our dreams and are unrealistic about the challenges to them. This naivete results in surprise and discouragement when things don’t go as easily as we envisioned. Yet, by actively challenging our own ideas, we can use that information to make our ideas stronger. This is how we kill and resuscitate our dreams.
I encourage you to make a list of all the things that may go wrong and all the reasons why pursuing your dream won’t work. There is a value in listening to your inner critic. She is trying to protect you and warn you about impending danger. Too often we either ignore her insight or use her warnings as a reason not to try. But, you can use her wisdom as a trusted advisor.
Once you have a list of all the potential problems that may prevent you from accomplishing your goal. Thank your inner critic for her insight and dismiss her. Then invite your problem-solving mindset to brainstorm potential solutions to each of those problems.
For every problem, there is a solution.
By bringing a new mindset to your discussion of the problem, you are better prepared to see the solution. Your inner critic is great at seeing the problems. Thus, she is an essential part of crafting your plan for success.
Once you have brainstormed many solutions for each identified problem, you can generate your rules of order. Rules of order is simply a list of what actions you will take when (not if) the problem arrives. This exercise now takes the stress of decision making out of the situation. When the problematic situations occurs, you are well prepared with an appropriate plan of action. Your rules of order will keep you on your success journey.
Being called a dreamer is not an insult. Your dreams are the key to your individual, and our collective, success. If you connect your dreams to a concrete plan of action, learn from your failed attempts, prioritize your activities, and try to kill (then resuscitate) your dreams, you too can create the future of tomorrow today. You already have step one accomplished. What else do you need to manifest your dreams? Commit to taking that step today.
Part of giving birth to your dreams is to speak them into existence. By publicly stating your commitment and next action steps, you create both the motivation and accountability needed for your success. Use the comment box below to share with our community your courageous commitment to manifest your dreams. Taking yourself and your dreams seriously inspires others to do the same.
If there’s anything I can do to help support you in your process, please share that as well. Cheers to you and your moonshot projects!
Imagine….You’ve successfully completed that important task in half the time you expected. You now have the much desired extra time to spend with family and friends. You even have time to take a leisurely stroll through the park and soak up some rays. As the sun is beaming down on you, you smile at how proud you are of yourself and how you handled this challenge. You also notice that the knot in your stomach is gone and you no longer feel that pressure on your temples. This is your new life, now that you’ve finally conquered procrastination. Procrastination is a habit that many of us develop early in our life and this problematic behavior grows with us.
Merriam-Webster’s definition of procrastinate is “to be slow or late about doing something that should be done : to delay doing something until a later time because you do not want to do it, because you are lazy, etc.”
I used to proclaim that I did my best work through procrastination. I often waited for the night before to begin a paper assignment. I figured that since I still received an A, procrastination was actually helpful for me. As the length and challenges of my writing assignments increased, I quickly learned that this habit was a hindrance rather than a help. Once I became an educator, I realized that getting an A on a paper didn’t mean I was doing my best work. It only meant that my work was relatively better than my peers. Now I know that I did not submit my best work. The feedback from my teachers could have helped to make me an even better writer and thinker. As my academic career progressed, I learned that procrastination is costly. Procrastination created missed opportunities, lowered my productivity, and generated more stress.
Have you struggled with procrastination? Do you want to drop this negative habit from your life? Let me assure you, this is possible. Understanding procrastination and what it costs you, is a powerful motivator to stop it. In this article, I share a simple, but often overlooked technique to end procrastination for good.
I disagree with Merriam-Webster’s characterization of procrastination as laziness. Procrastination is not about being lazy; it is about avoiding a problem. Specifically, it is about avoiding unpleasant emotions. When we procrastinate, we are attempting to avoid negative emotions. These negative emotions are associated with that problematic task. Thus, procrastination is really driven by fear and anxiety.
The decision to put off writing that paper or completing that report until tomorrow is actually an attempt to manage uncomfortable emotions. Those emotions may be fear, embarrassment, insecurity, confusion, or anger. They are often associated with thoughts such as:
By avoiding the task, we avoid feeling these unpleasant emotions. Thus, procrastination serves us as an emotion management strategy. But, it is not an effective emotion management strategy. Procrastination often creates extra problems, as well as more stress, frustration, and discomfort.
In a long-term study of procrastination, researchers at Case Western University revealed that procrastination has short-term benefits but long-term problems. These researchers document that procrastinators have less stress than non-procrastinators in the short-term. Yet, in the long-term procrastinators show higher levels of stress, more mental illness, and lower academic performance. This data shows that procrastination is an emotion management strategy, albeit an ineffective one. While procrastination provides short-term relief from stress, it creates more long-term stress and lower performance.
Additional research shows that procrastinators have poorer health outcomes than non-procrastinators. Part of these poor health outcomes is because they procrastinate pro-health behaviors. Pro-health behaviors include activities like going to dental and medical check-ups. Even after controlling for check-ups and similar health maintenance activities, procrastinators show more stress and physical illnesses. Thus, procrastination itself seems to create physical health illnesses.
You can unblock and end procrastination for good. First, you must identify the fear that is causing this problematic behavior. Listen to the stories that play in your head when you think about performing the task. Identify the underlying fear. Is the fear the result of thinking that you’re not good enough and others will find you out?
Now that you’ve identified the source of your fear, here’s a way to manage these emotions. People frequently use meditation or mindfulness strategies to enhance one’s emotional intelligence and manage emotions. But I’d like to add a new, often overlooked, strategy to manage the emotions associated with procrastination. Best of all, you already have the tool you need in your kitchen or on your phone.
Make timers your best friend. Timers are especially useful for activities that are important but difficult to begin. Starting the task is often the most difficult part. This is because of fears and anxieties about how challenging the task will be. Starting is also difficult because of the uncomfortable feelings that we expect will arise within us as we perform that task.
As I’ve explained procrastination helps us avoid those uncomfortable feelings by avoiding the tasks. Unfortunately, avoiding important tasks limits our success. Procrastination creates more uncomfortable feelings when the things left undone create their own crisis. It also leads to disappointed in ourselves for not fulfilling our personal goals. Thankfully, something as simple as a timer can help us address this quandary.
By setting the timer we have a known ending point. For tasks that have high levels of anxiety, set the timer for short increments of time (2-5 mins). It is easy to convince ourselves that we can live with being uncomfortable for 5 mins. This allows us to begin, knowing that even if it is painful, it will not last long.
They key to the success of this method is allowing yourself to stop at the end of the timer. Beginning is the most difficult part. When the timer goes off, you often feel that it wasn’t as bad as expected. To maintain the integrity of the value of the timer exercise, it is important that you pause at the ringing of the timer. At this pause consider whether you want to continue or to save the rest of the task for the next assigned time. Either choice is a successful outcome.
The focus here is not on the completion of the task. Rather the goal is to build behaviors that will lead to the completion of the task. Minimizing the emotional discomfort and providing an element of choice are acts of self compassion and respect. Compassion and respect works in getting the cooperation of even the stubbornest toddler. You will find that it works on yourself as well. Everyone wants to be respected. We all want to know that our feelings and well being matter. The timer exercise enables you to communicate this compassion and respect to yourself. It also allows you to build the successful track record needed to extend the desired behavior.
The next time you notice yourself procrastinating, identify the source of the anxiety. Then use the timer system to manage your anxiety and get your tasks done!
I’d love to hear about your progress with using timers to manage anxiety. Please comment below. Also share other personal strategies to overcome procrastination.
Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to win the Nobel Prize, an Oscar or a Grammy? Thousands of people in the audience clapping for you. Your family and friends sitting by your side, rejoicing in your achievement. Video cameras and photographers capturing every moment. You taking center stage to accept this public recognition of the value of your contribution. And don’t forget the after parties!
While only a small percentage of us will ever win the Nobel Prize or an Oscar, each of us can experience a celebration of our unique contribution to this world. What will you be celebrated for? Like a Nobel Prize, such celebrations of lifetime achievements are reserved for those who have made the required investments and demonstrated the value of their contribution. Achievement awards are granted to those with a long-term track record of productivity and progress. Here I’ve listed an easy to follow formula to help you build an award winning life. By following these rules, you will enhance your productivity and effectiveness in achieving your life goals.
Your values identify what you believe is important in life. They clarify which goals are worthy of pursuing and what types of activities are appropriate for accomplishing those goals. When we are acting in line with our values, we experience joy and energy. When we are feeling drained and stressed, it is often because our activity is out of line with our values or we have values that are in conflict with each other. The more specific you can be in identifying your values and distinguishing which ones are higher priority, the easier it will be for you to make decisions about the best way to use your time and money. I’ve found this free website helpful in identifying core values and in ranking them hierarchically.
Businesses have them. Non-profits have them. Do you have one for yourself? The value of a mission statement is that it focuses investments of valuable resources (time, money, people) in order to achieve maximum results. Rather than trying to do everything and ending up with mediocre results, a focused mission statement helps you make choices about which sets of activities will produce the best results. Activities in line with your values and purpose will increase your productivity and impact. Make sure that your personal mission statement and life values are congruent. If you have not already done so, write out your personal mission statement. It is not enough to have a general idea of your life focus in your head; it must appear on paper. The simple act of writing down your goals increases your likelihood of achieving them. Place your personal mission statement somewhere that you can see it daily. Perhaps tape it to your bathroom mirror or use it as your computer’s screen saver. A daily reminder of your mission statement energizes you and will enable you to make decisions more quickly and easily throughout the day.
Reflection gives you an opportunity to reconnect with your life goals and values. It provides you with the crucial space to evaluate your current behavior and activities and revise them both in order to build your optimal life. Journaling can be a valuable tool for reflection; but so can meditative walks or conversations with a trusted friend. Regardless of the form, find a way to incorporate reflection into your life on a daily, weekly, monthly, and annual basis. The insight and energy you receive from such periods of regular reflection will fuel your success.
No one ever receives an award for being just like everyone else. You have a unique set of experiences and combination of character traits that give you a distinct perspective. Share that perspective with others. If you are wondering why something that is needed isn’t already being done or why people aren’t approaching a question/problem/issue in a specific manner, it’s likely because you have not yet shared your unique contribution. Others do not think like you and will continue to grope in darkness without the benefit of your light. If there is something that you want to say, chances are there is someone who wants to hear it. Click & Tweet! To live a life worthy of celebration, you must be willing to publicize your distinctive voice.
Our lives are the cumulation of our habits. What we do on a daily basis creates the patterns that shape our future. If you want to accomplish more than you already have achieved, you will need to add new habits to your arsenal. The content of these habits will vary based on your goals, personality, and interests. However, the willingness to create new habits signals a willingness to learn and expand beyond current limitations. Such an orientation is necessary to achieve your maximum potential. There is no such things as being “too old” to learn, grow, or change. There is a wise saying about teaching “stop learning today, stop teaching tomorrow”. In order to be an effective teacher, one must be constantly learning. This truism is not limited to teachers. I say “stop learning today, stop living tomorrow Click & Tweet! “. There are too many people who are alive, but they are not living. They’ve lost their zest for life, their curiosity, their joy. This need not happen to you. Commit to being a life long learner. Challenge yourself to constantly add new habits that are in line with your life mission and watch your effectiveness and impact grow exponentially.
I believe that everyone of us should be in at least two types of mentoring relationships. One relationship where we are gaining knowledge, skills, and support from someone who has already achieved something that we aspire to. The other is a relationship in which we are sharing the insight we’ve gained along our journey with someone who is striving to attain some of the accomplishments we’ve earned. As a mentor, we invest our time and resources in actively supporting these people. By continually placing yourself as both a mentor and mentee, you can make sure that you are continually learning and building a legacy.
Nobody’s perfect. We make mistakes and so do the people around us. Forgiveness provides us with the keys to grow beyond our mistakes and the mistakes of others. Even in forgiving others, we are really giving a gift to ourselves. The release of that anger frees our body and mind to learn from the situation and heal. Byron Katie has a great book, titled “Loving What Is”, that can help you move to forgiveness by asking four simple, yet powerful questions. These questions allow you learn and grow from even the most painful situations. Practicing forgiveness protects our joy and purpose as we go through the typical and atypical challenges of life.
Just like following driving rules allows you to safely navigate the roads and arrive at your desired destinations, these rules help you to identify, protect, and nurture your unique contributions to our world. These seven rules ensure that you are able to implement your distinctive contributions with effectiveness, consistency, and in harmony with your personal values. Click & Tweet! I’d love to hear your thoughts on creating an award winning life.
Are you ready to create your award-winning life?
I’m on a mission to more fully use my gifts to build a business and a life that makes a positive impact on my future and our world. I would love for you to join me!
I believe that when each of us connects with our purpose and passion, we are empowered to build a better future for ourselves and others. This is the heart of productivity: accomplishing goals that are meaningful and rewarding to us.
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