This past winter has been long, cold, dark, and dreary. It seems as if I have mirrored the weather—physically and emotionally slowing down, as if a fog is in my way. It has been hard for me to come to work and charge into the day ahead. Don’t get me wrong, there is lot’s to do; great, exciting work waits to be done, but it has been hard to find the energy to do it.
I’m sure others face similar lethargy from time to time. If we are to continue to develop ourselves, we must learn how to overcome apathetic tendencies.
In his book, Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, Tim Pychyl identifies several reasons why we put off doing the things we strive to do. He asserts that our interest wanes when our work is:
Not Intrinsically Rewarding
Lacking in Personal Meaning
I don’t know about you, but I can identify with several of these reasons for my own procrastination. As I reflected on these symptoms, I began to recognize a common trigger. It’s fear.
Fear of the unknown, fear of not being good enough, fear of failure, fear of not fully understanding, fear of taking on too much, even fear of completion—any of these can rob us of enthusiasm and fill us with apathy.
For example, I have delayed getting started on new program content; I have gone so far as to argue about it and justify the delay. Several of the symptoms of procrastination were showing up –frustrated, difficult, ambiguous alarms were going off. I was afraid of something, but what was it? I was afraid of: collaborating with others, the project taking too long, my ideas being rejected, too many ideas to manage, too many options from which to choose. I didn’t want to get started, partly because I didn’t know how to manage my fears.
In discussing this with a colleague, I was reminded of a painting class I took in college. We were always encouraged to start by covering a clean canvas with paint. Sure, we would have a plan for the finished product—we even used grids to help guide proportions and scale the sketches—but the resulting painting could not be truly evaluated until the canvas had something of value on it beyond a plan (hopes and dreams). It needed something to look at. It needed paint!
With this new encouragement, I set out to “put paint on the canvas”—to start where I was and get something on paper: my thoughts, the different section headings, anything I could do to go beyond hopes and dreams. In doing so, progress was made and the fears I had were attacked head on by the mere action of moving forward. With something on paper, collaboration was easier to achieve because tangible concerns were easier to communicate. The project progressed quickly because, with every paragraph written, motivation increased and the project moved closer to being accomplished. My ideas weren’t rejected but refined; the result was better than I could have managed alone. And with the help of leadership, ideas were sifted and directed.
My fears were calmed and forward momentum resumed, all because I started where I was.
So how do you find forward momentum again? I offer these two suggestions:
1. Identify what truly is setting you back. What fear is keeping you from progressing? Discuss this with your teammates. When we bring our fears to light and process them, we can no longer hide behind them. We will have opened the way for accountability and support from our team.
2. Just do something! Start where you are. The first step doesn’t have to be big; it just has to move you in the right direction. Break up the plan into bite-sized chunks and start where you can get momentum right away. If you feel apathetic or fearful, that emotion is your cue to figure out what you can do. Make the time; you’ll be glad you did.
This week, I encourage you to explore these two suggestions for your own development. If you supervise someone who is experiencing a slow start, maybe share this blog with him or her and then follow up with a conversation that helps them discover what is holding them back.