Use Momentum to Stop Procrastinating

Break the cycle of procrastination by understanding how motivation works

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It can be hard to finish — or even start — a task that feels intimidating. Focusing on how difficult the task is makes it more likely that you’ll procrastinate. If you’re also feeling down or anxious, it can be even harder, and cause you to feel even worse if you don’t do it. So, how can you stop this cycle and tackle your to-do list?

This activity card will help you:

  • Understand how motivation works
  • Address negative thoughts preventing you from starting a task
  • Build momentum to help you reach the finish line

1. Recognize that motivation tends to spring from action

Motivation is the fuel that carries us to the finish line when we have a goal or task to accomplish. Knowing how it works can help us use it to our advantage.

Many of us assume that fueling up is a must before starting a task, but in reality, we tap into most of our motivation after we’ve begun our work. That’s because action, even tiny bits of it, creates momentum that propels us forward.

2. Identify a small action that gets you one step closer to your goal.

The momentum from taking one small step can power you through your second and third steps. Making the first step easy to complete — and not too intimidating to think about — can set you up for success. 

Let’s say you have to build a budget for an event. Trying to focus on every detail at once could easily become overwhelming. Instead, you might start by choosing a first step that feels small and manageable — for example, making a spreadsheet. You don’t need to populate the spreadsheet yet. You just have to create it. Once you do, you’ll probably feel a little bit better. Use this fact to help you get started.

Once the spreadsheet is done, you’ll be closer to the finish line. Taking a moment to note this progress and bask in the positive feelings it brings can help you tackle what’s next. Use this process of finding small steps, completing them, and noting your progress to keep your momentum going.

3. Find and challenge negative thoughts impeding your progress.

If starting a task is particularly difficult, pause to observe your thoughts. Chances are, you’re swimming in negativity. Negative thoughts like these are likely to make you feel stuck when you try to begin your task:

  • “I’ll never get this done.”
  • “I’m not smart enough to succeed at this.”
  • “I can’t meet others’ expectations, and they’re going to judge me.”

Once you’ve identified the thoughts feeding your discomfort about starting the task, look for faulty assumptions. Then replace these assumptions with facts:

  • “I can finish this if I take it piece by piece” could replace “I’ll never get this done.”
  • “I have overcome lots of challenges in the past” could replace “I’m not smart enough to succeed at this.”
  • “I might surprise myself and others” could replace “I can’t meet others’ expectations, and they’re going to judge me.”

By shifting to more positive and fact-based thinking, you can reclaim the energy your negative thoughts have been using. This can also restore your focus and help you move forward more freely. Your to-do list will be done before you know it!