Why We Don’t Follow Through On What We Know We Need To Do

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I’ve struggled with this all my life. I know what I need to do, I know the benefits of doing it, I know I can do it so why don’t I end up doing it?

I’m pretty sure everyone has experienced this, perhaps even right now? Maybe you’re reading this because you’re avoiding doing something you should be!? Well, I’ll let you indulge yourself just this once, don’t leave yet!

It’s all about the interplay of your present self with your future self.

Present Self v Future Self

We generally don’t have any trouble doing something that satisfies an immediate need. Looking at social media to keep us entertained or eating something because we feel hungry. These are things you will rarely procrastinate over.

The things that we do procrastinate over are almost always serving a purpose for the future. Writing a thank you card that someone will receive in a few days time (and probably thank you for!) or going for a run as part of your training program for a marathon in a few months time.

These are things your future self will benefit from but it is your present self that is having to do them. Your present self is not getting immediate satisfaction from the decision to do them. Your body tries to make up for this by rewarding you with good feelings after actions like these, but that’s also your future self benefitting, albeit a short distance in the future.

That’s not an easy thought process to break through.

Your future self is a different person and it doesn’t really matter that it’s you, it’s still hard to consistently be generous to them with no reward.

How Do You Make Sure Your Future Self Wins?

Think of it like your present self as a recovering alcoholic and your future self as a virtual sponsor that is helping you stay on the straight and narrow.

You wouldn’t just rely on willpower alone. You would help your present self set up systems to guarantee there are no slip ups.

Setting Up Your Environment

Setting up your environment to actively encourage or even guarantee you choose the action you need to carry out is a great way to start.

For the recovering alcoholic, you might get rid of all alcohol in the house as a start. You might avoid hanging out with the groups of friends that drink a lot.

For the recovering procrastinator, you might get rid of all social media during work hours. You might go to a place where the only thing you can do is work, like the library.

The aim is to take away the option of the thing you always fall back on when you procrastinate.

Make It Easy To Get Going on What You Need To Do

Usually, the action you need to do isn’t that hard for you. As I said at the beginning, you know what you need to do, the benefit of doing it and that you can do it. It’s the getting started part that is so difficult.

This happens because your brain doesn’t like doing things that it isn’t used to and it will usually trick you into thinking there is a big cost to doing the thing you need to do. It can give you a fear of failing at the task, make you fear succeeding at the task (and possibly having to do harder tasks) or make you feel overwhelmed that there is too much for you to handle.

It doesn’t know if any of these are true, it just wants to stop you.

The best way to move past this is to take a tiny step. If you’ve got to write a cover letter, start by spending 5 minutes on it. Often, once you get started you find that you might as well carry on because the task isn’t as bad as you were made to think.

Get Someone To Check On You

Let’s face it, it’s pretty easy to listen to what your brain is telling you and do something fun instead of what you need to do.

But it’s a lot harder to get away with it when someone is expecting to see the results of your actions.

Ask someone you know you can rely on, to check in on your progress regularly. They can be like the recovering alcoholic’s sponsor, except you’ve moved the responsibility away from your future self and onto someone who has no interest in letting you off.

These are very basic systems that you can introduce to improve the chances of getting things done. Sometimes you need a system that is a bit more robust, though and we use several in our coaching that are unique to certain situations.

Getting this part of the career puzzle right is perhaps the most important. Without action, all the work you have done to find a career you love and plan a way to get it is wasted.