This topic is a common theme for self-help books, seminars and coaching gurus. Reading one such article yesterday, I was suddenly struck by the common thread among most mainstream sources on how to do this.
As an analogy, there are countless books and resources on losing weight; the message is packaged in many different ways, but most observers now agree that it finally comes down to two things: regular exercise and good eating habits.
There is an equally large number of resources dedicated to helping everyone achieve their goals. Two high-quality sources, which I borrow from heavily for this post, are: Tony Robbins' awesome series of books, starting with Awaken the Giant Within , and the excellent Zen Habits blog (check out this article: The Only Two Secrets to Motivating Yourself ... ).
I've found that the most common advice on this topic eventually boils down to five key steps.
The Five Steps to Achieving Any Goal
These five steps are:
- Associate massive pain (metaphorically speaking) with not doing the tasks you want to do to achieve your goal, and pleasure with actually accomplishing them
- Stop dreaming and take massive action
- State your goal publicly and often *
- In you mind, visualize yourself in great detail implementing the individual tasks and successfully achieving the goal
- Stay committed to your goal, but remain flexible about your approach
Rewards and Penalties
The first point is critical, since most of us tend to automatically work hard to avoid pain and gain pleasure. Unfortunately, those are usually set up in the wrong order unless we decide to change them explicitly. Just as many amateur investors are psychologically driven to act precisely the opposite of what they should be doing, similarly procrastinators usually make the wrong associations: "I should do my taxes soon, but I just know it's going to be a painful mad scramble at the end; it's so much more fun to just sit here and goof off ...".
However, by applying external gratification rewards to tasks completed and goals achieved (and conversely, assigning a cost to procrastination), we can trick our minds into doing the right things. This approach works even when we ourselves know fully well that the stimulus is completely artificial. Robbins calls this approach Neuro-Associative Conditioning.
There you have it: the simple secret to avoiding procrastination and achieving your goals.
* This principle is illustrated by a (possibly apocryphal) story about French WWII hero, Gen. Charles De Gaulle:
Shortly after World War II, one the heaviest smokers in French government abruptly gave up cigarettes. "I have succeeded in sticking to it by telling everyone I was not smoking any more," he explained gravely. "De Gaulle cannot go back on his word."