Increase the Pain of Inaction2 min read

Every decision in your life matters. Every action has consequences: it will either take you a step toward your goal (+1) or a step away from your goal (-1).

Moving away from your goal and your ideal self is painful—but we often don’t notice that. In the chaos of daily life, with the amount of stuff going on in our minds, it’s easy to forget our goals and values, and not see the costs of procrastinating.

Procrastinating on something important is choosing to delay a better future.

—James Clear

If it were clear to you that procrastinating on writing that paper means you are taking a step toward being unemployable, unfulfilled, and irrelevant in your field—would you still procrastinate writing it?

If it were clear for you that procrastinating on ending a toxic relationship meant that you are keeping yourself unavailable for something better for longer—would you still procrastinate ending it?

If it were clear for you that procrastinating on cleaning your garage means spending more days feeling overwhelmed inside your own home—would you still procrastinate cleaning it?

If the pain is clear enough and real enough, you won’t procrastinate.

Yes, thinking like this is painful. That’s exactly the point—we want to make the pain of inaction greater than the pain of action, so you are driven to move forward. When the pain of inaction becomes unbearable, you’ll have to take action. (Ideally you’ll be able to take action well before that.)

Here are some questions you can use to increase the pain of inaction: 

  • What pain am I falling into by avoiding this?
  • What is this decision doing to my future self?
  • What are the hidden costs of inaction?
  • With this decision to procrastinate, am I training myself to succeed or to fail?

All of these questions point to the same conclusion: inaction is ultimately painful. Reflect on them deeply, until you can feel the consequences (and not only know them intellectually).  You can also use the techniques of Shift Your Focus to re-connect with your aspiration and to reconnect with your future self, thus enhancing the pain of inaction even more. 

While the technique of Baby Steps—also used for overcoming procrastination—is like clearing the path ahead so it’s easy for you to move forward, the technique of Increase the Pain of Inaction is like pulling a slingshot: you are creating tension until it’s almost unbearable. When that tension hits its maximum, it will propel you forward with great speed. At this point, procrastination won’t be able to stop you anymore. Nothing will.

This article is a summary of key ideas taken from Chapter 6 of Mindful Self-Discipline. To dive deeper, get the book or audiobook.


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