This article first appeared in Alpha Efficiency Magazine: Issue 6: Completing the Puzzle, subscribe and buy here
What’s stopping you from achieving everything you’ve ever dreamed of? Unfortunately, the answer could well be you. When you’re facing a big project, or when you’re at a particularly challenging point mid-way, it can be easy to lose momentum. When the job gets tough and energy levels dip, our bodies, and brains find numerous tricks to switch us into “rest mode.” We all have those moments where we’re not working on our priority projects. Sometimes this is just basic procrastination – a simple case of I’ll do it tomorrow. Procrastination occurs when you’re fully aware of a task and take deliberate steps to defer it.
Evasion occurs when our brains find strategies for diverting us not just from tasks, but from entire projects. It’s a wholesale, systemic sequence of avoidance.
When Procrastination Becomes Evasion
When procrastination really sets in this “rest mode” becomes a semi-permanent state of avoidance or Evasion. Evasion occurs when our brains find strategies for diverting us not just from tasks, but from entire projects. It’s a wholesale, systemic sequence of avoidance.
There’s a good chance you’re reading this article because it’s more attractive choice than working on your other options (wash the car? Do the dishes?). You’ve deferred those other tasks but it’s a temporary, short-term deferral. You’re procrastinating but not evading. When this translates to bigger projects, particularly the ones you haven’t yet started, when the procrastination becomes widespread and consistent, it grows into a wider, more toxic pattern of avoidance behavior: Evasion. When I’m going to start a magazine has been a project on your list for a long time and you’re not making any inroads, it’s a sure sign you’ve moved on from procrastination to evasion.
Everybody is guilty of evasion at some point, but how do you tackle it? There are several strategies that you can usefully pursue: some preventative, some treatment.
Collect Your Way Out of the Slump
As Bojan & I worked on Alpha Efficiency, it took a while for us to make the decision that we were going to build a magazine. I was skeptical; Bojan was more enthusiastic. There were a lot of things we’d need to do and the financial risks to weigh up. The list was long; the effort required would be substantial. For some time we continued in our current groove: posts on the blog, talking about plans, interacting with readers via Social Media. We weren’t just procrastinating, we were evading the project entirely.
How did we break out of our evasion behavior? We collected. Our commitment to the project was agreed, but we were talking not doing. But by collecting our thoughts in Evernote, we started to compile a resource of ideas, activities, and pieces of information. Before long, this information pile took on a life of its own; it wasn’t just a repository, it was a daily reminder of what we had amassed but not acted upon.
We started to carve our repository into more actionable chunks – technical tasks, content ideas, people to speak to…and before long our loose collection of thoughts had become a task list. This process of collation and refinement helped us both to move into a frame of mind where we were both ready to stop evading and start acting.
Bojan and I have always operated as “accountability partners” to each other. When I’m not pulling my weight Bojan gives me a gentle kick and I return the favor when he’s slacking. In this way, we keep the collective effort high by refusing to let each other slack off too much. This is no different to having a running or gym partner to push you that little bit harder or get you to the gym when you don’t feel like it.
If you’re working alone, you are solely reliant on your own willpower and discipline to stay on track. When you work as part of a team you can learn more on the motivation of others to keep things moving when you’re feeling low; When the whole team slips into a sort of conspiratorial evasion then it will take an outside influence to kick everybody back into action.
Accountability partners are most useful for spotting the behaviors leading up to a full-scale evasion; they are likely to prevent you ever getting to the point where you’re avoiding something entirely. If that does happen, they may need to give you a jolt – an intervention if you like – to snap you out of your negative behavior pattern.
Recognize When You’re Crap Rationalizing
I’m sure Michael Schechter won’t mind me borrowing a phrase he uses that I think summarizes perfectly the conversations you have with yourself when you’re trying to justify your evasion behaviors. A “crap rationalization” is a seemingly logical assertion that describes why you’re behaving a certain way (I’m too tired / I’m not in the right frame of mind) when it’s really just an excuse. A crap rationalization is a phantom; it represents no real barrier to getting stuff done other than the one in your mind.
Crap rationalizations are easy to make and difficult to acknowledge. To you it will seem a perfectly reasonable justification for not attacking a project; to others, it will seem less clear-cut. Accountability partners play an important role in calling you out on your crap rationalizations, but it’s important to raise your own self-awareness too.
Warning: I’m crap rationalizing can be a crap rationalization in itself! Throwing your hands up in the air a “mea culpa” style and then doing nothing about it is another form of evasion. This trap is particularly alluring as it has the hallmarks of self-awareness without any of the efforts of acting upon it.
A crap rationalization is a phantom; it represents no real barrier to getting stuff done other than the one in your mind.
Stop Creating Distractions
Creating seemingly legitimate distractions for yourself is a classic procrastination tactic that becomes all the more extreme in full-on evasion mode. I’m busy at work is a classic excuse, but in Evasion mode, you could well be subconsciously creating more work for yourself just to keep busy. Ask yourself: are these deadlines real? Am I putting my hand up for more work than usual? If you’re not sure whether you’re doing this or not consider mapping your current and future priorities on the Urgent/Important matrix we discussed in Issue 3 and ask yourself: am I creating work for myself?
Evasion extends beyond your work life: taking on new “pet projects” or prioritizing tasks that have been languishing on your to-do list for some time is classic evasion behavior. Just bought a new box set or game? Evasion behavior. Your brain is creating alternative time commitments to divert you from the project that you’re evading; don’t let it win.
##Give Yourself a Pep Talk
It might sound corny, but there’s a reason that people say that you’re your own worst enemy. Negative “self-talk” – the conversations you have with yourself every day – can suck the enthusiasm out of you and undermine what little motivation you had towards starting, continuing or completing your project. Here in the UK, we call it “giving ourselves a kick up the arse.” It’s a crude, but true enough way of describing the conversation you need to have with yourself to break out of your evading behaviors.
There are really two ways that you can go about this – the “tough love” strategy or the “motivational talk.” Which of these is most effective varies from person to person – you will likely know which of them works best for you. If you’re pursuing the “tough love” strategy be careful not to push yourself down further into a self-pity spiral; if you’re trying to lift yourself up with a motivational speech make sure that you focus on the truly positive outcomes and aspects of your work – you’re awesome! and be the ball! won’t cut it when it comes to achieving a genuine shift out of evasion and into action. You need to ask yourself: why am I doing this? Financial security? Personal pride? Family? These are the deep emotional motivators that push you forwards; dig deep and make a positive decision to unleash them on the problematic project.
Digging for these emotional connections can force you to face the difficult decisions. For example, some time ago my wife and I ran our own business, which was a passion project for her and a side-project for me. We picked the worst time economically and although we poured a lot of personal time and energy into it the enterprise was struggling. With a full-time job and little enthusiasm to poke around the unpleasantness, I fell into a pattern of evading any financial activities regarding the business; I was the very epitome of the Ostrich with his head in the sand. It wasn’t until I sat down and reflected on how its performance could be impacting our financial security and the wellbeing of my wife and the newborn baby that I was finally spurred into action. As soon as I got stuck in I realized it was worse than I’d thought. Three months later the business was completely wrapped up. We took a significant financial hit but avoided what could eventually have crippled us, perhaps even made us bankrupt.
I fell into a pattern of evading any financial activities regarding the business; I was the very epitome of the Ostrich with his head in the sand.
The question of personal motivations, particular those rooted in deep emotional connections, is something that we’ll be exploring in more detail as we explore the idea of developing your source code in Season Two. For now, focus on identifying the emotional motivator that will snap you out of your evasion and spur you into action.
##Stop Evading, Start Doing
We all fall into evasion behaviors from time to time; it’s human nature. How long you stay in that particular mindset is determined by many factors such as energy, health, environment but can be influenced significantly, by the way, the degree of self-awareness you exert and the approach you take to snapping out of it. No amount of positive thinking will snap you out of a funk before you’re ready, but the right tool at the right time could accelerate you on the road to recovery.