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Task Inertia and Procrastination
How to Overcome Inertia and Get Moving

Have trouble starting things?
Have trouble starting things?

The hardest things I've ever done forced me to change what was familiar. Many people go through their lives without making meaningful changes because they see no reason for it. They may not be comfortable, but the discomfort they feel is familiar. Moving in a different direction is scary, so they stay right where they are, doing nothing.

That inability to start is called Task Inertia.

Think about it like this. If you've ever helped someone push a car, getting it rolling is the hardest part. We've all had that friend suddenly slam on the brakes. Remember how hard it was to get moving again? Things are much easier to keep moving once they've started.

The same is true in our lives. Getting started and creating momentum is tough, even when there may be an urgent need to do so.

Task inertia isn't the same thing as procrastination. Someone who procrastinates will delay doing important things and focus on the trivial. They might be afraid of their job, or they might be uncertain about what will happen. Then, at the last minute, a procrastinator will rush around trying to complete the task, with results that range from haphazard to disastrous.

A procrastinator can convince themselves that since they've been forced get everything done in an unrealistically short time, it's OK if the results are only mediocre. After all, they didn't have enough time to do a proper job. Procrastination can be a mental escape mechanism to justify less than perfect performance.

Procrastinators KNOW they have to do something, but they still put it off.

Someone dealing with task inertia sees no reason to change, even for their own good.

You might think you're in a grove, but you may be stuck in a rut. There are several strategies people use to overcome inertia, but here are the ones that have worked for me.

Do something dramatic to shock yourself out of that rut. I do something where I list the consequences of not starting. If you don't exercise, describe how your life will unfold as you grow old and weak. If you don't eat healthy foods, consider how you would deal with having a heart attack or a stroke. Imagine yourself in those situations, then do something right now to prevent those things from happening.

Focus on one thing, not everything. Pick the smallest part of a task you can do that might get you started. Maybe you take a walk around the block. Or you drink a glass of water instead of soda. Or you put more vegetables and less fat on your dinner plate. You're not trying to move a mountain, just the pebble in front of you.

Give yourself a kick-start. Since it's easier to keep going once you've started, sometimes I'll set an alarm for 20 minutes. Then I'll promise myself I can quit after 20 minutes if it's not working. Frequently, that kick-start will be enough that I don't mind continuing when the alarm goes off. That easy out helps me move because it's only a 20-minute commitment.

Bribe yourself with ordinary activities. Don't do anything on your phone until you've started your task. Then keep track of how long you work. For every two minutes you work, you can use your phone for one minute. Treat yourself to a hot bath after a workout, or reward yourself with a movie if you've stayed on task for a week.

I tend to avoid punishing myself for not doing something. When I miss a deadline, punishment increases the likelihood that I'll avoid the task in the future. Don't feel bad for skipping a workout or eating something you shouldn't. You will not achieve your goals in a day, week or month, so don't beat yourself up whenever something happens.

Anytime you aren't moving ahead, go back and repeat the steps. Do something dramatic. Focus on one thing. Give yourself a kick-start and bribe yourself with ordinary activities.

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