I used to think this only happened to me. Still, researching, reading and talking to other business owners, health professionals, and entrepreneurs have shown me that procrastination and difficulty in implementing is a pandemic of epic proportions.
I have always struggled with writing tasks in my daily and weekly calendar. I was beating myself up because I couldn't sit and plan my day or week. If I did, I couldn't start my planning. The mistake was that I was writing down tasks that weren't significant to me. You may be asking, "why would anyone plan to do tasks that weren't important to them?" This is a good question, and the answer is explained in more detail below… so please read on.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.”
— ALBERT EINSTEIN.
This quote resonated with me, as it made me remember my mistakes. Insanity is an affliction the sufferer is unaware of. Now I appreciate that comparing insanity to making mistakes is somewhat dramatic. Still, just like being insane, I believe many people are oblivious to their mistakes in goal setting and implementation. The self-realisation for me happened during a coaching session. I was 'painfully' exploring with a coach about my choices for work and target setting when it hit me in the face like a slap! It wasn't procrastination that stopped me from implementing. It was my goal, and the aims weren't my own. The thought process behind what I was doing was based on what others wanted from me. My time therefore comprised important tasks for clients, patients, colleagues, employees, friends and family. Before, I had always associated thinking this with selfishness. Still, the hard truth was that I had avoided exploring what I wanted. I won't lie to you. A sense of despair and disappointment descended over me. On the one hand, it felt like a comforting blanket had been thrown over me; on the other, it felt claustrophobic.
How can I escape this emotion?
On reflection, I truly believe I had a eureka moment during the coaching session. You may be reading this and assuming, 'Duh', how is it that you are struggling with doing things important to you? Surely it should be a natural process. Your needs come first, others second. Well, let me explain. My working life has been spent in the service of others. Whether it was a Saturday job working behind the till in a store, as a doctor in the NHS, or as an Army doctor. I have trained myself to prioritise the needs of others, so I have become brilliant at what I do. But somewhere in the process, I lost what was meaningful to me, and one of the biggest mistakes I made was falling into the trap of exchanging money for time.
To add value to those, you serve: prioritise your own needs first.
The consequences of not prioritising your own needs, wants, and dreams are:
At the heart of this seemingly complicated problem is a simple truth. You will always feel unfulfilled if you are not prioritising your needs in life and work. Looking after your needs first is not selfish, especially if you are working in the service of others. If you have ever travelled on an aeroplane, you probably remember the safety announcement before takeoff.
"In the event of loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop. Be sure to put on your own mask before helping others."
So, prioritising your needs is the oxygen you need to achieve your ambitions. Suppose you don't choose to get your oxygen first. In that case, the feelings and consequences I outlined above will become an increasingly severe reality. The frustration results from constantly putting others' needs above your own, anxiety comes from having too many things to do that aren't related to your needs, and burnout manifests through the constant cycle of frustration and anxiety.
The first step in prioritising and implementing your needs is to recognise yourself through specific exercises that encompass mindfulness, cognitive behavioural elements, and programming your brain to break out of the habits that lead to the problems we have discussed. You may have already tried to write and prioritise tasks, but now is the time to work on recognising your needs before even thinking about the important tasks.
#1. THE FIRST STEP IS MINDFULNESS
This is important, as it allows you to create space for yourself. It allows the worried mind to slow down and return to the present moment. Remember the oxygen analogy? This is your moment to breathe and create your own space, which can be filled with your needs. Using the acronym S.T.O.P. helps achieve this:
S - Stop what you are doing, put things down for a minute.
T - Take a breath. Concentrate on your breathing, letting the breath flow through the nose and out of the mouth.
O - Observe your thoughts and feelings. Recognise those that relate to what you want and those that relate to others' needs. A helpful exercise is to write out some of these thoughts and put them into relevant columns. Me vs Them.
P - Proceed with something you want to do that will support you in this process. I often do 10 mins of exercise straight after. Recognising that exercising ultimately benefits me.
#2. REFRAME YOUR THOUGHTS
This is important, because it can help change negative thought patterns.
One of the issues surrounding lack of self-priority is negative thoughts and anxiety about what you want. For example, if I ask or want things done my way, it may instigate a confrontation. The result is that I compromise and capitulate to doing something that doesn't fit with my goals. I worry about what other people will think instead of worrying about what I want. Shout out "No" when this thought process starts. This allows you to reframe into a positive frame of mind and think positive thoughts, focusing on what you want.
#3. ANCHOR YOUR THOUGHTS
Anchoring is an excellent NLP technique. This is important because it elicits a positive response by associating a particular mental and emotional state. Anchoring will help improve your ability to control emotions and prioritise your needs.
Remember a time when you felt optimistic about a personal achievement? You have achieved something for yourself, e.g. a sports win, a promotion or opening your business.
Remember some sensory cues from that time, e.g. what you saw, felt, smelt and heard.
Bring your memory to its most intense point, and then associate what you are feeling with something in the present, e.g. pinching your earlobe, twisting a ring on your finger, tapping an object with the knuckles of one hand. Then test the anchor by repeating the action.
In the past, my mistake was to confuse myself and my needs with my work and the needs of others. Resulting in filling my diary and calendar with tasks that are not important enough to me. Using some techniques above, I can now visualise what is important for my development and progress. The reality is that there will always be tasks in my diary that relate to the needs of others.
However, I now understand better the difference between my and others' wants. I have a clearer vision of myself, my self-worth and what I want to achieve, which is reflected in my planning.