Beating self-sabotage and procrastination is all about balancing our needs of certainty and uncertainty in life. Here’s how…
We often procrastinate when our needs out of balance, because it’s easier to do nothing than to try to do everything.
Human beings have basic needs for both certainty and uncertainty in life. When we have too much uncertainty, this can cause procrastination in an effort to give us more certainty. For example, if you’re starting a business and everything is new and a bit scary, this can lead to procrastination as a way for you to maintain a level of certainty. After all, there’s nothing more certain than doing nothing! Alternatively, when there’s too much certainty, we can tend to self-sabotage to create more variety and uncertainty.
Beating both procrastination and self-sabotage is all about balancing those needs.
You’ve probably heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. If not, just Google that phrase and you’ll see the familiar pyramid graph, not unlike a food chart.
In the ‘40s, Abraham Maslow had a desire to understand what motivates people to achieve their needs, and what those fundamental needs are in the first place. He created the pyramid graph depicting five ‘levels’ of needs, the core idea being that once one need is fulfilled, we move onwards or upwards to the next, until we reach self-actualisation (which really only happens if you’re a Buddhist monk practising enlightenment!) At the base level, as humans, we have physiological needs like air, food and drink to survive on a biological level. Over and above these needs, the hierarchy has been expanded to include SIX levels.
Among them, we have needs for ‘certainty’ (or safety/comfort) and the need for ‘uncertainty’ (or adventure/variety) that we strive to be met at a level appropriate to each individual. Depending on our personality, upbringing, horoscope (if you’re into that kind of thing), we will have a different level of need for each. For example, some people will be more comfortable with a lot more variety and others need more certainty. Imagine a see-saw: when our need for either certainty or uncertainty is out of balance, we will work to have the ‘weaker’ need met.
If you’ve got a big task ahead and you’re craving certainty, it’s important to address the procrastination that might start creeping in. Focus on simple steps you can take to gradually widen your knowledge and capability (e.g. practising a sales conversation with a friend or partner, before making a cold call to a potential client). We can also work to create more certainty in other areas of our lives, to balance out that which feels uncertain. If you’re starting a new job that’s presenting new challenges, maintain your morning routine, regular exercise or keep visiting your favourite coffee haunt. Sometimes, too much change can be overwhelming, rather than exciting.
Do you feel like you need to spice up your life a bit? Just like it’s important to carry on ‘date nights’ when you’re in a long-term relationship, apply that philosophy to other areas. Maybe your job is getting you down because you feel bored and uninspired, so your productivity and performance are suffering. To address this kind of self-sabotage, look for ways you can add more uncertainty or variety. For example, suggest to your manager a special project you can take on that adds something new or different to your role. Start that personal project you’ve been thinking about for a while, or take up a hobby that fuels your creativity. To beat the mundane, it could even be as simple as taking a different route to work or cooking something new for dinner. The possibilities are endless with innovative thinking.
So next time you’re avoiding the task at hand or feeling bored and stifled, address your core need for certainty and uncertainty. A little of both will help you thrive.
If you’re not sure where you lie on the spectrum between certainty and uncertainty, I can talk you through it to come up with a solution that suits your life and personality. Sign up below to receive a free 30-minute coaching call with me. Let’s chat soon.