Procrastination, stalling and standing still

At first glance these obstacles to journeying all seem the same, with the same root causes and outcomes. So let’s delve a bit deeper, to help ourselves define our own predicament more clearly and see what we can do about it. To begin with I would suggest that procrastination, stalling and standing still are three entirely different states of being; let me explain why.


Procrastination is a kind of active avoidance and has a number of common causes.

  1. Overwhelm – having too many things to do, and so little insight into how to progress that you simply put off starting. This often happens with the accumulation of mess, but also with too many work related tasks, admin or accounting tasks and any project where we can’t see how to start.
  2. A chronic behavioural pattern, established in childhood, and linked to basic personality traits such as finding it dificult to focus down on something, hyperactivity and such like.
  3. Not wanting to undertake the task at a heart level – we can know we ought to do something, but still not want to do it, and may procrastinate to avoid.

Solutions for procrastination depend on the cause. Perhaps the easiest to solve is simply not wanting to complete a task that you ought to do. In this case you only have two choices: refuse outright to do it (which may not be possible), or bite the bullet and get on with it. Undertaking a task you don’t want to do (but have to) such as accounts for a self employed person, is best tackled at the time of day where you are naturally most energy rich and robust. For me this is late morning through to mid afternoon. For you it might be first thing, or if you are an ‘owl’, it could be in the evening.


Overwhelm is a malady of lack of clarity of information or vision, coupled with too much to do. Sometimes we can overcome overwhelm by a simple process of beginning with the task of highest priority and ignoring the rest until that one is completed. Then repeating for the next most important or pressing task and so on. Organising your thoughts can help a great deal, so writing a plan of action, which enables you to prioritise more easily is a good idea. Identifying what you can delegate, or what you need help with can thin out what needs to be done, as can accepting some tasks as low priority and letting them go for a while.

If you have a chronic pattern of procrastinating it is wise to seek help to work out why. It could be a condition like ADHD, that might respond to treatment or professional help, or it may be a pattern you have fallen into because of being overly busy for many years. In which case – as a habit that needs breaking – you could approach it by finding replacement habits that will help rather than hinder. Examples would be organisational habits, meditation (creates space in your mind and increaes stress resilience). and behavioural techniques like the 5 second rule.


Stalling differs from procrastination, because there isn’t usually an element of reluctance to complete a task. I would define stalling more as a circumstancial malady – “life happens” and sometimes, even when we are highly engaged with what we are doing, that causes us to grind to a halt. Stalling is a temporary cutting our of our engines, because we get hijacked by circumstance, and as such it is often short lived and relatively easy to overcome.

Self compassion is needed when we stall, becuase there is no fault involved, but it’s easy to get down on ourselves and start criticising our lack of motivation. Instead, try practicing self care (that will mean something different to each of us, but look for ways to treat yourself, and ensure that you eat, drink water, sleep and spend time outside as a minimum) and kind and supportive self-talk.

Usually, once we have dealt with whatever derailed us, we can actively remotivate ourselves towards the task that requires our attention. This happens in different ways for different people… for me it’s a case of listening to some encouraging audio, from a mentor I relate to, doing some related training, or reading something pertinent and motivational in itself


Standing still

Standing still differs from procrastination and stalling, in as much as it is usually a place that holds us for a longer period of time, often as the result of some upset or trauma. I stood still for a number of months this year after my ex-husband died, and the time was needed just to survive all that I was feeling and dealing with around me. This is a key part of standing still – it’s often a necessary part of some kind oof healing process. 

Obviously, we may still need to work or care for people at times such as this, but by standing still I mean that these are times when we are not really progressing, growing or movng forward. This is becuase our energy is focussed on dealing with something else, and that something could be something wonderful – like a house move.

The bottom line is that standing still is a necessary part of any journeying. It’s a time when we can rest and re-group with ourself, and focus intently on a particular life change that consumes both our attention and our energy. A time when we can do whatever it takes just to get through the days. A time when we can grieve, or in the case of our own illness – heal.

So, in conclusion it’s easy to see that any journey is punctuated with ‘down time’ for a myriad of reasons. We need only to accept this and to try to see exactly what is going on if we feel we are making no real progress. Then we can change what needs to be changed, and accept and support what needs to be accepted and supported. These ‘slow’ periods of life are often followed by great forward flow, so we can learn to appreciate them in the anticipation of what will follow next.

Procrastination is probably the exception, as when you find yourself regularly fighting against a stream of tasks that you would prefer not to be doing, then it’s probably better to address how you are living your one life, rather than just training yourself not to procrastinate.

Motivation and forwards flow

When we think about journeying, we tend to think primarily about making progress… moving forward. However, all journeys include times of rapid progression, rest, stalling, stopping, starting, acceleration, observation and change. All of these stages of our travelling have their own importance, and we can embrace them as having purpose; stopping to eat lunch or take in the view can be just as helpful to us as blazing ahead. However, today I do want to focus on motivation and maintaining forwards flow.


What motivation isn’t

Motivation is literally the driving force behind journeying. The push that creates momentum. Motivation is born out of a desire for something specific that you want to achieve or succeed in doing. Since motivation is so much a part of getting things done, reaching goals and creating success, it has been subjected to a great deal of scrutiny by the scientific community.

First let’s look at some popular ‘motivational’ myths. Psychology today ran an article by Heidi Grant Halvorson Ph.D. who has written a book called Succeed – How We Can Reach Our Goals. In the article she identified the following myths that are often expounded when talking about motivation.

  • Just write down your goals, and success is guaranteed.
  • Just try to do your best.
  • Just visualize success.

It might be safe to assume that any statement that begins with “just,” is going to be highly dubious when it comes to creating something as complex as success. But none of these statements actually carry any real truth. Writing down goals has been shown to have no effect (either positive or negative) on achieving success. Setting specific goals and intentions is extremely important in terms of motivation (and success), but large goals, and writing them down (or not) really don’t matter.

Encouragement to try your best significantly reduces performance in comparison to encouragement to set specific and difficult goals. Doing the latter will

“…cause you to, often unconsciously, increase your effort, focus and commitment to the goal, persist longer, and make better use of the most effective strategies.”

Of course it is important to note that there are times in life when all we can muster is our best. And we should never beat ourselves up about that or create unrealistic expectations against which to measure ourselves. Self-compassion is never wasted and it’s not about letting ourselves off the hook.

Visualising success holds some truth, but not if you just visualise effortless success and the end result you are after. This does nothing to help and simply sets you up to fail. However, visualising the work you need to do to get where you want to be, does make a difference:

“You can cultivate a more realistically optimistic outlook by combining confidence in your ability to succeed with an honest assessment of the challenges that await you. Don’t visualize success—visualize the steps you will take in order to make success happen.”


What is motivation?

So having got rid of some on the myths about motivation, what can we do to truly motivate ourselves? Probably the single biggest thing we can do is to learn to practice self-compassion and forgive ourselves for past failures. If we look at it from the opposite perspective – what’s the biggest de-motivator that stops people achieving what they want – then the connection becomes clear. As Jennice Vilhauer Ph.D. explained in her TED talk

“…in general, people have a default tendency to act based on what they expect, not what they want. What someone expects is often very different from what they want… For many people, however, not getting what they want is preferable to trying and being disappointed.

Why is disappointment such a powerful negative emotion that people would rather sacrifice their hopes, dreams, and desires than feel its sting? The answer lies in the meaning that you give to disappointment. The reality is, not getting what you want never feels good to anyone, however, the intensity to which you feel the emotion of disappointment can be exponentially magnified by your interpretation of it.”

So working with yourself to overcome globalising disappointment (“I never get what I want. Everything always ends badly for me.”) and personalising disappointment (“I don’t get what I want because I am not worthy of good things. I am not good enough.”) will move you towards a more constructive generalised view, that everyone faces disappointment at times, and that it doesn’t mean you can’t go on to succeed. Indeed, success often comes on the back of disappointment as we re-group with ourselves and grow.

All previously alluded to, motivation does involve setting specific goals and visualising the effort needed to achieve them. For instance, if your goal was to get out of bed at a specific time each morning, you would then visualise yourself doing this, and exerting the effort needed. You could visualise using different techniques, like the 5 second rule, or placing your alarm clock and phone away from your bed. You would then begin to feel what it would feel like to successfully get up on time and what could help you achieve the goal, that you can then put that into practice.

You could also think more widely about the goal and consider whether there are other goals that might work to increase your chances of success with this one. An obvious one would be, to be in bed by a specific time each night, which would allow you a good number of hours asleep.


Interestingly, meditation is also linked to motivational success, because it changes the way the brain works. Research has shown that regular meditation improves focus, attention, decision making, information processing, mental strength, resilience and emotional intelligence. It is apparently rare to meet a highly successful person who doesn’t meditate. If you need to be convinced about these benefits and more – there is an amazing article about the science of meditation here.

The business dictionary has this neat definition of motivation: Internal and external factors that stimulate desire and energy in people, to be continually interested and committed to a job, role or subject, or to make an effort to attain a goal. Motivation results from the interaction of both conscious and unconscious factors such as the (1) intensity of desire or need, (2) incentive or reward value of the goal, and (3) expectations of the individual and of his or her peers.

I find this helpful because it makes sense then, that anything which increases these factors – such as accountability and support for (3) – will help increase motivation. The specific things that motivate an individual may vary depending on their passions, interests, mindset, energising responses and so on. What matters is to know what works for you and to open yourself to those things. While we can’t expect continuous forward flow, establishing flow at all, requires effort and commitment to our goals. Finding support on the journey helps considerably to help maintain flow. Good journeying…