I spoke with a young man today who just couldn’t seem to motivate himself to focus on his studies. He’d procrastinate, make excuses and generally found himself completely depressed without energy to ‘make a start’ with anything.
His reasoning was similar to many people’s – what’s the point in making a start unless I’m going to be able to complete the task? What’s the point in putting in the effort unless I know it’s going to work out? What’s the point in getting my hopes up when I’m just going to get disappointed anyway?
This reasoning will come in various forms, but there’s a re-occurring theme here, which is black and white thinking based on beliefs centred around ‘all or nothing’.
There is only so much effort someone will put into something before they give up, unless they see noticeable results to build confidence. Then, once they give up, it becomes easier to just accept that they’ll never be able to do whatever it is that they have given up on. It’s painful, it’s depressing, but it’s protective. Because if you accept defeat, as painful as it is, it’s not as painful as the crushing blow of disappointment should they get their hopes up. So basically, it’s a way of staying guarded.
Once you let your guard down, the scariest thing is to accept that maybe, just maybe, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe you can! See if you accept that, then guess what – now you have no excuses. You’ve removed the safety net which means there’s a lot further to fall.
So here’s the inevitable thing that’s going to happen when you step out of your comfort zone. You have to be willing to be imperfect. You have to count every little step of progress as a win, and not wait until it’s all perfect before you give yourself permission to congratulate yourself.
So let’s use this young man as an example.
The entire year, he had not submit a single assignment. So my suggestion – make a start, do 10% of an assignment, and submit it. Knowing that you will fail.
Obviously that’s going to be met with enormous resistance. The assignment might come back as a fail, but this is the part where you have to learn to shut off what’s going on outside, and focus entirely on the inside.
See the paper might come back with an ‘F’ but, on the inside, he needs to reassure himself that 10% is still a lot more than he had done previously. That means progress. That’s an improvement. Maybe next time it can be 20% and then 30% until it creates enough momentum to get all the way there.
Doing this creates a growth mindset because it focuses on the effort rather than the outcome, which is what you need to do to re-condition a new behavioural cycle. This is classically common in cases of depression, and often part of the treatment when it comes to forms of psychotherapy such as hypnotherapy.