1. The task ahead is unclear. You may have this vague idea that you need to “get yourself organized” or “clean the house,” but these aren’t very specific tasks. They are too broad for you to have much of an idea of how to get started. In these instances, you need to scale things back and come up with something much more specific like: put away all the shoes sitting around the house or put a small spiral notebook and a pen in the kitchen to use for making a grocery list as needed items come up.
2. The motivation for the task is low. Do you actually care about this task? Have you set yourself a goal to do something that you THINK you should be doing, but you don’t really want to do it? Is this something your parents or your partner think is important, but you really don’t care about? If you have no internal motivation, everything else will seem like more fun than getting started on this task.
3. Unidentified Fear and Anxiety. Maybe you’re telling yourself you have no fears about getting started, but if you’ve been avoiding doing something for weeks and weeks, perhaps there really is something about the task that you are afraid of. Maybe you’ve been putting off scheduling that appointment at the dermatologist because skin cancer runs in your family, and thinking about picking up the phone call makes you start to feel fearful about bad news you might hear. I don’t have to tell you that you might be wrong about your fear and that you might be right, and that there’s no way you’ll know until you make the appointment and go. One thing I have noticed, though, is that once clients recognize that maybe it is their fear getting in their way, they are oftentimes willing to pick up the phone and make the call.
4. The task or goal isn’t really that important right now. Sure starting a diet or an exercise program is important, but if it’s the middle of tax season or you have a close relative who needs your support, or things are busy at work, it might be a reasonable decision to delay “doing it all” until such time that things in your life are a bit less hectic. That doesn’t make you a loser. That makes you human. Forgive yourself, and pare down your list to essentials until a better time.
5. Perfectionism. You think you have to do things perfectly in order to check them off the list. NOT SO! You can delegate, ask for help, delay until a better time, do a “good enough” job. Sometimes getting something done adequately is all that is needed. In real life, many things are pass/fail. A+’s aren’t all that important after high school. Remember that perfectionism creates stress and worry, it inhibits creativity and risk-taking, it usually leads to procrastination, and it is generally no fun to be around (since perfectionists are generally stressed-out and demanding).
When you are having trouble getting started on a task, review your tasks and your personal barriers to getting started. I do this all the time with my clients as well as for myself, and I so often find that the goals I have set or my expectations of myself are unrealistic and need to be tweaked.