self improvement

When Doubt Gets In The Way Of Productivity (And How To Overcome It)

Every time you try to work on your new project, or towards your new goal, you find yourself stalling. At first you think it’s just been a while. That you’re procrastinating because you’re simply not used to working at this time of day, or in this kind of way.

But sometimes procrastination happens for a reason. It offers a momentary insight into your own subconscious. Deep down you’re not sure, you’re not convinced that you are doing what you are supposed to be doing.

Sure you might have convinced yourself with pretty words, but in the back of your head, your other options are circling around, trying to drag you away from your current engagement.

If this happens every time you try to get some work done, you might have yet to convince yourself.

Is The Doubt Real?

Sometimes when things get hard, your brain starts to rationalize why you should avoid doing this specific hard thing. If you find it floating away the second you push through the initial resistance, the doubt might simply be a symptom of the desire to avoid the hard part of the work.

But if it haunts you every time you try to get work done, if you’re starting to lose sleep over the idea that you might be going down the wrong path, then you can be sure you have an actual problem that needs to be dealt with.

Let Go Of Your Expectations But Remember Why You Started

Sometimes what jumpstarts this doubt is the gap between what you expected something to be like, and what it’s actually like. Most commonly, this happens when you’ve set out towards a huge, glamorous goal, and when you start to do the actual work, you’re surprised to find there’s nothing special or glamorous about it. It’s just work.

So let go of these expectations. Whenever you find yourself thinking something like “this is not what it was supposed to be like” or “I can’t wait until…” catch yourself. Take a few seconds to remind yourself to focus solely on what’s right in front of you.

But keeping yourself motivated can be difficult. Which is why you need to remember and remind yourself why you started in the first place. Why you started running, learning to program, painting, whatever you might have challenged. Remember why, and remind yourself. Write your reason on a post-it note on your door that you see every time you leave your door for a run. Hang it on your monitor so you see it every tie you sit down to program.

Ignore Your Alternatives Or Risk Making A Worse Decision/Getting Haunted By Regret

A recent study into the decision-making habits of people has revealed something rather troubling; the more information they received, the more they considered each option, the less likely they were to make a good decision. This might seem utterly counter-intuitive and ironic enough to be the trait of a comedic character in a funny movie, there is a certain logic to it. The more time you spend considering each option, the more mental energy you use, and the more compelled you will be to take the easy choice.

And also the more information you have, the more room you have to second guess whichever decision you make. If you only focused on the things you liked about something, it would seem obvious.  But when you include things you don’t really appreciate, and surprise yourself by finding things you like in the other option, you’re suddenly not so sure anymore.

To make things worse, the more you consider your options, the more likely you are to feel regret after you’ve made your final decision. The more likely you are to doubt that you made the right choice in the first place.

If you’ve been indulging your fantasy and looking into your other options every now and then, this could have been a contributing factor to what makes your doubt so crippling. If you want to overcome the doubt, ignoring your other options is an important place to start.

Rewrite The Way You Think Of Yourself And Your Undertaking

James Clear talks about a concept called identity-based habits. It’s a retake on an old self-improvement classic, that starting out small and sticking to it is much better than starting big and giving up quick. (Like Bruce Lee famously said: “long term consistency trumps short term intensity”)

The idea is that you use small behaviors to over time rewrite your own perception of yourself. You gradually change the way you see yourself at a fundamental level. They have to be small enough that you’re able to follow through consistently, every single day, but at the same time meaningful enough that they actually impact your thinking.

Through consistently writing every day, I am gradually starting to think of myself as a prolific writer. That writing every day is not a challenge for me. This simple idea, this simple truth helps me get started on days where I come up with every possible excuse to try to avoid it.

The Right Choice Is The One You Stick To

It’s EASY to dismiss the path you’ve chosen as the wrong one. You give yourself permission to give up, with the excuse that “when you find the right thing, you will follow it through to the end”. I spent the first 21 years of my life doing exactly this, over and over, and I ended up unemployed with virtually no job skills, and a an admission of defeat that “I simply didn’t have anything I wanted to do” in life.

But there’s another way. An idea that completely contradicts the idea that you should keep hopping from interest to interest and then you will magically find your purpose. An idea that I’ve found to be extremely useful, and very comforting in times of intense doubt about what I’ve chosen to do. It is Cal Newport’s thought(from his book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”) that skill leads to passion and contentment/happiness in your work.

In essence, what this means that the right choice is the one you stick to. As long as you stick to a choice you will get better at doing what you chose to do, and with that increase in skill, comes an increase in passion and enjoyment.

Remembering this thought is a great way to silence your own dissenting voices, and keeping on a steady course towards your current goal.

Once you start overcoming the doubt, and forming (or reforming) your conviction, the resistance you have towards starting will become less regular, less overwhelming, less of an obstacle.

Every day you have the opportunity to make a little progress by taking action, or you will regress a little. So by choosing to do the bare minimum, you’re making the day three times as good as a day of inactivity.

If you want more helpful tips and articles like this one, you can join my newsletter to receive another post as good, or better, every single week. I write about overcoming mental barriers, productivity and my own journey towards location independence/starting a freelance career.

If you find yourself lacking the motivation to keep going, or you struggle with fear and other mental barriers that keep you from even starting, and you would like help with that each and every week, let me help you!

15 Responses to When Doubt Gets In The Way Of Productivity (And How To Overcome It)

  1. Adi says:

    Ragnar…its all true.
    I’ve been paralyzed with several options and multiple project that caused me stuck and procrastinate.For a very optimistic person and opportunist like me, I found hard to ignore the other alternatives which I always see all of them are great.
    How to choose between them and put one of them as my main focus?

    Thanks a lot for the post, really inspiring :)

  2. Citrine says:

    Interesting article,
    I found myself in such a position regarding two job offers. However, the one I thought I would be agreeing to unconditionally now seems like a completely wrong choice, and the more I think about it, the more convinced I am to accept the other (even though initially this would have been opposite). What I find aids my decision-making is trusting my intuition, rather than hard facts. I find that if I’m getting the wrong ‘vibe’ from something, it’ll override any reasoning I may have done previously – and it’s usually right.

  3. You make a lot of excellent points. I know that doing one’s passion is one way to make sure that action is taken. Yet, sometimes we double-guess ourselves as to what our true passions are and subsequently fail to take action. I’m currently in that boat, wondering if I really have found my passions, thinking that it was too easy, but at the same time realizing that it’s taken me over 3 decades to arrive here. I also like your advice about making small tweaks consistently and over the long haul in order to achieve the goal you want. I am testament that this works!

  4. Vishal says:

    Amazing post.
    Completely agree that Purpose (Why) and correct Focus help keep us on track.

    Further, i believe Visualization is also a must for clearing doubts and maintaining motivation.

    Here is my take on it…

  5. S. Smith says:

    I like this post.
    I have a tendacy to doubt myself, even though I know I have nothing to worry about.
    But, the reason why I doubt myself is because I let outside factors trigger my thoughts.

  6. This really needed to be said. With so much information out there about how to find your “true” passion, career, or lifestyle, it becomes easy to second guess yourself, which serves no purpose.

    If something is truly wrong, fix it. If not, keep working hard at it. You will get better at it, and along the way you will be surprised at all the things you learn about yourself, from the new skills you develop, to the enjoyment you find in unexpected places.

    Thanks for perking our ears up to this, Ragnar. Your writing is the rare intersection of inspirational and informational, and I, for one, dig it.

  7. Ragnar says:

    Thanks for your exceedingly kind words! I was struggling with this myself and I tried to arrange the thoughts and ideas of people smarter than me in a way that helped me take a step in the right direction.

  8. Ragnar says:

    This happens to all of us. If it’s something you can control, i.e. you can avoid experiencing those outside factors (like if it’s one particular friend that tries to shoot you down time and time again) then you can do something about it. If it’s not, then keep it up. Remember that you might not always be in control of your circumstances, but you are in control of how you react to them.

    Thanks for sharing!

  9. Ragnar says:

    If I had many great options, I would take a long hard look in the mirror and get really clear on what my priorities are. Then pick the one option that seems to line up the best with them long term. If you’re past that stage, and all seem equally great still, then it just might be a matter of picking one, and sticking to it.

    It’s very easy to get stuck in analysis paralysis, so keep in mind that the more time you spend thinking about it, the less likely it is that you’ll be happy with your final choice.

    If it’s job related, I’ve heard many people recommend taking people out for coffee. (People that have the different jobs you’re thinking about getting.) And having them tell you the reality of what the job is like. This can help you break the spell of idolization (if you’ve always dreamed about becoming something, 90% chance you don’t have a realistic vision of what the job is like), and hopefully make it easier to make a decision.

  10. Ragnar says:

    Glad to hear of your success! Hopefully I will find myself in your position in a couple of years. You can pride yourself on having a pretty rare problem, (having found your passion too quickly)!

  11. Ragnar says:

    Intuition is tricky. Sometimes it’s like an all-seeing oracle that somehow predicts what’s right for you with stellar accuracy. And other times it’s like a blind seeing-eye dog, dragging you face first into lampposts over and over again. If you have the opportunity to talk to someone who works at each of the firms in a similar/identical position as you before you make your final decision, and ask them a little bit about the reality of their workdays, then that could be a good idea.

    If logic says one thing, and intuition say the other, you will have ample excuse for doubting your decision later, so maybe the key either way will be to trust whichever decision you make.

    Good luck!

  12. laila says:

    I needed that..thanks

  13. Citrine says:

    Thanks :) I definitely agree, a large part of the trick is to follow through with whatever it is that you’ve vouched for in the first place – in such a way, one can vastly increase chances of the decision actually turning out to be a satisfactory one.
    A large part of getting the neative impression at one of the workplaces was the atmosphere I’ve experienced when I turned up for the interview. The boss has explained to me that the department is going through a somewhat nerveracking time, as there are likely job cuts coming up in the summer. Moreover, I find that most of the time people’s emotional states tend to rub off on me rather accurately, and the overall “feel” of the place I’ve experienced made me uneasy. In that sense I think no matter what the offer is (and they are both quite comparable), entering such an environment would be quite a risky decision.
    The other offer is still at a negotiation stage, which means that it isn’t confirmed – so based on the facts alone, it would be completely illogical for me to decline the one I’ve described in the former paragraph, as it leaves me with no counter-option if it doesn’t work out. Even so, I believe there are times when one needs to resort to making apparently illogical judgements and just trust their instinct. This appears to be one of them.

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  15. Cheyenne Christine Naegler says:

    I really needed to read this right now.I am at one of those crossroads. I have wanted changed for a while & have made tiny small steps but nothing significant. I’ve changed direction so many times no one believes me anymore. I have tired different techniques to overcome it but, seen to get in my way on a regular basis. I have no idea why I do it.

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