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!


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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