Replace “I must” with “I want to” to break through procrastination

My struggle with lack of motivation, procrastination, or activity paralysis due to depression had been very real for over a few years (see why here). But these are common enough roadblocks that can afflict all of us. In the years of looking into myself to search for answers so I could overcome, I have discovered and developed some techniques that make us mentally and physically strong. Here I share perhaps the most important one.

Down in a hole I had to ask myself, ‘How could I have the motivation and get going at the thousands of problems that surrounded me?’ (read in the above links) By this time, I was in a constant state of rage and nothing felt good anymore. Except for one thing — when I thought of avenging myself. So I asked the only friend I had left, ‘Why does it feel so good?’ “Blood lust,” she said, “because you feel in control when you think that; because you do not have any control over anything in your life.” Control.

The Struggle for Control

My struggle with ‘control’ was even bigger than those with motivation or procrastination. It has been since childhood. Well-formed and very intense. I had an absolute problem being told to do something. Anything. The problem was that parents or teachers were always telling you to do something. Study. Do an assignment. Do chores.

When she said you have a lack of control and a need for it — I was jolted from my sleep. I was fighting but failing. I was running on empty. I was millions of dollars in debt. I was grossly overweight. I could drink what a reasonable man would drink in a month, in a day. My company didn’t even have a website anymore. I needed furious action but I just could not begin. The lack of control was total; the need for it was absolute. So how could I have control?

How did parents, teachers, colleagues/ managers, or society exert control? By making an assertion — you must do this. You must study (when you want to play). You must become healthy (when you want to watch TV and drink beer). You must work hard on this project (when you’d rather go on that vacation). You must make this investment (when you want to buy that car). You know this is good advice but you hardly follow it — why? Because they are exerting control and you are resisting it.

Five Steps to Losing Control

Soon, this is exactly how you talk to yourself. “I must be fit/ make that investment/ work on this task.” Repeat that again — say it out loud to yourself. “I must become fit.” Do you notice even when you are saying this to yourself you do not have control? If you must do it — someone else has control. The control is extrinsic. Outside of you. They expect you to work hard, make that investment, become fit… That is not how you ‘feel’ about it though. And all of us are much more motivated about things we like to do as against things that we are made to do!

You feel this about things that someone says, even if they are good for you, in five distinct steps:

  1. Agreement with what you must do: In the first place you feel agreement — of course, you should get fit.
  2. Resistance and inaction: You feel resistance — it is simply easier to relax and have a beer.
  3. Confused source of resistance: You do not think of these two things — the source of control and the idea — as separate. You think the resistance comes for the idea and is intrinsic for you when it actually comes from control and is extrinsic.
  4. Guilt: You feel guilty because you agreed the action was good for you. The more you delay action the more the guilt you feel about not being a good colleague, a good child, or a good parent because you are causing disappointment all round. Strangely the more the guilt the more the inertia to just begin.
  5. Blame: With this inertia comes blame, “I can’t get fit because I don’t have time — I am working for the same family that is asking me to get fit.” So you start looking for some circumstance to substantiate why you can’t get on it.

One step to Regain Control

When I understood how it was lack of control that was causing these feelings I started saying to myself “I want to become fit” instead of “I must become fit.” Or “I want to work on this task” instead of “I must do this.” That one simple step created a new me:

  1. Bringing myself (“I”) into the equation and appealing to myself suddenly brought the feeling that I had control. I discovered that not only did I get back control, I was the only one who had control over my actions and my life. Other than me who could change my food habits and exercise to get fit? Other than me who could work through hours, months, and years to make the change I wanted to?
  2. With total control comes total responsibility — I could not put anyone else or any situation as an alibi for something I did not do.

Stop trying to tell yourself “I must.” Instead, tell yourself “I want to.” It will change your life as it did mine.

Stronger with RAKESH SHUKLA™ is a framework for developing unparalleled mental and physical toughness. It is based on Rakesh’s life, and has helped drive two ‘comebacks’.

Rakesh Shukla slept on railway platforms on his way to creating a world-leading technology company — TWB_, which is the choice of over 40 Fortune 500 tech customers worldwide including Microsoft, Boeing, Airbus, Intel, and others. However, at 43, he lost everything within a year. Alone and friendless, he spent the next five years repaying over INR 20 crore of debt and taxes, while building back his company and reputation, and creating and funding VOSD — world’s largest dog sanctuary and rescue.

Rakesh Shukla has suffered heart disease since he was seven years old, had had two heart attacks by the time he was 30, suffers from brain diseases, has broken his back and his kidneys are failing. Towards the end of this five-year period, Rakesh weighed 88 kg and very unfit. Today, at 48 years, he can lift well over 100 kg above his head, run a 10-minute mile, do 2,000 push-ups, and 250 pull-ups. He has never been to a gym, been on a diet, had a trainer, or taken any supplements.