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LESSONS ON BEATING PROCRASTINATION, FROM MY 3 YEAR OLD NIECE

Samantha Wills

Lilli. with her niece (aka the expert in beating procrastination) - aged 3.

Lilli. with her niece (aka the expert in beating procrastination) - aged 3.

I’m starting on Monday… 

When I held my niece in my arms for the first time, I couldn’t get over how tiny she was - and how much noise those little lungs made! Then she started chewing on a little giraffe named Sophie, then fumbling to grab at things with a giggle, shakily sitting up, stumbling about in an awkward crawl and then walking a step at a time, falling, leaning against things, holding big hands, then taking another step. 

What I learnt from seeing this persistent little lady grow up has changed my life. 
She’s ‘failed’ - over and over again, day after day - as she learnt to sit, crawl, walk, talk. Never once did she sit there and think, ‘I’ll start learning to walk on Monday’ or ‘My New Year’s Resolution is to learn to talk’. She persisted in learning something new, bit by bit, every day. And I realised how rarely it was as an adult it is that I learnt to do something completely new - and the importance of breaking big goals down into small, daily accomplishments. 
And now, I sit here celebrating our annual family Christmas in July in the ski fields of Victoria, where this persistent little three-year-old has been in her ski lesson all day and just sat here telling me about it. Literally from baby steps to skiing down a mountain!

So I reflect on the things I’ve learnt to do in the last two years since this determined little lady changed my thinking about procrastination, ‘failure’ and trying something new. 
To be frank, now I think - just start being shit; then learn to be less shit; repeat! To be open to tackle new things in the way that she does, without the ‘grown-up’ procrastination of having to be perfect or being ashamed of failing! 

12 things I did (however badly!) when I stopped procrastinating.

1. I started my own non-profit business. One of the biggest changes in my life in the last 2 years has been starting my own business. We are a profit-for-purpose production company supporting women in business in developing communities. 

2. I learned to paint with watercolours. I’ve always wanted to learn to do this, but of course I’d never gotten around to it. I decided to make a book for my niece with watercolours and I spent weeks painting all the illustrations. Even though it’s certainly not going to win a Pulitzer Prize, she loved it and I was really proud of it! 

3. I published a book. I organised for a team to travel to Nepal to photograph one of our projects and complied the images and interviews into a beautiful book that we had published. It was no mean feet - it took thousands of dollars, weeks of content creation, months of editing and compiling the book design and everything that went along with that. If I knew how much work went into it, I might not have been so eager! But I’m so thrilled I did, and every week I broke down what I needed to do each day to make it happen. It took time and effort and money, but I’m so proud of the final product and how it represents the women in such an empowering way. 

4. I finally reached my goal weight and got body confident (and have stayed there for 2 years). Like lots of people, I’ve struggled with my weight and body confidence for as long as I can remember. My focus changed from being about restricting food and forcing intense exercise on myself, to doing some kind of exercise four times a week and eating as many fruit and vegetables as I could. That’s it! Sometimes I go to the gym and seriously sweat it out, but to be honest I will often just go for a walk outside for half an hour or a swim in an ocean pool for 2kms. Food has become my friend, I know that sounds so cliche, but it’s something I look at as helping me have energy and nurturing me to be able to achieve my goals. Of course I still have treats (this morning I ate a warm cinnamon donut, which I’ve associated with ‘being at the snow’ since I was a kid!) but I have them as a treat, which actually makes them even more special. 

5. I rekindled my love of horse riding. I started taking horse riding lessons again for the first time since I was about 10. I feel the most invigorated all week at the end of my lessons and spending time with the horses, feeding the carrots and brushing them. I’m certainly not going to the Olympics any time soon, but I realise that it doesn’t matter! I don’t need a greater purpose or to be trying to achieve something grand out of it - it enriches me and that’s enough. 

6. I finally sorted out the lingering heartache. Those real heart-smashing breakups can be brutal and negatively impact all aspects of our lives, and I had one in early 2015 that really had me down and out. It wasn’t until I began applying these lessons from a three-year old (!) I finally started to find my spark again - and now I think of it as the best thing that ever happened to me! I spent months learning coping mechanisms each day that I could apply, and I focused on creating my own set of values that I wanted to live my life by. It ended up being the making of me, by life has moved forward leaps and bounds and as much as it sucked at the time (and I’m sorry for all the trees I killed with all those tissues), I’m a completely different person now and I’ll always be grateful for the kick in the butt! 

7. I travelled to 34 countries. I made it a priority in my life to travel and meet new people, to be adventurous - I started saying ‘Why the fuck not’ a lot! I went to Palau in Micronesia to learn to scuba dive (and ended up working for a guy I met there), I spent New Years in the beautiful misty mountains of Sri Lanka, I just spent the summer in London. Why the fuck not? Just make it happen! 

8. I decluttered my life and sorted out my finances. I cleared out probably 80% of the things I owned and stopped buying unnecessary bits and bobs. I finally wrote down all my incoming and outgoing finances to keep track of where my money is going. In all honesty, I don’t spend any less now, but I make sure I spend it on the things that really matter to me. I live a pretty lean life, no Pay TV or Netflix and I very rarely drink or go out to dinners, I hardly ever buy new clothes. I have a really cheap gym membership. I allow myself three expensive hot yoga classes a month - which I now see as a treat, rather than a chore of exercise - it’s all about the mind hacks! It can seem like I’m ‘going without’ at the time, but the adventures I get to go on make up for it!

9. I learned to speak Malagasy. By breaking down the daunting goal of learning a new, completely foreign language to just practicing it for 10 minutes each day, I managed to learn a conversational amount of this language. I spent some time in Madagascar working on a project for our non-profit (in case it seems like a very random language to learn!!) and it was such a great experience to speak with the locals in their own language. Even though I still made lots of mistakes, if nothing else, the laughs from my mistakes were a great icebreaker!

10. I taught myself about event photography and editing. I started photographing weddings and events on weekends just because I love it capturing special moments - and it’s great extra cash! I learnt so much about photos, film and editing through this, which I now apply to my business, just from watching tutorials online for free and practising. 

11. I ritualise assessing and re-writing my to-do priorities each Monday morning and I look at what I can do each day that achieves my longterm goals. Mondays are now my favourite day of the week because I look forward to the renewed focus! 

12. I tried and failed many times at many different things that haven’t stuck. I wanted to grow plants, so I did. Sadly for them, I killed most of the plants, and I realised I wasn’t that interested in growing plants. I wanted to sell flowers at the markets, so I did a few times and I realised I wasn’t that interested in it. I might have learnt to paint with watercolours, but I’m certainly no Picasso! But that’s not the point - procrastination for me was about not being able to do something very well, so not doing it at all. I’m learning to just try something that sparks my interest. It’s not failure we should be afraid of - we should be afraid of not trying. 

And as Samantha herself once said that stuck with me - ‘I don’t tell you this to impress you, but to impress on you’ - the magnitude of what’s possible without procrastination and by breaking goals down into small daily steps! I know it seems simple, but when you actually ritualise doing it, I’ve found it’s incredible what’s possible. 
My next big life goal is a month-long horse ride through the North Indian desert next year, stopping to deliver aid and medical supplies to remote villages. While your big life goals most certainly look different, I hope we can all take small steps every day to achieve them together!

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