'I just learned about "action faking" and turns out you're probably guilty.'

When it comes to procrastinating, I’m practically a professional. 

Not so much in the doing of daily tasks that keep our family life running smoothly. You know, like the washing and the school forms and all the extracurricular activity bits and pieces, that stuff I’m on top of. 

Where I seem to struggle is tackling the big juicy creative projects, the ones that fill me up and remind me that I’m more than just a folder of socks/referee of sisterly squabbles/doer of tedious deeds. 

Specifically, I’m referring to a manuscript that I’ve been working on for an embarrassingly long time. Currently, it’s kinda sorta almost finished. Almost being the operative word here. But instead of just sitting down and doing the thing, I seem to routinely find ways to do all the other things instead. 

While you're here, watch the five tips to end procrastination. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

Generally, these other things are related to the thing, e.g. researching a location I’m writing about, or taking a course in the software I’m using to write in. However, none of these other things actually get the big thing done, despite how busy they make me feel every day.

And while I’m regularly left asking myself #whyamIlikethis? I’ve settled on the fact that it’s just because I’m a procrastinator. It's what I do, it’s how I am, it’s just part of my process.  

As I’m starting to realise though, there might be a bit more to it than this.

While on Instagram (aka procrastinator’s crack) recently, I came across a post from Girlboss with a title reading: The Worst Type of Procrastination. So yes, it immediately had my attention. The post linked to a TikTok from Denée Tamia discussing the topic of 'action faking'. 


I had never come across the term before, but hearing Denée explain it made my stomach sink in that particular way that it does when you come face-to-face with an unpleasant truth about yourself. 

And because sharing is caring (and writing this article seems like a pretty legit excuse for not working on my manuscript), let’s take a closer look at action faking together. 

So, what is action faking?

Action faking is the practice of confusing being 'busy' with making actual progress towards an intended goal and often involves a lot of over-analysing and planning, but very little meaningful action. 

The term itself is most commonly attributed to American entrepreneur MJ Demarco, who describes it as: "Any action or expenditure that doesn't move you closer to the critical path." 

Demarco likens action faking to sharpening the needle, instead of actually moving it, and goes on to say, "Action faking gives you a faux sense of accomplishment, often stimulating a dopamine release with ineffective action."

Feeling sick yet? Okay, good. Let’s keep going.


What are some examples of action faking?

  • Say you want to get into meditation so you invest a lot of time reading/researching it. You might even take a meditation course, but then you never actually meditate.
  • Perhaps you're a budding entrepreneur with a cracking idea for a business, so you spend hours researching your ideal customer, then you agonise over a name and logo and brand colours without ever setting up an ABN or selling a single thing.
  • Or maybe you want to take a trip to Europe, so you ask everyone you know who’s been about it. You religiously scroll Instagram looking for #travelinspo, you even buy a few European travel books, but crucially, you never book the ticket.

But isn't that just general procrastination?

Well, yes, and no. The key difference between action faking and the reason it gets labelled as the 'worst type of procrastination' is because the act of doing something or 'being busy' creates an illusion that you’re actually making progress. 

Or as Denée says in her TikTok, "You’re taking some form of action, but you’re not really going all the way... it makes you feel like you’re progressing, it makes you feel like you’re doing something good, but you really aren’t."

Action faking gives you a false sense of heading in the right direction, but in the end, you never get where you want to go. (I’m looking at you, unfinished manuscript.)

It’s kind of like the wheels are spinning and you’re not going anywhere, but you’ve convinced yourself you are. Essentially, it’s the lack of self-awareness that makes action faking so problematic.

Why do we procrastinate or 'action fake' anyway?

There are various reasons why people procrastinate, but some of the most common can include: 

  • Perfectionism.
  • Fear of failing.
  • Lack of confidence.
  • Decision fatigue .
  • Not having a clear idea of what needs to be done.
  • Uncertainty around the end goal.
  • Being distracted.
  • Being afraid of change.

Tamara Cavenett, President of the Australian Psychological Society, says, "Procrastination is a normal behaviour that affects many of us, though it can vary in intensity significantly. It is often quite harmless but in more extreme cases can be completely debilitating, leading to high levels of stress and anxiety and a complete lack of confidence and productivity."

When it comes to 'action-faking' specifically, Tamara adds, "Our brains are geared towards doing whatever task is more enjoyable, often leading to 'action-faking' such as researching or planning something rather than getting the task done. This is common for those with a more ruminative style of thinking."

Okay, so how do we overcome action faking tendencies?

1. Own up to it.

According to Tamara, the first step in overcoming 'action faking' is to acknowledge you're doing it and acknowledge that what you're doing is unhelpful to the goal. (Alright okay, you got me, software course). 

2. Break it down.

Next, Tamara says, we should break things down into tiny manageable steps that will make us more accountable. Think SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant/Realistic, and Time-Bound – goals. 

"If you're avoiding something, my top tip would be to assume you need to make the first task smaller, however insignificant and silly that may feel," says Tamara.  

Listen to 8 Minutes To Change Your (Work) Life where Deb shares her five tech solutions that help her focus. Post continues after podcast.


3. Check in with your values.

"The decision to work on something depends on its subjective value, that is, how much we value accomplishing the project in that moment," says Tamara.

"Whether procrastinating by simply ignoring or delaying a task while staying relatively idle or prioritising a range of activities ahead of something you know deserves greater attention, your brain’s goal is the same: delay the commencement or the finishing of a required task.

"Those who prioritise other tasks ahead of their main objective may give themselves a greater ability to rationalise their procrastination as not all bad because they’ve completed other things, like cleaning the kitchen when they should be working on their assignment or work project.

Connecting your important projects to more immediate sources of value, such as life goals or core values, can increase your chance of completing tasks."

4. Commit to action today.

Not to sound like a Nike commercial, but at some point you gotta stop thinking about it and just do it.

As Denée says in another TikTok, "A lot of the time, our procrastination stems from overthinking and thinking way too far down the line... what you really need to be doing is thinking about today and tomorrow... of course thinking long term is helpful but a lot of us get stuck in that phase and never actually [take] action. It’s better to learn as you go than to never start at all."

@deneetamia Reply to @epclife just do it ! #mindset #selfimprovementtips #learnontiktok ♬ original sound - Denée Tamia

5. Be gentle with yourself.

While it can be really helpful to explore the reasons behind your behaviour, it’s important not to beat yourself up about 'action-faking' or any kind of procrastination because it can actually make the problem worse.

"Procrastination can lead us to a lot of negative thinking loops where we are self-critical, which can, in fact, make action less likely," says Tamara.

And as for me and my manuscript, clearly I cannot spend another second talking or writing about it. I got some sh*t to action, like action-action. Fake action (and software courses), we are done! 

What’s your relationship with procrastination like? We’d love to know. Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Emily McGrorey is a full-time reader, part-time procrastinator, freelance writer, casual Pilates student, and eternal aspiring author. You can follow her on Instagram here.

Feature Image: Canva.

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