Why We Procrastinate
PROCRASTINATION IS OFTEN USED TO KEEP YOU FROM FACING YOUR FEAR OF SUCCESS
Fear of success involves three central issues:
- You find yourself in conflict over the awful choice between advancement and friends;
- Success in completing a project means facing some painful disincentives to success, such as moving, looking for a new job, or paying back student loans; and
- Success means advancement to increasing demands and a fear of ultimate failure sometime in the future
Part of the delayed fear of failure, then, is that you will reach a point where you can no longer make yourself do what you’ve been telling yourself you have to do to maintain success. Your motivation had dried up. You can’t seem to push yourself anymore.
To unlearn this pattern you’ll need to reduce the amount of pain and threat associated with your work. You’ll need to increase the amount of guilt-free play in your schedule, increase the rewards for short periods of quality work, and put yourself in charge of reducing stress and tension.
Procrastination has been learned, and it can be unlearned.
How We Procrastinate
PROCRASTINATION AND ANXIETY WORK IN FIVE STAGES
First, you give a task or a goal the power to determine your worth and happiness. You think, “Getting this job, passing this test, dating this person will change my life and make me happy.
Second, you use perfectionism to raise the task 100 feet above the ground, so that any mistakes would be tantamount to death, and any failure or rejection would be intolerable.
Third, you find yourself frozen with anxiety as your natural stress response produces adrenaline to deal with threats to your survival. The more issues you pile upon this task the more serious the threat if an error occurs.
Fourth, you then use procrastination to escape your dilemma, which brings the deadline closer, creating time pressure, a higher level of anxiety, and a more immediate and frightening threat than even your fear of failure or of criticism for imperfect work.
Fifth and last stage, you then use a real threat, such as a fire or a deadline, to release yourself from perfectionism and to act as a motivator . A very convoluted and costly device, to be sure, but nevertheless it works to override the paralysis of your perfectionism and fear of failure.
And it will keep you in this insidious cycle until you unlearn it and replace it with more effective and efficient methods of approaching work and worth.
Start With Self-Talk
FIVE SELF-STATEMENTS THAT DISTINGUISH PROCRASTINATORS FROM PRODUCERS
Identifying which of the five negative statements you use will help you to replace it with the positive challenges:
- Replace “I have to” with “I choose to.”
- Replace “I must finish” with “When can I start?”
- Replace “This project is so big and important” with “I can take one small step.”
- Replace “I must be perfect” with “I can be perfectly human.”
- Replace “I don’t have time to play” with “I must take time to play.”
Guilt-Free Play, Quality Work
Guilt-free play is based on the seeming paradox that in order to do productive, high-quality work on important projects, you must stop putting off living and engage wholeheartedly in recreation and relaxation. That’s right, you can be more productive if you play more! And as you put the strategy of guilt-free play to use, you’ll learn to play more and complete more quality work.
Modern workaholics, while they minimize the importance of play, generally can appreciate the great American tradition of “work hard, play hard.” The Now Habit system approaches the connection between recreation and productivity more strategically, however, using reverse psychology to alter the concept slightly so it reads “Play hard in order to work more productively and efficiently.”
Enjoying guilt-free play is part of a cycle that will lead you to higher levels of quality, creative work. The cycle follows a pattern that usually begins with guilt-free play, or at least the scheduling of it. That gives you a sense of freedom about your life that enables you to more easily settle into a short period of focused, quality work.
Once you’ve completed some quality work on your project, your feeling of self-control increases, as does your confidence in your ability to concentrate and to creatively resolve problems. In turn, your capacity to enjoy quality, guilt-free play grows. Your deep sense of having earned time away from work enhances your ability to have focused, quality time with friends, which really begins to pay off as you engage in creative work while playing.
Overcoming Blocks To Action
THREE MAJOR BLOCKS
The three major fears that block action and create procrastination are
- The terror of being overwhelmed
- The fear of failure
- The fear of not finishing
These three blocks usually interact with each other and escalate any initial fears and stresses.
TOOL #1: THREE-DIMENSIONAL THINKING AND THE REVERSE CALENDAR
Conquering the feeling of being overwhelmed starts with anticipating that it is natural to experience a certain amount of anxiety as you picture all the work involved in completing a large project. It is important not to misinterpret this as a sign that you can’t do it. This normal level of anxiety will not become overwhelming unless you:
- Insist on knowing the one right place to start. The indecision and delay in looking for the one right place keeps you from getting on to the rest of the project. The possibility that there are several adequate starting points escapes you, and you feel anxious that the one you’ve chosen leads to a devastatingly wrong conclusion. You’ve gotten yourself stuck by thinking in a right-wrong dichotomy—either you do it right the first time or you’re wrong. From this perspective each starting point seems as if it’s set in cement, dictating the succeeding steps, domino fashion, cascading you in the wrong direction.
- Have not permitted yourself time along the course of your project for learning, building confidence with each step, and asking for help. Your two-dimensional view pressures you to be competent now at the beginning. Instead of allowing yourself to learn along the way, you expect that you should feel confident at the start.
- Are critical of the fact that you’re only starting, and you tell yourself, “I should be finished.” Each achievement is diminished by being compared with the imagined ideal. The starting point and the path of trial and error have little legitimacy in comparison to your goal. You have little tolerance or compassion for your current level of imperfection and your current level of struggle. This critical comparison keeps you jumping back and forth between your negative image of yourself at the start and your ideal of yourself at the finish point. You experience overwhelming anxiety as you attempt to deal with how to make the transition from where you are to where you’d like to be.
THE REVERSE CALENDAR
The reverse calendar starts with the ultimate deadline for your project and then moves back, step by step, to the present where you can focus your energy on starting. You will find the reverse calendar extremely useful whenever you face tasks that require work over a long period—painting the house, mounting an advertising campaign, or perservering through a weight-loss program. And the reverse calendar should be used immediately if you feel overwhelmed. You’ll want a reverse calendar to see what you can tackle right now, where you can delegate, and when you’ll have a chance to catch your breath.
TOOL #2: THE WORK OF WORRYING
When you are continually worried about failing on a project or losing a job, ask yourself these six questions as part of your work of worrying:
- What is the worst that could happen?
- What would I do if the worst really happened?
- How would I lessen the pain and get on with as much happiness as possible if the worst did occur?
- What alternatives would I have?
- What can I do now to lessen the probability of this dreaded event occurring?
- Is there anything I can do now to increase my chances of achieving my goal?
True confidence is knowing that whether you’re calm or anxious, whether you succeed or fail, you’ll do your best and, if necessary, be ready to pick yourself up to carry on and try again. True confidence is the ability to say, “I am prepared for the worst, now I can focus on the work that will lead to the best.”
TOOL #3: PERSISTENT STARTING
After you’ve learned to overcome the first two blocks to action and have gotten started, you may need to overcome the fear of finishing. Many procrastinators can get started, but through a number of negative self-statements and attitudes they trip themselves up and create blocks to finishing. Difficulties with finishing, like fear of success, can involve certain disincentives for completing a project.
Procrastinating on finishing takes more effort than is required to stay with a project all the way through. It is also less rewarding than the satisfaction in completing a project and making room for more fun and new beginnings.
The task of finishing has its own qualities of tying things up and polishing, but essentially, all large tasks are completed in a series of starts.
Keep on starting, and finishing will take care of itself. When you’re afraid of finishing, keep asking, “When can I start?”