Do you ever find yourself putting off until tomorrow what could probably be done today? If so, I highly recommend this great book from productivity guru Neil Fiore. It’s packed with Big Ideas to help you understand and overcome the “do it later” habit.
How Perception Affects Procrastination
One of the first things Fiore points out is that procrastinating tendencies are often triggered by unspoken fears.
To illustrate this, Fiore asks you to first imagine a solid board that’s 30 feet long, 4 inches thick and 1 foot wide. It’s lying on the ground ahead of you. Your mental task is to walk the length of the board. Given that it’s just resting on the ground, you probably won’t be inclined to put it off.
Next, Fiore suggests imagining that same board has been raised up high in the air and is suspended between two tall buildings, about 100 feet above the pavement.
“Look across to the other end of the board and contemplate beginning your assignment,” he instructs. “What do you feel? What are you thinking about? What are you saying to yourself?”
Fiore suggests taking a moment to notice how your reactions in this situation differ from those you had just a moment ago, when all you had to do was walk along a board that was at ground level. Notice how rapidly your feelings about the task change when the height of the board changes and the consequences of falling are greater.
Isn’t it amazing how often we raise a board up in the air and freak ourselves out? This is what happens when we think we have to be perfect before we start, or we’re never going to be able to do a task well enough — suddenly that simple, step-by-step exercise seems risky and dangerous. It’s the same board, but our fear of failure just raised it sky high.
The truth is, getting across the board always requires putting one foot in front of the other. It’s only our thoughts that paralyze us — by convincing us that a single faulty step could put us at real risk.
Finally, Fiore expands on the scene by having us imagine that the end of the board we’re standing on is on fire. Now what? Most likely, we’ll do whatever we need to in order get to the other side, or at least get away from the heat!
Unfortunately, that’s how we live our lives at times — procrastinating to the last minute and then making a frantic dash when we’re really desperate.
So the first thing we need to do when procrastination strikes, says Fiore, is tame our fear through more effective self-talk. This helps lower the board back to the ground, or at least create a virtual safety net so we’re not being controlled by a fear of falling to our death. Then we can get a task going before any fires start!
Embrace Unpleasant Obligations
Fiore suggests that one way we can lower the board back to Earth is by embracing our obligations completely, even the ones that make us uncomfortable. This starts by reframing our “I have to” tasks as “I am going to” choices.
“You do have a choice. You don’t have to want to do the task, nor do you have to love it. But if you prefer it to the consequences of not doing it, you can decide to commit to it wholeheartedly.” It really helps, Fiore notes, “to assert positively and powerfully” what you will be doing, such as: “‘I will be at the dentist’s at 3 p.m.’; ‘I am going to traffic court this morning.’” Because every time we say, “I have to” we’re effectively diminishing our power.
Here are a few more ideas from Fiore on how to change the way you talk to yourself:
- 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” with “I must take time.”
- Replace “I wish I’d done that” with “What small step can I take now?”
Trade Perfectionism for Persistence
Because perfectionism is such an important catalyst for procrastination, Fiore emphasizes the importance of reframing potential “mistakes” as opportunities for growth, learning and self-compassion.
“Replace demands for perfect work with acceptance of (not resignation to) your human limits,” he writes. “Accept so-called mistakes (really feedback) as part of a natural learning process. You need self-compassion rather than self-criticism to support your courageous efforts at facing the unavoidable risks of doing real, imperfect work rather than dreaming of the perfect, completed project.”
As you get more comfortable with the possibility of some imperfect early steps on your projects, Fiore notes, “you’ll be better prepared to bounce back because you’ll have a safety net of compassion.”
Get It on Paper
Have you ever kept a log of how you spend your time? It’s a really powerful way to bring awareness to your routines. The simple act of logging your behavior dramatically alters it!
You’ll want to check out Fiore’s book for all his Big Ideas on how to leverage this simple yet effective practice of time-logging. For now, though, you might just try doing some mental tracking of your day and see if you can notice the events and feelings that precede negative habits. This alone can be a huge tool in switching to more productive activities and attitudes.
Reprogram your Brain
Fiore explains how when you change your thoughts, you also change your brain — and begin trading the tendencies of an overwhelmed “put it off” procrastinator to those of an effective “get it done” producer.
“Each time you choose to switch your energy from your procrastination self-talk to the language of the producer,” he explains, “you are wiring in a new track of brain cells — a new neural pathway in your brain. After you switch from the old path to the new several times, the new associations will strengthen, becoming easier to initiate, while the old ones will atrophy.”
In other words, when we consciously practice “producer” thoughts, we begin to rewire the neural circuits that have inclined us to procrastinate in the past. That, in turn, empowers us to regroove our consciousness in powerful ways.
Brian Johnson is a philosopher and (professional) student of life. He used to build businesses. Now he reads a lot and has fun integrating universal truths into his day-to-day life. He also likes to hike, laugh, write, think, teach and hang out with his wife, Alexandra. Learn more at PhilosophersNotes.com.
Neil Fiore, PhD, is a licensed psychologist, trainer and author. A former president of the Northern California Society of Clinical Hypnosis, Fiore has conducted trainings all over the country, including the Esalen Institute, the California School of Professional Psychology and the Smithsonian Institute. Selected by the editors of Boardroom Reports as one of their “Top Ten Self-Help Gurus,” Fiore runs seminars and training programs that combine the use of hypnosis and other therapeutic devices to obtain peak performance and productivity.