Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Procrastinating 101: Deciding What Not to Do

In his second last chapter, “Fine-Tuning Your Progress,” Dr. Neil Fiore, author of  The Now Habit:  A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play, provides a good deal of advice for keeping ourselves on track, once we have begun to change our procrastinating ways.  He suggests the use of “planned setbacks,” as a way of practicing for handling procrastination relapses.  He speaks of resilience (good), and hardiness (also good, and composed of commitment, control and challenge). 

He tries to “distraction-proof” us readers, describing five types of distractions and giving suggestions for dealing with each type.  The five types are:

  1. 1.    Strong emotions—deserve immediate attention
    2.   Warnings of danger—stress response; use focus and relaxation exercises
    3.   “To-Do” reminders—write down on a pad, use as rewards for completing work instead of as reasons to procrastinate
    4.   Escape fantasies—rely on unscheduled to ensure adequate pleasure and guilt-free play
    5.    UFOs—Unidentified Flights of Originality  [p. 173-175]
Fiore also writes about the value of mental rehearsal and preprogramming to support us in beginning and staying with difficult projects.

But the part of this chapter that most intrigued me deals with “effective goal-setting.”  Fiore instructs us that
[h]ow you set your goals strongly influences your ability to recommit to them and bounce back after a setback. … [In order] to ensure effective goal setting that lessens problems with procrastination and enhances the ease with which you work and persevere along the path to achievement” . . . .[you must] make commitments only to those goals and paths that you can wholeheartedly embrace…. [and] abandon unattainable goals and halfhearted wishes.”
“One of the best-kept secrets of successful producers is their ability to let go of goals that cannot be achieved or started in the near future.”  
He goes on to say that
[i]f you cannot find the time or motivation to start working on that goal, let go of it, or it will keep haunting you, making you feel like a procrastinator—as if you’d failed to accomplish something important that you promised yourself you would achieve.
And finally:

Remember, you are the master of your goals; don’t let unrealistic goals be used as an occasion for self-criticism and for lapsing into identifying yourself as a procrastinator.  As a producer you know which goals to wholeheartedly pursue and which ones to let go of.  [179]

It seems to me that Fiore is really onto something here.  And, as with so many ideas that strike me as profound, and that have eluded me so forcefully for so long, it is really quite simple.  I have been suffocating under a mound of the un-doable, particularly in combination, for a good long while.  And “haunted” is a fitting verb for the action of this collective detritus in my life.  I need to abandon some goals here, if I am to have any chance of being, and feeling successful.   I’m going to get right on this.  Thank you, Dr. Fiore.

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