This week, Life Training Online is reviewing The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play, by Niel Fiore, the eighth of fifty-two books in the 52 Personal Development Books in 52 Weeks series.

Why We Procrastinate

The first chapter of The Now Habit is dedicated to discovering why you procrastinate. Here are the six warning signs that indicate that you may suffer from procrastination:

  1. You seem to have a never-ending source of obligations that you cannot meet.
  2. You are unrealistic about time. You’re always late or have no clear sense of a schedule, goals, etc.
  3. If you do set goals and values, they are vague and not specific.
  4. You are unfulfilled, frustrated, or depressed because of your lack of accomplishments, unmet goals and so on.
  5. You are indecisive and afraid of making commitments for fear of making a mistake.
  6. Your low self-esteem and lack of assertiveness hold you back from becoming productive.

If you can relate to most of these, according to Fiore, there’s a good chance you suffer from chronic procrastination.

Fiore’s viewpoint on why we procrastinate is quite different from most other books that I’ve read on the subject. Many books seem to express that the reason we procrastinate is because we are lazy or unmotivated. They state that our natural human tendency is to be unproductive, and it’s only through overcoming our human weaknesses with sheer will, that we’ll be able to become productive.

The Now Habit counters that it’s not laziness, disorganization or any other character defect that is the cause of our procrastination; It is of the schooling that humans, by nature, desire to be productive — for even procrastinators have energy and motivation in some areas of their lives, be it sports, hobbies, reading etc.

Instead, Fiore explains that procrastination is “a neurotic form of self-defensive behavior”. A desire to defend ones self worth. In other words we tend to procrastinate when we feel fear of failure, fear of success, fear of being imperfect, or fear of being overwhelmed due to supposed impossible expectations. These fears keep us from fully accepting who and where we are now. We end up being our worst critic — which eventually cripples us.

How We Procrastinate

Even more important than knowing why we procrastinate, knowing how we procrastinate and the patterns we follow is essential for learning to replace them with the patterns of what Fiore calls a “producer”.

The first step is to become aware of how you spend your time. For a week, simply observe your patterns of behavior. What are you doing when you’re very productive? Contrast that with what you’re doing when you are being completely unproductive. If you notice a time-management issue, then it’s important that you first learn to get control of this before you can effectively deal with procrastination.

After you’ve been observing where you spend your time, you’re now ready to discover how you’re procrastinating. You do this through a “procrastination log”.

For three days record your procrastination patterns. This includes:

  1. The activity that you’re avoiding,
  2. your thoughts and feelings about it,
  3. your justification for avoiding it,
  4. what you did instead, and
  5. how you felt after as a result

After doing this exercise you’ll be able to notice what types of thoughts and feelings help you in achieving what it is that you want to accomplish and those which hinder you. This will aid you in targeting your self-talk that needs to change, which leads us to the next section…

How to Talk to Yourself

The primary difference between this book and others on procrastination is easily summed up in this chapter. Overcoming procrastination is not a matter of simply kicking ourselves in the duff but rather changing how we talk to ourselves. The way that you talk to yourself projects the attitudes and beliefs which ultimately determine how you act. If you can overcome and replace negative internal dialog, you’ll be able to see yourself for your true abilities — independent of anything or anyone else.

Here are five self-statements that will change you from procrastinator to producer:

  • Change “I have to” to “I choose to”
    Instead of the victim role that procrastinators take, producers realize that they have the power and choice to freely decide what it is that they allow themselves to do.
  • Change “I must finish” to “When can I start?”
    By overly focusing what they don’t have — the finished result — procrastinators get easily discouraged and overwhelmed. Producers focus on the next actions. Those things that they can do right now, leaving any feelings of being overwhelmed or discouraged behind.
  • Change “This project is so big and important” to “I can take one small step”
    The bigger, more overwhelming the project the more procrastinators tend to…well…procrastinate. Producers again focus on the small step that they can take at this moment, which will help move the project forward in any way.
  • Change “I must be perfect” to “I can be perfectly human”
    Procrastinators never get their foot out the door because they constantly fear looking less than perfect. They procrastinate in hope of avoiding the pain of failure and criticism. Producers however, learn to accept and work with (instead of giving up to) their natural human limitations. This allows them to move forward despite lack of skill or knowledge in an area — learning what’s needed along the way.
  • Change “I don’t have time to play” to “I must take time to play”
    It’s common knowledge in the corporate world that regular time dedicated to exercise and recreation leads to improved performance. By consistently scheduling time for breaks throughout the day and vacations throughout the year, you will increase your feelings of inner worth and respect. Plus you have something to look forward to in the near future — leaving the current tasks more bearable knowing you have a break on the horizons.

The Now Habit is the eighth of fifty-two books in Life Training – Online’s series 52 Personal Development Books in 52 Weeks.

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