Archive for May 10, 2011


We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we
need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about.
-Charles Kingsley
Helping the anxiety-based procrastinator
According to Fiore (1989), if the work pressure is already too
great, exhorting the tense procrastinator to “try harder,” “get yourself
organized,” “this is a tough job, so don’t put it off,” or “no friends and
no fun until this work is done” is counterproductive. Such typical

advice only increases the pressure and unpleasant feelings about the
task to be done. This kind of procrastinator has to reduce the
unpleasantness of the task and then he/she will get it done.
Specifically, Fiore recommends that
The procrastinator should reduce his/her fear of failing by (a)

seeing that his/her worth is not totally determined by an
assignment at work or by a term paper grade, (b) having
alternate plans B and C for succeeding, in case plan A doesn’t
work, and (c) using self-talk, such as “If I fail, it won’t be
awful; I can handle it.” See Roberts (1989). 
The procrastinator should keep a record of his/her avoidance of
important tasks: What excuses were used? What thoughts and
feelings did he/she have? What was done instead of the work?
What was the outcome (including thoughts and feelings)? See
the five types of anxious procrastinators described above to
understand yourself.
The procrastinator can change procrastinating ways of thinking
to productive ways:
I must…(or) have to…(OR
something awful will happen)
I’d like to…(or) choose to…
I’ve gotta finish…
When can I get started on…
Oh, God, this assignment is
Where is the best place to start?
I must do well (fantastic, perfect).
I’ll do okay; I’ll give it time.
I have no time to play.
It is important to play one hour.
I see life and work as a grind.
Life and work can be fun.
I can’t succeed.
I have a better chance of
succeeding if I…
By changing these thoughts and habits, you are reducing
the dread of work and taking responsibility for directing your
life. You are saying “I can enjoy hard, responsible work. It is
part of a good life.”
For the over-achiever, the workaholic, the ambitious
perfectionist, avoid the tendency to live entirely in the future —
“it will be wonderful when I am a doctor… a millionaire… on
the honor roll… in the big leagues…” They aren’t living in the
now; they are working or feeling guilty because they aren’t
working. Such people can learn to love each day if they have a
mission in life (see chapter 3). What a lucky person who can
say “I love my work.” Part of this process for most people 

involves setting aside time each day to play, to socialize, to
exercise, and to have free time for relaxation. Charles Garfield
(1989) in Peak Performance says productive people need to
take vacations and play (without guilt)! Insist on your fun.
Turn worries and self-doubts into assets by asking (a) What is
the worst possible outcome? (b) What would I do if the worst
happened? How would I carry on? (c) What strengths and skills
do I have that would help me cope? How will I forgive myself
for messing up? (d) What alternative plans could I develop for
having a good life? (e) Can I do things now to help avoid this
awful outcome I fear? (f) Having prepared for the worst, how
can I use my worries to prepare to become stronger and more
capable? This kind of planning helps us face the inevitable risks
that lurk ahead for all of us.

Fiore suggests a unique scheduling system. Schedule your fixed
hours (classes, meetings, meals, etc.) and your play time.
That’s all, no work! Make the playing mandatory, not the work.
Focus only on starting to work, not on putting in hour after
hour each day. If you start a project and concentrate on it for
30 minutes, record this on your schedule… and give yourself a
reward. Start as many 30 minute work periods as you can. The
idea is to build the habit of frequently getting to work and to
build the desire to work. Work becomes more enjoyable when it
isn’t seen as hard, boring, endless chores that have to be done.
Other methods are prescribed: a calendar based on when
projects are due, a set of realistic goals, an approach to work in
a relaxed state of concentration, and a quick, optimistic
response to setbacks. In the final analysis being motivated and
productive is a result of liking yourself. Thus, building
confidence and self-respect is at the heart of this program.
A couple of other self-help books focus on overcoming serious self-
doubt and fears that lead to procrastinating or blocking (Sykes, 1997;
Boice, 1996). Blocking often involves delay and panic and is especially
likely to happen when the finished product involves an evaluation or
public scrutiny, such as a term paper or a book.
A different approach to escaping the unpleasant internal critic is
taken by White (1988), who says that a behavioral approach, such as
teaching time management or study skills to this kind of
procrastinator, often increases his/her resistance to work rather than
helps. White helps her students understand the unconscious mental
struggles that often underlie perfectionistic procrastination. She asks
them to imagine certain internal parts (common in children from
perfectionistic families), such as “the NAG,” “the CRITIC,” and “the
CHILD.” The nag constantly reminds you of what must be done. The
critic tells you that you’ll mess it up or look foolish or be rejected. The
child tries to get you to avoid the threatening, unpleasant work (“I
don’t want to. You can’t make me!”) by seeking fun (“Let’s party! Turn
on the music and where’s the beer?”). As the child runs away, the nag
shouts orders, and the critic attacks even more. A miserable existence!
Sometimes, the perfectionistic procrastinator is pretty successful even


Procrastination is a well-learned habit; it happens
without much awareness. When we procrastinate, we quickly shift our
attention away from the work that needs to be done in such an
automatic and slick way that we feel good about avoiding the work–
until later. That’s a self-con! It’s denial. Facing reality is the only
solution. We have to see what is happening moment by moment, and
stop fooling ourselves. Eventually, the procrastinator can face the
facts, namely, that in most situations a take-it-easy, live-for-today,
let’s-have-fun philosophy will usually not get him/her what he/she
wants out of life (if you often start projects but fail to follow through,
see Levinson & Greider, 1998). Don’t buy the old I’m-not-in-control
saying, “The future will take care of itself.” That’s crap. You have to
take a lot of responsibility for your future. Think realistically about
your future…all the time. What are the procrastinators’ favorite self-
illusions (and, thus, self-harms in the long run)?
Action cop-outs. This is doing something that isn’t a priority.
Examples: Watching TV, eating, playing, sleeping, or even
cleaning. Once we are engrossed in the diversion, we block out
the anxiety, self-doubts, anger, or boredom associated with the
work we are putting off but should be doing.
Mental excuses. There are three main types: (a) “I’ll do it
tomorrow” or “I do my best work late at night, I’ll do it then.”
Since you have promised yourself that you will be good, you
can escape work and enjoy guilt-free play. (b) “I’ll go shopping
now so I can study all evening” or “I’ll call them just as soon as
I think of something clever to say” or “I’ll fix up my apartment,
then I’ll make friends.” Some unimportant activity takes priority
over the main but unpleasant or scary event. (c) “I want an ‘A’
in statistics but Dr. Mean would never give me one” or “I want
to go out with Brian/Barb (who is handsome/beautiful) but
he/she would never look twice at me.” This is a Catch 22
situation. It’s impossible, so why should I try? In fact, a person
with this defeatist attitude might never take any action.
Emotional diversions. Taking drugs, listening to music,
reading novels, and even getting involved in friendships, love,
flirtations, or religion could, at times, serve as an escape from
unpleasant but important tasks. Sometimes worrying about a
speech or some other activity is an excuse (“I worried so much

In summary, what can the pleasure-seeking procrastinator do?
(1) Stop turning little inconvenient mole hills (like having to do
something unpleasant) into giant “ain’t-it-awful” mountains, (2) be on
the look out for any self-con or cop out by which we deny the need to
work right now, (3) start to think more rationally–you don’t have to
go to every party, you can get interested in a textbook, (4) make
detailed, realistic plans for achieving your long-range goals, and (5)
don’t avoid work, DO IT NOW! Use the behavioral techniques
mentioned above. See McWilliams & McWilliams, 1991.
I’m afraid this kind of advice to a procrastinator will do little good if
he/she continues to effectively use the self-cons mentioned above and
remains relaxed and self-satisfied. It is like a doctor telling an obese
person to lose weight or a smoker to stop. Ordinarily, such advice
doesn’t help, unless the person has just had a terrifying heart attack!
Likewise, with the procrastinator, perhaps in a sober moment, he/she
will think, “Oh, my God! I’ve tricked myself into this stupid self-
defeating behavior–just like a drunkard or a fat person or a smoker.
That scares the hell out of me and makes me mad! I’m going to get in
better control of my life, starting at this moment!” I suspect these
kinds of remarkable changes in our life style will only occur when there
are powerful and sustained emotional forces inside our gut (like a life
threatening heart attack) to provide the motivation to persevere in
becoming a different person. This fear of the future must surely be
created by the procrastinator him/herself–others have probably tried
many times and failed (“Clean up your room, you’ll grow up to be a
total slob” or “You have to study, you’ll never get into college.”) Good
luck in changing, but even if you continue to procrastinate, I hope you
have the happy life you are trying for.