Five Stages of Procrastination

How is procrastination like a bridge you set on fire yourself? According to Neil Fiore in The Now Habit, it’s similar to a situation where we scare ourselves into being frozen.

Fiore says to imagine a very long flat board on the ground in front of you, and then imagine walking on it to the other end of the board. Piece of cake, right?

Then he says imagine raising that board 100 feet off the ground, reaching from one tall building to another. Imagine walking across it again. You don’t skip light-heartedly across now, do you? You worry about falling to your death–and you don’t even take one step.

Then, in the third scenario, he says to imagine you smell smoke and feel heat on your back. You turn, and the building you stand on is in flames. You’ll die if you don’t get moving. What do you do now? Without even thinking, you get across that board. You might crawl, you might sit down and scooch across, but you get across to avoid being burned to a crisp.

That’s procrastination in a nutshell. Here’s how:

Five Predictable Stages

  1. You let a task determine your self-worth. You think being successful at this writing task or goal will make you happy. You think your self-worth as a writer is wrapped up in this project.
  2. You use perfectionism to raise the task 100 feet above the ground–like the imaginary board above. “You demand that you do it perfectly–without anxiety, with complete acceptance from your audience, with no criticism,” says Fiore.
  3. You find yourself frozen with anxiety. Your imaginary difficulties with the project raise your stress level. Adrenaline kicks in. You seek temporary relief.
  4. You use procrastination to escape your self-created dilemma. This brings the deadline closer and creates more pressure. You delay starting so long that you can’t really be tested on your actual writing ability (what you are capable of if you’d started sooner).
  5. You use a real threat to jar you loose from the perfectionism and motivate yourself to begin. The deadline, fast approaching, acts as the fire in the building in the opening example. It forces you to get moving and actually begin the writing.

 Breaking the Cycle

The author of this terrific book then takes you back to the top of that building and asks you to imagine still being frozen as you face walking across that board. Then he says to imagine NO fire, but instead a strong, supportive net just three feet beneath the board. It stretches all the way to the other building. There is no danger.

How do you create such a writing safety net? His suggestions in the remainder of the book show you how. Stay tuned for some ideas that work!

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4 Responses to Five Stages of Procrastination

  1. Vijaya says:

    Haha!!! I’d better set that bridge on fire. LOL. I have to admit that I work faster and better with that adrenaline, esp. if it’s NF. Fiction creates a different demand … rest, relaxation, daydreaming, and above all a sense of space.

    • kwpadmin says:

      Vijaya, I agree. I think this applies to fiction more than nonfiction, at least for me. We may work faster with the adrenaline, but studies have shown we don’t write better, and usually it’s worse than if we had started earlier, had time in the middle to let it cool, and more time to revise and polish and edit and proofread. We certainly enjoy the process a lot more then too!

  2. I’m not sure that it’s always perfectionism that raises the plank for me. Sometimes, it feels like pure dread–the plank is so long, and it will take such a long time to get to the end, and a long time before I’ll feel like I’m making any progress, and what if today’s efforts are just awful (because I know I can do that!) and then I’ll have wasted time getting nowhere, and I’ll have to start all over again tomorrow—you get the idea. Another game of Free Cell seems like a good idea at that point. :)

    • kwpadmin says:

      I think the “what if today’s efforts are just awful?” might be your form of perfectionism. It might be easier to get started if you think, “Today’s efforts may very well be awful or worse than I’m hoping for. So what? That’s what revision is for. I can’t fix words that aren’t on the page.” Yes, the games do calm the agitated mind, at least for a while. But the pressure builds behind the scenes!

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