The 28th President of the United States had a sense of humor, for when Woodrow T. Wilson (1856 ~ 1924) said, “Today’s greatest labor-saving device is tomorrow,” he was referring to procrastination. It’s a clever one-liner, but in real life there’s nothing funny about procrastination. Quite the contrary, it is responsible for much personal anguish. After all, it results in regret, shame, anxiety, and lost opportunities, not to mention career, family, and health problems.
Some of the many factors that contribute to procrastination include perfectionism, fear of failure, fear of success, feeling overwhelmed, poor habits, poor attitude, self-doubt, and poor self-discipline. Because of the many causes and our many differences, procrastination may appear to be too complex to understand and overcome. But it need not be that way.
The first step in overcoming procrastination is to understand it. Before taking a close look at it, I’ll start with an analogy. At first, “hot” and “cold” may appear very different. But they are merely at the opposite ends of a linear scale we call “temperature.” As we slide up the scale to a high temperature, we call it “hot,” and as we slide down the scale to a low temperature, we call it “cold.” “Hot” and “cold,” then, are different aspects of the same thing; mainly, temperature.
What does this have to do with procrastination? Well, think of procrastination as cold and motivation as hot. You see, they are on the same linear scale, a scale called DESIRE. As we slide up the scale to high desire we call it motivation. But, when we slide down the scale to low or no desire, we call it procrastination. In other words, we take action when we are motivated or have strong desire and procrastinate when we have little or no desire to act. Once we understood this, the cure to procrastination becomes clear. Mainly, to overcome it, we need to increase our desire.
I’m sure you heard the expression “Out of sight, out of mind.” When your sweetheart is near, you are filled with desire. But if he or she were to move overseas and stay for a long time, your desire would wane. So it is with our goals. When we procrastinate, we have allowed the flames of passion to flicker out. That’s caused by letting our goals go “out of sight.” To reignite our passion, we need to bring our goals close enough to embrace. We need to focus on them once again and ask ourselves questions like, “Why do I want to reach this goal? How will I benefit? What will I feel like after succeeding?” The answers to these questions will remind us of what’s in it for us and then motivate us to act.
Your strongest ally in the war against procrastination is not the power of your intellect or reason, but the power of your imagination. For your imagination is a furnace in which ideas, dreams, and inspiration are fused together and changed to desire. In other words, don’t just rationally think about the benefits your goals will bring, but SEE and FEEL them in your mind’s eye, or imagination. This is especially effective if you bring yourself to a meditative state of mind, or the alpha state.
As you read this article, your brain is resonating at 13 ~ 30 hertz (cycles per second). This is known as the beta state, our everyday state of alertness. Athletes waiting for the starter pistol to fire are on a high state of alertness; on such occasions their brain waves soar to 30+ hertz, which is called high beta or gamma.
When we are relaxed, daydreaming, or have our eyes closed and are contemplating, our brain waves drop to 8 ~ 12 hertz. This is called the alpha state, and it is at this time that visualization and imagery exercises are effective. When profoundly relaxed, our brain waves drop further to 3 ~ 7 hertz. This is called the theta state and is associated with reverie, imagery, and near or light sleep. Finally, our brain waves drop to 0.5 ~ 2 hertz (delta waves) when we sleep soundly.
Now, what do you do if you wish to increase your desire by focusing on the benefits of your goals while in the alpha state, but don’t know how to meditate? No problem, you can easily learn a simple technique that will grow more and more effective with practice. Just follow the simple procedure below.
1. Find a place where you will not be disturbed. Shake out body tension. Be seated and get as comfortable as possible. Close your eyes and take three deep breaths.
2. Slowly inhale and visualize the number 3 flashing 3 times as you slowly exhale. Repeat this for number 2 (see it flashing 3 times as you slowly exhale). Next, repeat this for number 1.
3. Imagine sitting before a black curtain with a bowl of white numbers (1 ~ 10) at your side. Reach into the bowl, take out number 1, stick it onto the curtain, and then remove it. Repeat this with number 2, continuing until you have done it with all 10 numbers.
Steps 1 ~ 3 remove your thoughts from the cares of the day, help you enter a relaxed state (alpha), and prepare your mind to focus on your visualization exercise. At this point you will be prepared for the next step.
4. Focus on the goal you have been procrastinating on. Don’t focus on the act of procrastination, but on the goal you wish to reach. Remind yourself of all the benefits. In your mind’s eye, see yourself reaching your goal and enjoying all the benefits. SEE success, FEEL success, EXPERIENCE success. Enjoy the experience, savor the rewards, and relish your accomplishments. Allow your desire, passion and commitment to build.
Steps 1 ~ 4 should take about 15 minutes. Do it once or twice during the day, until you have enough time to start on what you have been putting off. Then decide on the day and time you will begin.
5. When that time arrives, and while fully alert, briefly refocus on the benefits of your goal and then take charge of your thoughts. Say to yourself, “I am fully committed and ready to start. I will now leap, lurch, and launch into action.” Then spend the next hour taking steps, no matter how small, that will bring you closer to your goal.
Repeat these 5 steps regularly to smash the spine of procrastination and advance you to your goals. Now for a word of caution, don’t imagine that the above steps are weird, unnatural, or some New Age nonsense. All great achievers practice these principles. Some of them have applied what they’ve learned at seminars or in books and courses.
Others, however, just do what comes naturally to them. They are big dreamers and are often found lost in their thoughts and daydreaming about their aspirations. Their intense daydreaming brings them to the alpha state where their minds are more likely to be influenced by the images, dreams, and goals floating in their imagination. The point is, whether you do what comes naturally or do what you’ve learned, the results are the same. So, if success is what you’re after, follow these principles.
To learn more about the alpha state, making positive changes, and many more imagery exercises that can be applied to all areas of life, consider taking Burt Goldman’s course, “The Goldman Method.” The course consists of a hardcover book and 14 CDs and costs $129. You can learn more about it at: http://www.goldmanmethod.com.
Although there are many excellent books on overcoming procrastination, I heartily endorse the following book, which is concise, easy to read, and very practical: THE ON-TIME, ON-TARGET MANAGER, How a “Last Minute Manager” Conquered Procrastination, by Ken Blanchard and Steve Gottry, William Morrow, 2004.
Well, it’s time for us to decide where to go from here. We can choose a future of predictability or one of possibility. If we continue to procrastinate, our future is easy to predict: it will be the same it is now or worse. But if we decide to pulverize procrastination, we create a future of possibility, a future where our dreams can come true. Which will it be?