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THE PROCRASTINATION EQUATION

Lose this day loitering – ’twill be the same story
To-morrow – and the next more dilatory;
Each indecision brings its own delays,
And days are lost lamenting o’er lost days,
Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute –
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
Only engage, and then the mind grows heated –
Begin it, and then the work will be completed!

-Goethe

Open Dr. Piers Steel’s new book, The Procrastination Equation, and you will find the following words on the inside flap: “Using a mix of psychology, science, self-help, and a decade of groundbreaking research, Dr. Piers Steel …. explains why procrastination is dangerously on the rise and tells us how to overcome the destructive patterns that affect our health and happiness to create more positive lives.” This is quite an extraordinary claim, but The Procrastination Equation is an extraordinary book. The book promises to explain why we procrastinate, how to avoid it, and even how procrastination affects our leisure time. At first I was skeptical, but Dr. Piers Steel has some unique ideas about the practice of procrastination. It would stand to reason: the book itself is followed by more than seventy pages of endnotes reflecting the depth of his research.

Essentially, Dr. Piers Steel proposes that we can take one of the biggest challenges we face in our working lives, and simplify it into an equation:

Motivation = (Expectancy x Value)/(Impulsiveness x Delay)

Your motivation is a direct result of how your feelings of expectancy and value can be undermined by impulsiveness and delay.

Dr. Steel suggests that procrastination is hard-wired into all of us, which makes some degree of sense. Perhaps pleasure is nature’s way of rewarding us for accomplishing tasks to ensure survival. In the context of our ancestors, this could mean stalking and bringing down a deer, and for our effort, we would experience the reward of eating smoked venison. The system went awry when we found ways to cheat: to experience pleasure without accomplishing a task. Now, the correlation between work and reward is less clear. Dr. Steel posits that procrastination stems from the mismatch between human evolution and modern society.

He points out that If we can experience pleasure whenever we want, it becomes harder not to give in to impulse. This especially applies when we’re online: it’s so easy to open a tab and check your email or play a game. It becomes that much harder to concentrate on challenging work (why do this when I could be doing something light and fun?) This leads to delay: putting off doing the difficult things in favour of the pleasurable ones.

We also expect a sizable reward for our labours.  As long as that expectation is one we can rely on, we are much more likely to put in the work, but if a reward is not guaranteed, the task suddenly doesn’t seem worth our time. For example, a student who wasn’t sure he would succeed in an exam might resign himself to not doing well instead of studying hard.  The value of the reward must not only be significant, but attainable. It has to seem worth it!  At the office, completing a report might seem less rewarding than spending the time clearing up clutter or surfing the net.  The key is to see the bigger picture: to reflect on how the consequences of submitting a late report affects you in the long term.

Procrastination is not new: the ancient Egyptians had eight hieroglyphs to convey the concept of delay, the ancient Greeks wrote poems which contained lines referring to procrastination… there are even references in the Bible.  Even then people found ways to circumvent the natural cycle of work and reward.  It’s about time we found ways to deal with our habit of putting things off.

This is all established in the first half of the book; in the second half, Dr. Steel provides some concrete solutions.

1. Success Spiral

Dr. Steel suggests developing interests and skills outside your working life, from which you can derive a sense of personal satisfaction and success. It can be anything from volunteering to gardening, repairing old cars to visual arts.  Strive to get just a little better at your hobby, and soon you’ll find yourself rewarded for your efforts.  Through improving and moving out of your comfort zone, you will gradually realize that life is within your control, and that success is possible.  A friend recently told me the following:

“I was at an at all time low.  My lack of motivation had spread to every aspect of my life, and I didn’t even realize it until I started rowing.   And I was good at it!  Suddenly, my confidence was back, and I was more dedicated to finishing things I started.”

2. Energy Crisis

Dr. Steel says that a common complaint, low energy, can make even the simplest chore incredibly challenging.  However, there are many ways to ensure that when the time comes to tackle a difficult task, your mind is alert and ready.  First, make time for exercise several days a week.  Second, establish a firm sleep schedule.  Go to bed at the same time every night, make sure to wind down before you head off to bed, and get your eight hours!  Third, eat small, nutritious snacks throughout the day.  And most importantly: know your limitations, and respect them.   Don’t take on more than you are capable of, as you’ll only end up exhausting yourself.

3. Plan for the Worst, Hope for the Best

Dr. Steel explains that it is important to accept that life won’t always go your way, and you should make room for setbacks in any plans that you make. Expect difficulties. This way, when setbacks occur, you’ll be ready for them. In my own experience, I have found this to be profoundly true. A friend of mine, an engineer, says that his colleagues all stick by a rule of thumb when determining how long it will take to complete a project: first, think how long you think it will take you.  Then double that number, and take it up by one unit of time.  So if you think it will take you two hours, it will not just take you four hours, but four days!  A method which has also worked for me is to write a list of the ways I procrastinate and the consequences, and to stick it up where I work.  Often, glancing at it is enough to prevent distraction and keep me focused.

4. Games and Goals

Dr. Steel  shows us that sometimes all one needs to is to re-frame an unsavoury task to make it bearable, or even enjoyable.  If you’re competitive, try racing against yourself or others as to who can complete their work quickest.  Bring something to the task that you find pleasurable, to inject some joy into the activity.  For example, drink a beverage that you enjoy or listen to some light music.  If all else fails, connect the dots between seemingly mundane, joyless tasks to the larger picture: if you’re sociable, and hate cleaning the house, re-frame the job as making your home hospitable for friends and family.  Make you sure that you frame your goals positively.  For example, ‘I want to succeed’ instead of ‘I don’t want to fail’.

5. Scoring Goals

According to Dr. Steel, by far the most successful weapon in battling procrastination is goal setting.  This involves narrowing large objectives, such as “a healthy body”, into smaller tasks: riding a bike to work, getting to sleep at a regular hour, exercising at a specific time.  Breaking large goals into smaller ones can really get you motivated.  Sometimes telling yourself, “I’m going to finish the first three pages of this required reading” can be enough to power through the entire text.  Finally, make achieving success a habit: organizing your goals into routines that occur regularly at the same time and place is one of the best ways to continue to meet your expectations.

Overall, I was impressed with Dr. Steel’s book. It takes on the age-old practice of putting things off and lets us see it in a new light.  His insightful methods to combat procrastination combine sociological research and a unique understanding stemming from years of his own experience as a procrastinator.  He shows us how impulsiveness and delay can doom even the best intentions, and gives us the tools to succeed.

To conclude, click here to watch a video from Dr. Piers Steel himself about the dangers of putting things off 😉

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


Life’s Great Dilemma: Go with the Flow or Force It?

One of our members, Marie, brought up a GREAT question a few weeks ago and I promised her an answer.

As it happens, you need the answer to. But first, thequestion! Here it is…
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Hi there. This e-mail came at a crucial time. Pursuant to what I’ve heard everywhere (not just from you) I am doing EFT with a very intuitive, great coach. However, whenever I want to go towards Peak Performance issues or talk about my vision of excellence I have for my career (much of which I’ve developed from reading your articles and book), she starts telling me to let go, stop being so focussed and just let things happen. She even says maybe I don’t really want to be excellent at my chosen profession but would be happier married to a millionaire, pursuing this as a hobby.

It seems Law Of Attraction people, especially females, always preach a “let it just happen,” “be joyous,” “put a positive spin on everything” mentality that really is for a hobbyist or housewife. She may have a point that I am being too narrow in my approach, but how do you act as a “predator for your goals ” (your language)and go about them methodically if you are setting aside your vision and just letting things happen? I love bringing up these dilemmas to you and maybe you can address them on the call September 10 [I didnt’t]. If you can wed these two concepts I believe you will be a unique voice in the Self-Help field. Meanwhile I am looking for a new EFT practitioner 😉
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To listen to my answer, you need to turn up your speakers and click this link:


MP3 File

– Dr. Symeon Rodger 🙂




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