Saturday, July 6, 2013

Procrastination: A Learned Way of Solving Problems

I sell or give away old books when I feel I've absorbed what they have to teach me, but hang onto those that  have something important for me which I haven't learned. Small wonder, then, that a book I bought some twenty years ago keeps showing up on my desk: The Now Habit, by Neil Fiore.

Fiore's subtitle is, "A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play." That's something vital I need to learn, not only in my writing but in the rest of my life.

This clinical psychologist says we teach ourselves to procrastinate because "delaying is rewarded and learned as a way of solving problems." Here are some of his examples (from p. 14 of my yellowed copy). See if they don't apply to some half-written story you keep putting off:

  • "Occasionally a postponed, boring task is completed by someone else." (Ever stop writing because you come across a similar story by someone else, so you told yourself that you'd better replan your entire plot?)
  • "If you delay long enough making a decision about buying something, it will eventually reward you by either going on sale or going out of style." (Did you start writing a story that was your own "spin" on some other writer's premise? Then you keep stopping because you suspect a dozen other copycats will beat you to it?)
  • "Procrastination often goes unpunished; in fact, somewhere in almost everyone's childhood is an experience of great anxiety about not preparing for an exam, only to have that enormous tension ecstatically relieved by the news that a storm or strike had closed your school..." (OK, Fiore, who told you this? Probably my kid brother. He knows how I agonized over the impending disaster of a school play I wrote in the fourth grade, and my euphoria when a snowstorm closed school that day--canceling the play forever!)
  • "Difficult decisions will eventually resolve themselves if you wait for additional information or allow the opportunities to pass." (My wife must have snitched on me now. She knows this why I keep researching a novel about Roosevelt's first Presidential campaign of 1932. I planned to pitch it as a great way to celebrate its 80th anniversary  in 2012, but more research gives me more time to write a really great novel for the centenary in 2032. Let's see, I'll only be 82 then...)
Fiore says, "When we identify our worth with our work ('I am what I do') we naturally are reluctant to face challenges and take risks without protection." (p. 15). So we keep on procrastinating because it's an effective way to protect ourselves. On the other hand, writing is a public way of taking unprotected risks--like walking a high wire across the Grand Canyon. 

Joe Allison and his wife, Judy, live in Anderson IN, where Joe serves as Coordinator of Publishing for Church of God Ministries, Inc. Joe has several nonfiction books in print, including Swords and Whetstones: A Guide to Christian Bible Study Resources. He's currently writing a trilogy of Christian historical novels set in the Great Depression.

Visit Joe's blog at


  1. I've been planning on stopping procrastinating, but I keep putting it off. I did attend a Procrastinators Anonymous meeting, but everybody else wasn't able to make it -- they all said they'd be at the next meeting.

    Good blog, Joe.

  2. I'm not sure my procrastination has been rewarded. I usually regret procrastinating and feel loss. You'd think I'd learn. Interesting thought, though, Joe.