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Mental Schemas #17: Unrelenting Standards

Handling negative emotions

This post is part of a series on schema therapy, an approach to addressing negative thinking patterns that was devised by Dr. Jeffrey Young. You can find an introduction to schemas and schema therapy, a list of schemas, and links to other schema articles on The Willpower Engine here.

How good is “good enough”? For a person with an Unrelenting Standards Schema (also called “Hypercriticalness”), only perfection is acceptable: anything less is a disaster.

Unrelenting standards can be expressed in a variety of ways, but the three most common are

  1. Time and efficiency. Some people with this schema feel that it’s always necessary to do things efficiently, to use all time productively, to never waste time or do things for purposes that aren’t primarily practical.
  2. Perfectionism. A person who expresses the Unrelenting Standards Schema through perfectionism is always anxious that everything go exactly the way it’s supposed to, that there never be any flaws or mistakes.
  3. Rigidity. A third group of people with the Unrelenting Standards Schema have an unyielding set of rules, which might be philosophical, moral, religious, practical, etc. When such people see someone not adhering to these rules, they often get involved whether that makes things worse or not. They also tend to be very hard on themselves in the same way, feeling like they’ve absolutely failed whenever they don’t follow meet their own dictates to the letter.

How Unrelenting Standards come out in daily life
To someone who has this schema, their own rules may not seem extreme at all–they may feel like a normal standard. It’s only when such a person’s expectations are compared to other people’s that the differences begin to show themselves.

A lot of people try to do things really well. What’s the difference between that and having an Unrelenting Standards Schema? One of the key signs is that an Unrelenting Standards schema causes harm in a person’s life. For instance, a normal event like a picnic or a presentation becomes a terrible ordeal because it would feel like a catastrophe if any little thing went wrong. People with this schema may have a hard time enjoying successes. After all, if perfection is the normal way things are meant to be, how is it in any way impressive or special when something is done really well?

Unrelenting Standards often come out in as all-or-nothing propositions. To a person with this schema, a partial success is a failure, and “pretty good” is bad.

People with Unrelenting Standards schemas may find themselves hit hard when they fail to live up to their own impossible requirements. The flip side of perfectionism is avoiding responsibilities altogether and procrastinating, because it’s so difficult to face past and possible future mistakes. When such a person finally jars loose from their procrastination, their schema may affect them far more than usual as their excruciating awareness of how badly they’ve recently been failing to meet their own expectations makes them lash themselves into expecting even more from themselves.

Overcoming an Unrelenting Standards schema
Changing an Unrelenting Standards schema isn’t easy, because it means changing ideas that may have been deeply held for a long, long time. Also, a person with this schema will often have a habit of expecting too much of their own efforts, so that a long, effortful struggle against a habit is hard to tolerate. Fortunately, there are strategies such a person can use to transform standards, expectations, and responses to success and failure.

  • Make risks feel less scary. The risks of failure are often mild compared to our fears of them. Using idea repair to bring things back into proportion and to become OK with making mistakes sometimes takes a lot of the anxiety and discomfort out of trying to get something done.
  • Get a hobby. This may sound like trivial advice, but for people who can’t let go of the feeling that every second has to be productive and efficient or something terrible will happen, getting used to spending time in a non-productive way can be powerful and freeing. My favorite account of this kind of benefit so far is from this blogger, for whom taking up knitting helped drive a sea change in her happiness and self-acceptance.
  • Make friends with imperfection. Another approach a person with this schema can take is to consciously choose to sometimes do things imperfectly (something the blogger I just mentioned did with her knitting). Being able to do something less than perfectly but still experience the benefits it brings helps put expectations in perspective. For example, it would be terrific if the U.S. Congress could get together on legislation that made the absolute biggest possible impact on the economy, job creation, and deficit reduction, but most of us voters would be pretty thrilled if they would just make some kinds of modest gains in each area, even if it wasn’t done in the ideal way.
  • Do a cost-benefit analysis. This very pragmatic approach tends to expose an unintuitive truth: perfection is inefficient. For instance, consider a situation in which you could get 90% of the juice out of an orange in 2 minutes or 100% of the juice in 5 minutes. A single orange yields about 2 ounces of juice, so that last 10% would be 3 minutes of effort for .2 ounces of juice. If you get paid twenty-five dollars per hour at your job, one eight-ounce glass of perfection juice would cost you $50 in labor under these circumstances. Is the last 10% of the juice worth fifty bucks? Probably not.This same kind of analysis holds true in many situations, personal and professional. When we analyze what perfection costs us compared to pretty good performance, often “pretty good” wins hands down.

    That’s not to say there’s no place in the world for perfection. Sometimes it’s worth spending 4 years painting a ceiling. It’s just that usually it really isn’t.

Are you a perfectionist, a recovering Time Nazi, or is someone in your life driven to never accept anything that is flawed in any way? Talk about it in comments!

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When Being Productive is Just Another Way to Procrastinate

Strategies and goals

Too many tasks
One of the problems with having a lot of things to do is that the stress of not doing the rest of your tasks can make it hard to focus on any one task. For instance, if I have edits to complete on a writing project and I also need to finish my bimonthly budget (I keep a budget in a spreadsheet to get a better idea of where my money’s about to go), working on either task can be difficult because I worry about needing to complete the other.

This problem gets much worse when there are a lot more than two things that should be done right away. Having recently taken several vacation days to spend time with family members, I’ve come back to my tasks this week facing just this kind of situation.

Fortunately, there’s a solution: if I can get truly involved and engaged in one task (like writing this post, for instance), my focus on that task can prevent other issues from distracting me. This is a very good solution to the problem, but it contains one pitfall: picking the wrong task.

Picking the wrong task
If I have a list of things that need to be done, and if I notice one that particularly catches my interest, start in on that one, get engaged with it, and see it through to completion, that’s great–unless that task isn’t high on my priority list, in which case it’s progress of a kind, but it’s also preventing me from getting my top tasks finished.

An example: if I have edits one a writing piece that are due tomorrow, checks that need to be sent out today, and an upcoming appointment that needs to be rescheduled, it’s all too easy for me to look at my task list and see an item like “Research Google+” (a useful thing to do in terms of keeping abreast of important social computing and Internet promotion developments) and get caught up in that. As useful as the research may be, by the time I’m done it may be too late to reschedule my appointment, I may not get the checks in the mail on time, and/or I might miss my writing deadline. My productivity has actually caused me harm in this case.

The worst thing about this kind of problem is that it uses some of the best motivational tools and therefore feels really good. While I’m doing the not-important task, I may be getting excited and engrossed. I may be highly productive and focused, all while working on a truly useful task. And yet I’m shooting myself in the foot.

Picking the right task
What’s the solution? Turning my attention to the single most important task I have to do and getting engaged with that instead. Does this mean that my enthusiasm and energy that I’ve just started to put into the lower-priority task are lost? Sadly, yes. Our brains are designed to focus on one thing at a time, and changing tasks generally means getting out of our previous mindset and getting into a new one, which is not a trivial (or instantly reversible) process.

Yet the payoffs of taking care of the most important and/or pressing things first are great, and this kind of change is well worth the effort.

How to change focus to a different task
One good way to quickly get interested in a different task is to do it in very small, easily-tackled steps, not forcing anything. The first question to ask ourselves is “What would the single most beneficial task be that I could do right now, all things considered?” If there are so many tasks that it’s difficult to pick just one,  one option is to make a list of the front runners and then pick the top task for the moment from that list–that is, to narrow down the field. It sometimes helps to remind ourselves that we can only really do one thing effectively at a time, so our job is only to focus on the one best choice for the moment.

With that top task chosen, there are a couple of ways to proceed easily, depending on the kind of task. If it’s something that requires a series of known steps, then it can work very well to just ask ourselves “What’s the next small step I would take if I wanted to get this task done now?” Whether it’s taking out a file, looking up a phone number, getting the shovel out of the garage, or opening a document in a word processing program, choosing the smallest possible task makes getting started on that task fairly easy. From there the process can be repeated until we feel engaged and have some momentum.

The other way to proceed, which is helpful for tasks that don’t readily break down into easy steps, is to ask “What would it look like if I were working constructively on this?” Imagining ourselves working on the task activates a lot of the same mental processes we use to actually do the task. Getting focused on the task in this way makes it much easier to get started.

Look to the top
Regardless of how we involve ourselves in our top tasks, the key takeaway is that focusing on something low-priority can sap energy, time, focus, and success away from the things that really need to get done, leading to a sense of working hard and still always being behind. Mastering the habit of looking to our top priorities first will nip this kind of constructive procrastination in the bud.

Photo by dsevilla


Where Procrastination Comes From


Here’s an interesting and useful link about procrastination passed on to me by a reader (thanks very much for it!): an article from The New Yorker entitled Later: What Does Procrastination Tell Us About Ourselves?

The article pulls together philosophical and psychological information about procrastination to ask about things like why we put things off when we know putting them off will make us unhappy, the relative merits of “extended will” (trying to force yourself to do the right thing, like voluntarily shutting down your Internet access or offering to pay a friend a penalty if you don’t come through on something you plan to do), and what is and isn’t procrastination.

It also has fun little factoids like this:

Victor Hugo would write naked and tell his valet to hide his clothes so that he’d be unable to go outside when he was supposed to be writing.
It’s just as well I didn’t decide to illustrate this post with a picture of Hugo writing, then.
Ironically, I was so busy when I received the message about this article that I put the link aside and didn’t get around to posting it until more than two months later. Well, I imagine that just illustrates the point.
Photo by welivefast
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Principles for Prioritizing, Part III: Feelings and Finding the Top

Strategies and goals

This is the third article in a short series on prioritizing. The first article in the series, “Principles for Prioritizing, Part I: Moving Targets,” includes links to other articles on the site about organizing and prioritizing and is followed by “Principles for Prioritizing, Part II: Unimportant Tasks.”

3. How important something feels isn’t always a good indication of how important it is
To gauge how important something really is, it helps to put it in the context of what you really want in life. What are your key priorities? Going by gut feeling can sometimes lead us in the wrong direction because a task may be appealing or exciting or seem important because we’re wrapped up in it, when in fact it isn’t as important as other, less dramatic tasks. Try to judge the importance of an item from a distance, when you’re not deeply wrapped up in the task itself, by thinking about what effect it is likely to have in your life.

To get out of an obsession with a particular task that isn’t really a priority, allow your attention to focus on something else for at least a few minutes: have a conversation with a friend about a subject of mutual interest, or do a small task that’s unrelated to the one you’ve been involved in. These few minutes allow your brain to reorganize so that it’s not focused on that one possibly unimportant task, and let your physiology reset so that you’re not swept up in the biochemical side of emotion. In this state of mind, you can consider that appealing task in the context of all your other priorities.

4. The most important goal of prioritization is to find your top few tasks–especially your top one task
If you have a 200-item task list, it’s not particularly important to get all of your items prioritized so that, for instance, items 183 and 184 are in the proper order. Realistically, you may never get to items 183 and 184, and even if you do, circumstances are likely to change by the time you get there. The most effective way to prioritize is to care just about the top few tasks for the moment, so that you know what to start doing immediately and have one or two things queued up after you finish that first item. Doing this allows you to do what a task list is meant to help you do: focus on the one thing that it would benefit you most to be doing right now.

Finding those top few tasks may mean skimming over all 200 (or 20, or 2,000) items in your task list, but when skimming, the only thing to be thinking about is “what here would it be really good for me to tackle very soon?” The tasks that meet this criterion can then be sorted through with the question “Which of these would be most beneficial to do right now?”

That list of “very soon” things should never be more than a half dozen items long unless they’re very small items if you want to make good use of your searching. Anything more than that, and priorities are likely to change before you get to all of the items. Prioritize for the moment.

Photo by Chris JL

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Principles for Prioritizing, Part II: Unimportant Tasks

Strategies and goals

This is the second article in a short series on prioritizing. The first article in the series, “Principles for Prioritizing, Part I: Moving Targets,” appeared Monday, and includes links to other articles on the site about organizing and prioritizing.

Less important tasks may need to be dropped
When prioritizing tasks, we’re always dealing with at least two variables: how important something is and when it needs to be done. Do we do the immediate, less important thing or start working on the longer-term, more important thing instead? There’s no easy answer to this, but there are some ways to figure it out.

Of course important tasks that need to be done soon should take priority, and unimportant tasks that aren’t needed right away should be bumped to the end of your list–which for many of us may mean (sadly) that there will be no time for them. But of those other two possibilities–more important but less pressing and less important but more pressing–the decisions become more difficult. If you find that you are generally getting important things done on time without your life going haywire at all, you can probably afford to do the more urgent but less important tasks some of the time. But if you find that important, long-term things are often not getting done, not getting done well, or not getting done until the last minute, then what generally needs to happen is for some of those short-term but less important items to be dropped entirely from your task list so that you can get the more important things done.

For example, if you have a choice of working on some tax paperwork that’s due next week and reading a book for your book club meeting tomorrow, and if you find you often have trouble getting things like that tax paperwork done on time, then it’s probably time to take a hiatus from the book club.

To put it another way: effective prioritization often means giving up on less important tasks.

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Which Comes First: Motivation or Action?

Strategies and goals

The only seemingly logical way to think about self-motivation is that it’s something we need to have to be able to act the way we desire, yet the two can really come in either order. The exciting thing about this (at least if, like me, you get excited about ideas that can give you a leg up on improving your life) is the realization that it’s sometimes possible to do the right thing, even if it’s difficult, without being motivated first. The accomplishment then often produces a sense of satisfaction or well-being that creates motivation for doing more going forward.

Action before motivation
Here are some examples of ways to act before being motivated:

  • Focus on the moment-to-moment steps without thinking too much about the overall intent. For instance, if you want to go out running but are having trouble getting motivated, think about changing into your running clothes, tying your shoes, opening the door, etc. rather than starting a conversation with yourself about whether or not you feel like running.
  • Take part in a group where following along means you’re doing something you want to do. Go to a group study party instead of procrastinating that paper you need to research (but don’t let yourself be a distraction to your friends or vice-versa); join a support group; or get the whole family doing chores at once.
  • Make a bridge to what you want to do by tackling easy preliminaries. For instance, you may not like filing but be fine with sorting papers. If so, you can start with the painless task of sorting. When your office is full of piles of carefully-sorted papers, filing becomes both easier and kind of necessary. (Better yet, adopt a system that lets you keep control of your paperwork all the time. I’d particularly recommend the one described in Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done.)

Motivation before action
As useful as the “action before motivation” approach can be, motivation before action also works well, and is sometimes the a more useful way to go. The key with this is to focus at first not on the task you want to accomplish, but on the much simpler task of getting yourself motivated. Here are some articles that can help provide that initial motivational boost:

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Guest Post: Tricia Sullivan – Butthead and Butthead

Guest posts

Tricia Sullivan is an American science fiction writer living in Britain. Her latest novel, Lightborn, will be published by Orbit Books UK in October 2010.  Her website is and she also administers the martial arts site

From Luc: The following is a post recommended by a friend last week; it does a great job of capturing the frustrations of competing priorities and competing parts of life. Having read and enjoyed it, I asked for (and received) permission to reproduce it here. You can see the original at

One of the big frictions in my life arises from the antipathy between the damn Buttheads.  Butthead #1 is the creative bit and Butthead #2 is the bit that actually gets me by in the world.   These two posts, poles, blockheads, cannot seem to be in the same place at the same time.  They butt heads.  They’re Buttheads.  Either/both, as needed.

When Butthead #1 is in charge, I’m writing well.  There is cotton wool between me and the world.  I go glassy-eyed.  I cease to care about trivia like laundry, the bank balance, the calendar, anyone else’s problems, world affairs, or the clock.  If a thought about any of these things intrudes, I push it away, because thinking about anything real is a sign that Butthead #2 is gaining control.  Butthead #2 is always trying to steal my writing mojo so that my family can have clean socks.

Before I had a family, when in deadline mode I’d accumulate masses of laundry.  I’d eat whatever I could find, usually toast and canned soup and chocolate (of course) and I’d put everything else on hold while I wandered around in a thinking fog.  It was wonderful!

Now I’m responsible for a family of five.  Laundry, dishes, cleaning, meals, all have to be done every day without fail as an absolute minimum.  Business stuff with Steve goes on in the background constantly.  So Butthead #2 threatens to take over my life every day.  I keep her in her place in two ways.  First,  I do all the routine household work that I can on autopilot, in zombie-mode.  Second, I procrastinate.  Anything I can put off until school holidays, I put off.  Because during school holidays, I’m not going to be able to write much anyway.

When I’m writing, procrastination is my friend.  During the school year, I let Butthead #2 note down things that need doing on a list.  This list becomes the Epic List.  I save it up all year, and then in the summer I execute it.  This is quite brutal.

Butthead #1 pretty much gets executed for this time, too.  She’s shoved underground and told to be quiet.  Theoretically she is resting, but it never feels restful in my life because Butthead #2 has me running around doing the Epic List.

The interesting thing about the List is how every item on it glows with the energy of procrastination.  This year, some of the items were very minor tasks, but because I’d treated them like radioactive waste and refused to touch them while Butthead #1 was playing artiste, they began to acquire a creepy sort of power.  You know, they loomed.

And there develops an over-riding sensation that casts parenthetical arms around the whole list, an ozone smell.  It’s the humming power of procrastination.  With every act of procrastination, the List and every task on it become bigger, more difficult to surmount.  The List begins to whisper evil things.

I’ve been doing battle with this bloody list all summer.  At first I’d look at it and feel tired, faintly sick.  The items ranged from physical chores to administrivia to phone calls to big projects to shopping, and because its fields of control ranged from Steve’s business to my own to our household affairs to our kids, I felt like my entire life was somehow trapped in the power of this List.  Stuff seemed to be coming at me from all directions.

Every long-deferrred chore that I confronted provoked some kind of anxiety.  Resistance.  But then, when I started pushing through and seeing that I could get this stuff done and struck off the list, there came one zing after another: the release of trapped energy.  The list became like a video game.  Each task was another opponent, with energy crystal rewards.  Once she gets going, Butthead #2 loves this shit.  She’s been going medieval on the List all summer.  I think she’s a bit swollen with power, actually.

And that’s the problem with Butthead #2.  She doesn’t know when to stop.  I don’t like the person I become when my life centers on getting this stuff done.  I don’t like how I think or feel.  It’s all too…organized and efficient.

The writing has suffered, too.  Butthead #1 is getting bored and weepy, underground.  So, in a week, when the kids go back to school, I’ll start building a new list of stuff that I’ll refuse to do because it kills my work.

Being an artist is a lot like being a janitor.  Make a mess; clean it up; make a mess.  Procrastination is my friend in one part of this cycle, and my enemy in the other.  But the upside is that, once Butthead #1 gets back in the driver’s seat, she will be the procrastinated-upon one.  She will have the pent-up power.  Or so I hope.  Because September’s coming, and I’m getting increasingly agitated as I realize I’ve been procrastinating on my writing for several weeks now.

How about you?  What kinds of things make you procrastinate?

Some Willpower Engine articles that touch on  subjects in Tricia’s post:

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6 Steps to Overcome Procrastination

Strategies and goals

Struggling with procrastination is common, and it often happens that the longer we put something off, the more awful the idea of facing it seems to feel. Here are a series of simple steps that can be used to overcome procrastination for one task at a time. If you follow them closely, you have a very good chance of finally making progress on whatever you’ve been putting off.

1. Schedule. Begin by scheduling a specific time to work on the task. Choose carefully: make sure it’s a period of time that you’ll actually have available. If distractions or alternatives show up when the time comes, say sorry, you have something to do. It’s important to consider this appointment set in stone in order to accomplish your goal.

2. Remind. Set a reminder to ensure you know when you’re supposed to start and are not busy with something else.

3. Relax. When the time comes to start, begin by sitting down and relaxing. Don’t worry about the task itself for now. Take some deep breaths. Don’t feel rushed: it’s an important thing to do, right? Then it’s worth taking a little time to get into a calm, focused mood. If you meditate, that can be a helpful tactic here.

4. Remember Your Goals. Now think for a moment about what you want to gain from completing this task. Visualize what you hope to accomplish with it, or remind yourself of things you like about it, or explicitly tell yourself why you were interested in it in the first place. If it’s something you don’t like for itself (such as, for instance, doing taxes or cleaning up someone else’s mess), think about what makes you interested in doing that, like having your financial ducks in a row or living up to your own ideals. Another benefit completion of many of these tasks offer is relief from having them hanging over us.

Don’t stop until you’ve latched onto at least one–and ideally several–things that make you want to finish this task, whether goals or positive associations. If you have no reason whatsoever to want to do it, why do you consider it important in the first place? If you really don’t need to do it, resolve not to and cross it off your list permanently. Otherwise, get in touch with your reasons.

5. List. List the first few specific, tiny tasks you’d need to do to get started. If you’re not sure, brainstorm, write, talk to yourself, or borrow someone you can depend and bounce ideas around until you have some idea.

These tiny tasks are not results: they’re really specific, straightforward things to do. For instance, if your goal is to file some insurance paperwork, then your first step probably isn’t “fill out claim forms,” but rather “Find Web site for insurance company so I can download claim forms” or “Gather all bills and documents I’ll need to fill out the claim.” You might even make it more specific than that. The point is to break down the first several steps–say, the first 15 minutes to an hour of work on the task, which for many tasks is all that’s required–into very clear, simple things you can do without a lot of thought.

6. Visualize. Picture yourself taking the first few steps. You don’t have to actually do anything just yet: just do a very good job of imagining yourself starting.

Then … begin!

How it works
Thinking about your reasons for taking the task on, making positive associations and picturing yourself doing the task should help prime your brain to make it easy to slip into starting to do the task. When you do, you’ll have specific, extremely simple steps laid out that you can tackle one after another: let them carry you through. If you run out of steps or have to reorganize, just insert a next step: “come up with more steps,” and use that step to work out the next 15 minutes to 1 hour of activity.

If you need the stronger stuff
If you find that even this process isn’t helping you get over your procrastination, it’s very likely you have broken ideas about it. Perhaps you’re telling yourself that you’re a bad person for not doing it, or that it absolutely needs to be done, or that not having done it yet is awful. These and many kinds of related thoughts can be worked out and made to stop bothering you through idea repair. Write down each negative thought you have about the task and work through the idea repair process with it. At the end you should find fewer obstacles and more motivation to move ahead.

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Does Guilt Help or Hurt Self-Motivation?

Handling negative emotions

A warning light

Let’s say Derek is a student, and on his mid-term exam he did badly because he blew off studying. Let’s further say that Derek feels pretty crummy about this. Is feeling crummy going to help him or hurt him? Will it make him more or less likely to study next time? Will it improve him in other ways, or hurt him in other ways, or both? Does he have some kind of moral obligation to feel guilt?

Guilt is useful … sometimes. If I feel guilty, it means that I’ve looked back on something I did and compared it to how I’d like to act. This is a very smart thing to do, because if I’m not aware of whether or not I’m following my own best instincts, then I have no idea what I might want to improve or how I would need to improve it. Guilt is a red flag, a warning indicator on the dashboard saying that something has gone wrong. And guilt can persist for quite a while if the problem doesn’t get fixed.

That warning job, as far as I can tell from research, coaching, and personal experience, is the only useful thing there is about guilt. Once you get that message and commit to doing something about it, the guilt is no longer useful, providing you won’t forget about your commitment the minute the guilt is gone–so it makes sense to get rid of it. How? By detecting and repairing the broken ideas that are keeping the guilt going. (I won’t go into more detail about that for here, but just follow the links for more detailed information.)

In addition to that helpful warning role, guilt plays a harmful role in other ways. It can make it painful to think about certain obligations–for instance, if Derek feels guilty about not studying for his mid-term, he may avoid thinking about studying for his finals because he doesn’t want to revisit the unpleasant subject of him failing to study. Guilt sucks up attention and causes negative emotions like sadness and anxiety, which can make it harder to be motivated even in unrelated areas.

So the best possible use of guilt is to experience it, pay attention to it, figure out what needs to be done, and then get rid of it.

A study by Michael J.A. Wohl, Timothy A. Pychyla, and Shannon H. Bennetta (“I forgive myself, now I can study: How self-forgiveness for procrastinating can reduce future procrastination“), published this past February, supports this view of guilt as damaging in the long term. It surveyed students who felt guilty about past studying habits, whether they forgave themselves, and how that forgiveness (or lack of it) related to their studying afterward. Wohl and colleagues concluded that students who forgave themselves (a kind of organic idea repair–though that’s a subject for a future post) tended to do better studying afterward than students who kept beating themselves up. In other words, letting go of the guilt helped them act better so that they wouldn’t need to feel guilty in future.

Thanks to Jeremy Dean of Psyblog for the mention of the article.

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How About a Little Later? Would a Little Later Work?

Strategies and goals

Breaking habits isn’t easy: it takes a lot of disruption to make a behavior we’re used to stop coming out automatically. Changing a behavior means coming up with many ways over time to stop ourselves from doing what comes naturally, by habit. For this purpose, the more tactics we have available to disrupt those undesired habits, the better–and one of those tactics, strangely enough, is a bit like procrastination. You could also call it “delayed gratification,” but regardless, the technique is to push things off a little further in time. For instance, if a person is hard at work at a home business and is tempted to stop working for a while to check Facebook, something they’re trying not to do doing working hours, one option is to say “How about I check Facebook a little later?” Chances are the idea of checking Facebook came up during a particularly boring or unappealing moment in work, and if things get more interesting as the work progresses, then not checking Facebook might be easier when the promised time comes than it was when it was first put off.

And if it isn’t easier to avoid when the delayed time comes, it can often be put off again. Enough delaying, and it might not happen at all, or else be saved to an appropriate moment–just as with someone who’s trying to stick to a healthier eating pattern putting off a snack until it’s meal time, when the snack is no longer necessary.

This is not a very sophisticated or especially powerful technique, but like the Just Don’t It technique, it can be pulled out at odd moments to interfere with a bad habit a person is trying to break. Even if ultimately the delays don’t prevent the undesired behavior, at least there has been some interruption of the normal state of things, which is an accomplishment and a bit of progress. And at their best, delaying tactics can be one of a set of tools that together can be employed to completely extinguish an undesired habit over time.

Photo by Stuart`Dootson

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