Sep 11, 2017
A listener named Benjamin asks about procrastination. He wrote:
“The live therapy with Marilyn was very interesting - like other listeners, I was impressed by her character and strength.
“Towards the end of this most recent podcast, you were musing on what topics to cover in future podcasts. I would love to hear about how you treat people suffering from chronic laziness ("Do Nothingism"). In particular, there seems to be a strong potential of a Catch-22 with Process Resistance: The patient cannot find the motivation to do anything, yet they have to carry out the process (do the homework) to improve.
“Even worse, in "Feeling Good", you categorize "Do Nothingism" into around 10 different categories, and suggest a different approach for each one. What should a lazy person do, who identifies with multiple categories, but is already starting to feel overwhelmed at the prospect of doing one of those activities, let alone five of them?
“I would love to hear David's thoughts on this!”
David and Fabrice begin by thanking Benjamin, and David emphasizes how helpful and inspiring it is to receive specific questions like this, which makes it easy to create a (hopefully) informative and interesting podcast.
David says that his thinking about the treatment of procrastination has changed greatly since he wrote Feeling Good. One big change is that he no longer tries to “help” individuals who procrastinate, since this will cause them to continue to procrastinate, and the failure will now be the failure of the therapist, who’s “helping” wasn’t good enough.
Instead, David outlines a multi-step approach, based on someone who has ten years of unfiled papers that have piled up in his office, so that by now 15 feet of desk space is completely covered by piles of papers roughly one foot high. Fabrice plays the role of the resistant patient, and David plays the role of the therapist.
The steps include:
Paradoxical Agenda Setting: David asks, “The procrastination seems to be working for you. Why would you want to change? Let’s make a list of all the benefits of procrastination, and all the reasons NOT to change.” David emphasizes that the patient has to convince the therapist that this is something he really does want to change. It’s NOT the therapist’s role to help or to convince the patient to change!
Miracle Cure Question: What kind of help would you like in today’s session? Most patients say they need help with motivation. David declines to offer this, explaining that it isn’t on the therapeutic menu today—only the “Blue Plate Special!” The patient must agree to begin working on the filing in spite of having no motivation.
David also explains the underlying concept behind this strategy: most procrastinators are waiting for motivation, but that never works. You’ll be waiting forever, because you’re NEVER going to feel like doing all that filing! You aren’t entitled to motivation!
Productive individuals know that action comes first, and motivation comes second.
Specificity: What time would you like my help in overcoming your procrastination? The patient’s requests for help yesterday or tomorrow are declined by the therapist, so they settle on 6 PM today.
Little Steps for Big Feats: Let’s list the first five things you would need to do tonight at 6 PM, making sure that every step can be completed in 15 to 30 seconds. They list these steps:
Let’s Be Specific: David asks if Fabrice needs help with Step 1? Step 2? Etc. Fabrice finally admits he can do these five steps.
Five Minute Rule: David asks if Fabrice will agree to do these five steps between 6 PM and 6:05 PM, and if he will agree to work on his filing for ONLY those five minutes. At the end of the five minutes he has completed 100% of the assignment. The rationale is that if Fabrice tries to do it all, he’ll get so overwhelmed that he won’t do anything. But if he agrees to ONLY five minutes, that will be do-able. And if he surprises himself, and gets motivated to do more, he can, be he only gets credit for the first five minutes.
Problem – Solution List: David asks Fabrice to put a line down the middle of a piece of paper, from top to bottom, and list all the problems that will get in the way at 6 PM, and then to list convincing solutions to each problem in the right-hand column. Fabrice lists two problems: 1. I won’t feel like it. And 2. Traffic might be heavy, so I might not get home by 6 PM.
“I Stubbornly Refused” Technique: David asks Fabrice to agree to an unusual phone call at 6:05 PM!
TIC – TOC Technique: David plays the role of Fabrice’s “Task-Interfering Cognitions” (TICS) that will tempt him to procrastinate, and asks Fabrice to play the role of the “Task-Oriented Cognitions” (TOCS) he can use to combat the TOCs. The TICS include the familiar ones such as:
David confesses the problem is one that he actually had, and describes how he solved it, using this exact approach!