My original idea was to do one blog with a bunch of bullet points, various tricks and tips and mental strategies to help people to overcome procrastination. But then I looked at other articles on the subject and discovered there were lots of similar articles so I decided to do it differently. So this article is essentially ONE tip, however I plan to cover the subject in a little depth. And OK, it may not be a critical step but I believe it is important. More articles on the subject of stopping procrastinating will follow…
So you want to stop procrastinating. Well, there is one tiny word in English that can really get in the way of you getting on with things.
The word is TRY.
If you are trained in NLP, or in many schools of hypnotherapy, you may well know all about this. If you don’t, or even if you do, consider this…
If I say ‘I tried to finish writing all my emails last night’, or ‘I tried to remember to take the car to the car wash’, or ‘I tried to get to Italy last Christmas’, what am I actually saying?
I am saying I didn’t do any of those things, or at the very least I am implying that I didn’t.
So is this really such a big deal?
Oh yes, it can be a very big deal indeed, but the challenge can sometimes be getting a person to realise how important it is, to stop using this word in this way.
I find, like many things, it’s best done by example…
The Day Of The Three Bulimics
One morning, several years ago, I saw three women to help them to stop doing bulimia, one after another. I managed to help all of them to stop doing it, in fact the first two of the three stopped being bulimic after the first session, it happens sometimes. The third of the three, a law student, took me a few more hours, but for the purposes of this, she was by far the most interesting.
So we started by me asking her to talk me through a typical day, and what she said went something like this…
‘I try to get up in time’
‘Well I try and set the alarm for 6.30 because I like to try to get up in time to have a good breakfast. Then I try and get the 7.30 bus to college, and in the morning I go to lectures and I really try to be good with the food and I try and have something nice for lunch. In the afternoon I try and go to the library to catch up with some of the work, and then in the evening maybe I will try and call a friend and…’
If I could read your mind, dear, what a tale your thoughts would tell…
‘Stop!’ I said, ‘I can’t stand it! I bet you don’t get to the library to work much, in the afternoons, do you?’
And she looked at me with big eyes and asked me, in a hushed voice, if I was psychic…
‘Possibly,’ I replied, ‘but I’m not currently doing that, I am listening to you trying to do things’.
She just looked puzzled, naturally enough, so I started giving her examples like those already mentioned. I tried to finish mowing the lawn before it started raining, I tried to fix the dishwasher, I tried to close the window properly etc. She still looked bewildered.
‘Listen’ I said, ‘close your eyes and say to yourself, ‘I will try to get to the library this afternoon, and see what comes to mind.’ She did this and told me she had a fleeting thought of the library but then couldn’t get the thought of the canteen out of her head. So she asked me what she was supposed to think.
Use the word ‘just’, or the phrase ‘just make sure’, instead of ‘try’
That’s what I told her, so she closed her eyes and said to herself that she was just going to make sure she got to the library that afternoon, and then admitted that she did seem to be able to think of going to the library a bit more easily. I told her that it may take a while for her to retrain herself but from now on, every time she said the word try or even thought it, she was to stop, go back, and repeat what she had said or thought using the word just or the phrase just make sure.
She didn’t look impressed.
After all, she was there for me to help her stop doing bulimia and nearly fifteen minutes have gone by and I haven’t really mentioned that yet. But I guessed how important this may be for her, given that she had used the word so much, so I boldly carried on with the following story.
The ‘For Trying Hard’ certificate
My two eldest children spent part of their primary school education in a really good very small village school. In one school year they were in the same classroom. Like I say, it was a small school. Now, this school liked to reward the children for doing something well, you know, like doing a nice drawing, writing a good story, that kind of thing. However, we had a bit of an issue when the teacher started trying to give my children certificates which were entitled, ‘For Trying Hard’. Apparently, one of my kids told the teacher, a little uncertainly, that his dad (me) had told them they weren’t to try hard. And the teacher (nice guy) had smiled and told them that it was always important to try hard. And my other child had told him that they weren’t ever supposed to try they were just supposed to do it. And apparently my other child then added, ‘or not’…
I wish I had been there
My kids weren’t being cheeky, but they weren’t really equipped to explain this to the teacher. The teacher was fine about it all at the time, just a little puzzled, apparently. Next parents evening I was able to talk to him about it. I explained the reasoning and to his credit he dumped the certificates. I then saw that there was another pile of certificates that were entitled ‘for working hard’, and I asked him to dump those too. I pointed at them and asked him what those words meant. He said they meant ‘for working well’. I smiled and asked him why they didn’t say that then, as ‘hard’ can mean well, or diligently, but ‘hard’ can also mean tough or difficult or intransigent. I am not sure he got rid of them, but from that day forward my children’s always got ‘certificates of merit’ when they did well.
My client still looked puzzled
‘Can we talk about my bulimia now?’ She asked. I told that that we could as long as she promised to start using the word ‘just’ or the phrase, ‘just make sure’. She considered this for a moment and then, without even the slightest trace of irony said…
‘I’ll try to…’
So I stared at her, and I stared at her, and I stared at her, and I raised my eyebrows. A long minute went by, then suddenly she realised what she had said and laughed, a lot (often a very good sign, that).
‘Listen,’ I said, ‘I know you don’t know how much of a big deal this is yet. Also, you may well find yourself catching yourself saying the word, or thinking it. When you do it would be a mistake to beat yourself up about it with thoughts like ‘Oh shit I just said the word, try, I must try not to do that again, OH SHIT, I just said it again…’. ‘Be patient with yourself,’ I said, ‘it can take a little time to fully integrate this learning, now let’s get this bulimia sorted as well….’
Seven Days Later
Seven days later all three women turned up again in the same order, on the same morning. As I said, the first two had stopped ‘buliming’ and I was delighted with that. When the law student walked in she actually looked even happier than the first two and I felt really pleased with myself as assumed I had sorted 3 out of 3 bulimics in one session each.
‘Stopped throwing up then?’ I asked.
‘No,’ she said, ‘I am still throwing up, though not as much,’ and she leaned forward, eyes shining and added, ‘but my life has completely changed!’
What a difference a word makes…
Or can make. She told me how she no longer struggles to get out of bed, she just gets up when the alarm goes. She just makes sure she gets to the bus stop on time, and last week was the first time she hasn’t been late every day. She is being better with food. She is going to the library every day and has almost caught up with the work. She is catching herself thinking things like ‘I will try and remember to call Barbara later, maybe go out for a nice meal,’ and amending those thoughts to ‘I will just make sure I call Barbara later’. The later in the day she is once again catching herself saying to herself something like ‘Ooh I must try and call Barbara in a minute ooh, YES, I WILL JUST DO IT NOW…’
Which brings me back to the subject of this article, namely, how to stop procrastinating and just get on with it. This is just one piece of what can be done, but better have one article in a little depth, I believe, than yet another list of bullet points similar to those you may well have seen before on this subject. Obviously, the word ‘try’ is OK in many contexts, such as ‘try this lovely cake’, ‘try this beautiful wine’, but the try of effort is one to be avoided unless you want to increase the chance of failing.
It can be good to fail
Well, it can. Often, at the end of a session with a client I will say something like, ‘now think about what was a problem before, and try to worry about it…’
Hope you find this useful. Just make sure you read it again… There is so much more to say about this subject, so more posts to follow…
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