Neil Strauss On The Now Habit

Neil StraussNeil

Want to know the secret to getting more done? I do too…

Yet even when we clear our plate of tasks and take time to unwind, it’s so difficult to shake the feeling that we should be doing more. What if we really could both get more done …And enjoy our free time without the weight of guilt.

Can we do it?

The answer: Neil Fiore seems to think so.

Don’t put this off, read it this instant, get it done and feel good about it with…




What it lacks in…ehm, graphic swing The Now Habit makes up in constructive content about procrastination. The underlying theme that really sets this book apart is the emphasis on understanding why we create the need to procrastinate instead of jumping to instant-solutions.

The Now Habit is a method, with practical insights to change individual aspects of yourself in each chapter. There is quite some soul searching to be done before your procrastination-weapons are battle-ready. So let’s get to it.

Why We Procrastinate

For a big reward:

Procrastination is rewarding, it rewards us with temporary relief from stress. The more you feel that endless work deprives you of the pleasure of leisure time, the more you will avoid work. It is double rewarding if the work we thought we had to do later proves to be unnecessary.

To be a powerful victim:

“I have to pay the bills or go to jail”, “I have to give up my vacation or lose my job”. If you feel like a victim whose life is controlled by others who make the rules, saying “I have to” reaffirms your refusal to accept the rules. As a powerless victim you feel you can’t openly rebel, because that would mean risking the probable consequences (anger and punishment) as well as losing the side benefits of the victim role. (self- righteousness and martyrdom). By procrastinating, you temporarily, secretly dethrone this authority. You can resist by dragging your feet and giving a halfhearted effort to gain some power and control over your life.

To be picture-perfect:

Perfectionism and self-criticism are the chief causers of fear of failure. All of us fail to achieve some of our goals and it can be very disappointing. But a failure to a perfectionist is like a small cut to a hemophiliac. Work being judged as ‘average’ feels like failure for the seasoned perfectionist. “This project is me, whether I’m a winner or a loser in life will be determined by how well I do on this single piece of work”. When putting your worth and future happiness on the line like this, stress is inevitable. And not starting will be the perfect delay.

When being too successful (the pole-vaulter syndrome)

Imagine: you work long and hard for a very difficult goal, such as pole-vaulting sixteen feet. You’re terribly afraid of failing, but the pressure of the crowd and your own expectations push you to try harder. Barely making the jump and somehow making it over the bar, the applause of the crowd lasts for a few seconds, and then they’re raising the bar to sixteen feet, six inches. And then some more, until you got no more reserves left. Success raises the anxiety that still more is going to be expected in the future but procrastination gives some protection against that threat. Fiore calls this the fear of delayed failure.

How We  Procrastinate

Monitor yourself

Knowing how you procrastinate is even more important than knowing why. You can use your awareness of negative patterns to redirect your energy toward forming positive habits. Identifying how you go about doing anything is essential to improving your performance.

Create a procrastination log

Procrastinate at your normal level for another week. Observe yourself without judgements. Where is your time going? What are you doing when you’re really productive? Don’t judge yourself or analyze your behavior. Concentrate on becoming aware of your current behavior patterns. Divide your day into three or four segments, for example: morning, afternoon, and evening to better assess when you are the most and the least productive. Record the time spent on each activity throughout your day.

Getting aware

Your procrastination log will alert you to your inner dialogue and how it is helping or hindering your goal achievement. Awareness of you inner dialogue and how it connects to your procrastination patterns will allow you to get the most out of the Now Habit.

Exercise: Walking the Plank

Situation A: The task before you is to walk a solid board, thirty feet long, four inches thick, one foot wide. You have all the physical, mental and emotional capabilities necessary to perform this task. You can carefully place one foot in front of the other, or you can dance, skip, or leap across the board. You can do it. No problem.

Situation B: Add two buildings and raise up the board between them by 100 feet. Imagine how the difference in attempting to walk the same board makes you feel;

Situation C: Add some heat behind you, the building supporting your end of the board is on fire! Imagine the added feelings the situation creates.

When you procrastinate, it’s as if you are the one raising the board off the ground, getting yourself frozen, and then lighting that fire to create the pressure of a real deadline.

Understanding the stages:

First, you give a task or a goal the power to determine your worth and happiness (“getting this task, dating this person will change my life and make me happy”)
Second, you use perfectionism to raise the task 100 feet above the ground (any mistakes would be tantamount to death).

Third, you find yourself frozen with anxiety as your natural stress response produces adrenaline to deal with threats to your survival.
Fourth, you then use procrastination to escape your dilemma (which brings the deadline closer, creating time pressure, anxiety and threat of imperfect work).

Fifth and last stage, you use a real threat such as a fire or a deadline to release yourself from perfectionism and to act as a motivator.

Situation D: You’re back on the board again, 100 feet above the ground and still frozen by procrastination. But this time there’s no fire, only a strong, supportive net, just three feet beneath the board.

You now know that if you fall the worst that could happen is that you might feel a little embarrassed. Falling no longer means death. You’ll need a positive self-statement that will give you the ability to recover from any mistake, say to yourself: “Whatever happens I will survive. I will find a way to carry on. I will not let this be the end of the world for me. I will find a way to lessen the pain in my life and maximize the joy”.

Talking to Yourself

Five self-statements that distinguish procrastinators from producers:

1. Negative thinking of “I have to.”
Replace with: “I choose to.”
Choose to work, or accept responsibility for choosing to delay, shift from a negative thought to an attitude of choice and power.

2. Negative thinking of “I must finish.”
Replace with: “When can I start?”
Finishing is in the vague distance, replace agitated energy with a clear focus on what can be tackled now.

3. Negative thinking of “This project is so big and important.” Replace with: “I can take one small step.”

When feeling overwhelmed, remember: one small step, one rough draft, one small hello. You can never build a house at once. All you can do now is pour the concrete, hammer a nail, raise a wall. One small step at a time.

4. Negative thinking of “I must be perfect.”
Replace with: I can be perfectly human.”
As you learn to expect and accept imperfect early steps on your projects, you’ll build in the persistence of a producer, and you’ll be better prepared to bounce back because you’ll have a safety net of compassion (because of your courageous efforts to create real, imperfect work).

5. Negative thinking of “I don’t have time to play.”
Replace with: “I must take time to play.”
Insisting on your regular time for exercise, dinners with friends, and breaks/vacations you increase feelings of inner worth and respect for yourself that are at the heart of unlearning the need for procrastination.

Reprogram confusing and counterproductive statements with powerful focus:

“I choose to start on one small step, knowing I have plenty of time for play.”

The Importance of Play

Through play we learn the physical, mental, and social skills necessary for adult life. With toys and imagination children create scenarios that prepare them for work, relationships, and conflict.

Adults use these skills learned in childhood to work alone and sit still for hours in front of a computer terminal, a drafting desk, or an accounting ledger. They call upon the mental and physical states of concentration and creativity that were learned decades earlier while playing in the security of the home. Later in life they will need these experiences to face tasks that require persistent problem-solving and the risk of mistakes and rejection.

Overcoming Blocks to Action

Tools to combat the three major fears that block action and create procrastination:

1. Three-dimensional thinking and the reverse calendar, to combat the terror of being overwhelmed.

3D Thinking

Tackling any large project requires an overview of its size, length and breadth so that you can plan the direction you will take and decide when and where you will start. It is the opposite of having your nose up against a skyscraper with the expectation that you have to get to the top in one exhausting leap. You will experience stress and anxiety when your body tries to be in several places at once.

The Reverse Calendar

The reverse calendar starts with the ultimate deadline for you project and moves back, step by step, to the present where you can focus your energy on starting.

2. The work of worrying, to tackle the fear of failure and the fear of being imperfect

Worrying can warn you of danger and evoke action to prepare for that danger. Respect your ability to worry as a means to alert you to potential danger. You need to do the work of worrying to direct the energy of worry and panic into plans to remove the threat. Ask yourself these six questions as part of your work of worrying:

  1. What is the worst that could happen?
  2. What would I do if the worst really happened?
  3. How would I lessen the pain and get on with as much happiness as possible if the worst did occur?
  4. What alternatives would I have?
  5. What can I do now to lessen the probability of this dreaded event occurring?
  6. Is there anything I can do now to increase my chances of achieving my goal?

True confidence is the ability to say, “I am prepared for the worst, now I can focus on the work that will lead to the best.”

3. Persistent starting, to tackle the fear of not finishing

Prepare challenges to Negative Statements and Attitudes.

• “I need to do more preparation before I can start.”

Be alert to when preparation becomes procrastination. There’s work involved in trying to escape through procrastination. So why not choose the work of taking one more step forward?

• “At this rate I’ll never finish.”

The rate of learning and accomplishment in the beginning of a project is often slower than you’re accustomed to. Remember that later on, when you are more familiar with the subject matter and more confident in your new situation, it will go faster.

• “I should have started earlier.”

You got started and you need to appreciate that. Make sure you reward every step of progress, regardless how small and keep your commitment to guilt free play.

• “There’s only more work after this.”

Keep this work separate from your decision about future projects. Avoid feelings of “have to” and victimhood about work that isn’t even here yet. You are in control of when you will face the next piece of work.

• “It’s not working.”

Rather than hoping for a perfect path with no problems, you can maintain a resolute commitment to make things work on this path. As a producer, you are focusing on the desired results and making this path work for you.

• “I only need a little more time.”

You may find it difficult to accept that others do not hold your high standards of quality. You must learn to tolerate the anxiety and risks of finishing even though you know your work isn’t perfect. Acknowledge that valuable time is wasted on polishing in an attempt to ensure perfection. Get your work out there – out of the fantasy stage and into the real world.

Keep on starting, and finishing will take care of itself. When you’re afraid of finishing, keep asking, “When can I start?”

The Unschedule

In case nobody told you, there’s no such thing as a life of complete play. Trying to escape work by procrastinating will only increase your anxiety; only work will diminish your anxiety. Neither chocolate chip cookies nor TV will lessen tension about a overwhelming task, starting work will. The book works a little bit towards the Unschedule, it is a great tool to work with if you understand previous chapters about why and how you procrastinate.

A system built on reversed psychology:

  • Do not work more then twenty hours a week on this project.
  • Do not work more than five hours a day on this project.
  • You must exercise, play, or dance at least one hour a day.
  • You must take at least one day a week off from any work.
  • Aim for starting on thirty minutes of quality work.
  • Work for an imperfect, perfectly human first effort.
  • Start small.

Steps on how to use the unschedule:

1. Schedule only:

  • previously committed time such as meals, sleep, meetings;
  • free time, recreation, leisure reading;
  • socializing, lunches and dinners with friends;
  • health activities such as swimming, running, tennis, working out at the gym;
  • routine structured events such as commuting time, classes, medical appointments;
  • do not schedule work on projects!

Fill in your Unschedule with as many non-work activities as possible. It will help you overcome the fantasy that you have twenty-four hours a day and forty-eight hours on the weekends to work on your projects. It will sharpen your perception of actual time available.

2. Fill in your Unschedule with work on projects only after you have completed at least one-half hour of quality work.

Think of the Unschedule as a time clock that you punch in as you start work and punch out when you take credit for your progress. Maintain an excitement about how much you’ve accomplished in a short period of time.

3. Take credit only for periods of work that represent at least thirty minutes of uninterrupted work.

Do not record the time on your Unschedule if you stop before thirty minutes are up. When you stay with the discipline of uninterrupted work, you really know that the half hour you earned on your Unschedule represents quality work, not trips to get potato chips or to make calls.

4. Reward yourself with a break or a change to a more enjoyable task after each period worked.

You deserve it. You got started! And by overcoming inertia, you have begun to build momentum that will make it easier to get started next time. With rewards for each positive achievement you create positive associations with work instead of negative ones.

5. Keep track of the number of quality hours worked each day and each week.

Total them up. Emphasize what you did accomplish. This is rewarding in itself and establishes a positive pattern by following work with a pat on the back.

6. Always leave at least one full day a week for recreation and any small chores you wish to take care of.

Avoid the feeling of resentment and the burnout that can come when there are no holidays because of work. This day is essential for rejuvenation and maintaining creativity and motivation.

7. Before deciding to go to a recreational activity or social commitment, take time out for just thirty minutes of work on your project.

Grandma’s principle: You can get your ice cream only after you eat your spinach. Or, as Fiore explains: Any pleasurable or frequent activity you engage in has the power to create motivation for the activity it follows.

8. Focus on starting.

Your task is to get to the starting place on time. Replace all thoughts about finishing with thoughts about when, where, and on what you can start.

9. Think small

Do not aim to finish a book, write letters, complete your income tax. Aim for thirty minutes of quality, focused work

10. Keep starting.

Finishing will take care of itself. When it is time to start the last thirty minutes that will finish the project, that too will be an act of starting. If you must worry, worry about starting. In order to finish all you have to do is to just keep starting!

11. Never end “down.”

That is, never stop work when you’re blocked or at the end of a section. Remember Grandma’s principle: to create good habits your breaks and treats must follow some work. No treats until you face what you’ve been avoiding. Always stay with a tough spot for another five or ten minutes, trying to come up with at least a partial solution that you can pursue later.

A last Word

Experiment with the above techniques, avoid statements such as “I’ll try it” or “It’s not working,” which reveal a testing attitude rather than a firm commitment. The feeling behind “I’ll try” is that you will make a halfhearted effort and then fail. Defeatist statements such as “It’s not working” mean you’ve failed to find a tool to take away all the anxiety, that once again your problem remains unsolved, and that you are likely to rely on your old attempted solution, procrastination to escape fear and discomfort. “How can I make this work for me?” reflects a greater commitment and drive toward success. Get in touch with your own abilities, motivation and inner genius and look forward to having a positive attitude toward work, control over procrastination, resiliency against setbacks, and a new identity as a producer!

The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Playby Neil Fiore, Ph.D.


Note from the reviewer: when you start your project and work from home. Change your view, literally! I have a great library nearby in Amsterdam with a view that’s superior to the one in my small apartment. I kept pushing this review forward to the point it just became too embarrassing, but when I took a friday afternoon and saturday (today) off to really focus on it I nearly finished the whole thing in less then 2 days. And I’m convinced the view (and the additional light) worked wonders. So, find a big building with a view to start your next project!


Chapters I didn’t summarize:

In my opinion these are great follow ups for previous chapters, but a bit too in-depth for this summary. Of course if people want to read more about certain chapters I will make an effort!

Chapter 7. Working in the flow state

The flow state focuses on a method that teaches you how to reach a natural level of calm, focused energy and attention we experience in shifts during the day. Fiore explains a lot about relaxation exercises and other ways in creating this state for yourself.

Chapter 8. Fine-tuning your progress

More powerful techniques for overcoming the setbacks and obstacles to your progress from procrastinator to producer.

Chapter 9. The procrastinator in your life

Here Fiore explains how to live, work, and relate to individuals whose own problems with procrastination affect us negatively.