Don't Delay

Understanding procrastination and how to achieve our goals

When Negative Thoughts Invade

Repeat the mantra: Not helpful.

Millions of us world wide learned a great deal from Professor Randy Pausch with his "Last Lecture." Here's some hard-earned insight from Jai Pausch, Randy's wife, that can also benefit all of us. It certainly means a lot to me.

This past weekend, my wife and I watched the interview of Randy and Jai Pausch produced by ABC news. To be honest I was reluctant to watch it as I have read Randy's book, written about it and watched his lecture on YouTube. I expected that the DVD that my wife had borrowed from the library (after a very long wait) was simply Randy's lecture. It wasn't. I'm glad we took the time to watch it together. I ached all over again as Randy and Jai courageously prepared for the inevitable. Our tears flowed every time Randy reflected on what his impending death meant to him as a father. All of this was an important reminder of living fully today.

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Living fully isn't easy, and certainly Jai Pausch met these challenges head on as she struggled to embrace life with Randy and their children while coping with Randy's terminal illness and all that it entailed. In the interview with Diane Sawyer, what struck me so clearly was the simple yet hard-earned strategy that Jai implemented daily in order to cope.

When she began to "go into a dark place" or think negatively, she learned to say to herself "not helpful." This simple phrase was one of her mantras to remind herself that her goal was to live fully with Randy today and that these negative thoughts were not helpful to her achieving this goal. She had to remind herself not to let these thoughts and feelings build, as they would undermine her goal to live fully today. I can't imagine a more difficult situation in which to have to employ and live up to this simple but hard-nosed advice to one's self - Not helpful.

Tigger & EeyoreThe thing is, what Randy and Jai Pausch faced is what each of us is called to face daily. This is a central tenet of Randy's lecture in fact. As Randy has said, you have to decide if you're a Tigger or an Eeyore. Tigger doesn't dwell on the "not helpful" stuff, but moves ahead optimistically making the best of the moment.

"I'll feel more like it tomorrow." "I don't want to do this now." "I can't tolerate this, it should be easier." - Not helpful. None of it. Irrational thoughts, needless worry, discomfort intolerance . . . not helpful. When you find yourself thinking these things, use Jai's mantra, "not helpful" and just get started.

Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D., is an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, where he specializes in the study of procrastination.

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