Science and Sensibility

A psychological potpourri

How to Change Fantasy Procrastination into Productive Action

Stop Dreaming and Start Doing

Daydreaming and fantasizing are common ways to sidetrack from what is important and timely to do. Instead of losing weight and getting in shape, you daydream about being a svelte athlete.  Instead of cracking the books to get a graduate degree, you imagine the board of a large corporation recruiting you from your couch to head a great organization.

Stretching to achieve normally takes time, effort, and risk.  It’s easier to dream than to do. For example, nothing was impossible for Water Mitty, the main character in James Thurber's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. In a twinkle, he was a brilliant surgeon, famous fighter pilot, and crack shot. While fantasizing, Mitty procrastinated on enriching his life.

In the world of fantasy procrastinationyou substitute imaginary accomplishments for priority actions and real accomplishments. You’d like effortlessly to achieve approval, control, success, and to feel perpetually comfortable. However, you don’t want to put in the time or effort right now. Instead, you fanaticize about what can be.

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What is happening? In a fantasy world, you can control what you choose. You overcome all obstacles. The evidence of your successes surrounds you. Others feel impressed by you.  Your rivals duck from view so as not to look like faded shadows next to you. You are comfortable in this fantasy world. You feel no stress. You feel happy.

Excessive fantasizing invariably has a boomerang effect.  By drawing deeply into a fantasy world, you sidetrack yourself from your most pressing priorities.  You are less likely to go after what you want in life. You’ll do less of what is important for you to do.

Let’s now turn to doing the psychological work that is often necessary to do to break the grips of fantasy procrastination.

Is Happiness a By-Product of Doing Something Else First?

The quote “Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results”, is attributed to different contemporary sources. However, the observation that we tend to repeat the same errors reverberates through the ages. We capture this idea in terms, such as habit, historical recurrence, and destiny neurosis.

Fantasy procrastination is not a form of insanity. Nevertheless, it can be a recurring problem. For example, many promise themselves that they’ll discontinue procrastinating at a future time. In most cases, these promises are fantasies. They are part of a repeat pattern of delaying, promising to do better next time, and delaying again.

You can look into the purpose that fantasy procrastination serves and find ways to abandon this pattern. Let’s start with three brief awareness and action exercises.

1. Examine the purpose that your fantasy procrastination serves. Are you protecting yourself from disappointment? Do you act as if you are allergic to effort and tend to follow the easier but less productive path?  Does the fantasy allow you to escape facing foolish fears?

2. What lays in the gap between fantasy procrastination and reality accomplishments? Ask the question and you may find answers. Here’s an example. Instead of combatting a fear of public speaking, you imagine yourself a great orator speaking before a captivated crowd.  This fantasy may serve the purpose of helping you keep up a good self-image while you continue to procrastinate on facing your fear. As you explore the gap, you may discover that you are holding onto an elevated expectation where you demand perfection from yourself and where you fear failing to live up to this lofty expectation. If you find this to be so, then you’ve found a hidden message imbedded in the fantasy. You can teach yourself to defuse this type of irrational message, test productive new behaviors, and put an end to this repetitive, vexing, procrastination problem condition.

3. We all spend time in dreams and fantasies. Some are productive. You imagine yourself following a new career direction. This launches your efforts to get training to make a career change.  You imagine yourself connecting with an attractive person who interests you. The fantasy turns to reality when you take the first step; or at least you know that you’ve hit a wall with this person. Think about what is most pressing for you to start doing now. What is the first step? Take that step.

Sometime you won’t see clearly ahead until you take a step. If you then find yourself on a creative and constructive path, one accomplishment may open an awareness of another step that you may not have seen.  That next action step leads to new awareness and action steps.

You may come to points where you don’t see the next step.  You may find yourself creatively incubating on a problem before experiencing an insight.

The path of creative and constructive processes will yield more opportunities and accomplishments than repeating the same trite fantasies while hoping for a different result. As a byproduct of your productive efforts, you may experience the happiness that you seek.

The eighteenth-century French writer Sebastien Chamfort wrote: "Pleasure can be supported by an illusion; but happiness rests upon truth." He understood the value of work over fantasy.

For more information on combatting procrastination, double click on my free audio-visual presentation Procrastination Thinking. For in-depth coverage for how to combat a broad range of procrastination situations, double click on The Procrastination Workbook

 © Dr. Bill Knaus

All Rights Reserved

Bill Knaus, Ed.D., is the author of more than 20 books; one, "Overcoming Procrastination", was co-authored with Albert Ellis.

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