TCC Podcast #346: Navigating Willpower and Procrastination with Dr. Rebecca Fortgang - The Copywriter Club
TCC Podcast #346: Navigating Willpower and Procrastination with Dr. Rebecca Fortgang

Dr. Rebecca Fortgang is our guest on the 346th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast. Dr. Becky is a clinical psychologist, an instructor at Harvard Medical School, and a research scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital. Just a light background, huh? Kira knew Dr. Becky had to be on the show after taking her class, and she did not disappoint.

Take a peek inside the conversation:

  • Is willpower a muscle? What’s all the debate around willpower? 
  • What do willpower and love have in common?
  • Researching topics with inconclusive and incomplete data – this work has to start somewhere. 
  • Tools creative entrepreneurs can use to be more productive.
  • Why do people really quit on their goals?
  • What to do when lapses happen and what are they trying to tell us?
  • How to avoid spiraling and what we should do instead. 
  • What’s a goal cleanse? 
  • Are you a failure if you quit a long-term goal?
  • How to find alternate goals if you can’t let goals go. 
  • The clear-cut approach to setting goals and achieving them.
  • What is “gripping the table” self-control and how can we do less of it?
  • How your future self can motivate you in completing your goals TODAY. 
  • Is sacrifice needed to attain goals? 
  • Strategies to stop procrastinating and how to tap into your willpower. 
  • Can you convince yourself to be in the right headspace? 
  • How can you prioritize mental health in your life?

Tune into the episode to listen to all the insights.

The people and stuff we mentioned on the  show:

The Copywriter Think Tank
Kira’s website
Rob’s website
Rebecca’s website
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
The Copywriter Underground
Free month of Brain.FM
AI for Creative Entrepreneurs Podcast

Full Transcript:

Rob Marsh:  Most copywriters we know share an interest in psychology and figuring out what makes people tick. After all, if you’re writing something to convince your prospect to buy or to take some kind of action, you need to understand them. But our interest in psychology often goes well beyond persuasion tactics and mental heuristics. Our guest for today’s episode of The Copywriter Club podcast is Dr. Rebecca Fortgang, who specializes in willpower, goal setting and mental health. Just as a quick side note, she was Kira’s professor last year in a class she took, and I like to point out that it was at Harvard University, the CURE Harvard student. We talked with Rebecca about the ins and outs of willpower, overcoming procrastination, mental health, and a lot more. We think you’re really going to like this episode.

Kira Hug:  But before we jump in, we are going to promote something because that’s what we do. So today, Rob, I want to talk about our new-ish course, not like brand new but new as in couple months ago. Our AI for copywriters course, which is available to all writers. And the reason I want to mention it today is because we’re adding a certification to it, a prompt engineer certification, because we know as we’ve been talking to a lot of startups, especially on our new podcast, AI for Creative Entrepreneurs, we’re interviewing different startups and they’re talking about the need for prompt engineers and that it’s hard to find prompt engineers right now, and writers are really set up to succeed in that role because we ask good questions. We think about prompting in a creative way, and there is no university that has a prompt engineer program right now.

There’s this new need in the marketplace and there aren’t enough people to fill that role. We’re creating the program that you need to train you to not only provide the training, but also to give you a certification, and that usually means a boost of confidence for you to go out there and maybe even update your LinkedIn title to include prompt engineer and maybe even pitch yourself or go after opportunities that you wouldn’t normally have gone after. And so you can work through that certification. It’s not easy. Rob’s making it very difficult to get it, but it’s a tough certification because we want you to feel confident and well-trained before you actually achieve it.

Rob Marsh:  It’s not easy, but it’s also not honors. It’s not something you’re going to have to sit in a classroom for four or five hours and work through. We teach all the information in the course that you need. As long as you go through that, do the practices, read the prompts and things that we share, you’ll have the information that you need to get that certification. But it’s also not the kind of thing that you’ll be able to just show up and do without doing the work. And that’s really the way certifications should work. So if you want to earn a certification as a prompt engineer, as a copywriter who knows what they’re doing when it comes to writing prompts for large language models like ChatGPT, go to, that is the number four C, and you can find the program there and the certification that we’ve just included recently.

Kira Hug:  Okay. Let’s kick off our episode with Dr. Rebecca Fortgang. I am curious to hear how did you end up as a clinical psychologist?

Dr. Rebecca Fortgang:  I actually really did not mean to, my parents are both clinical psychotherapists, so growing up when I was a little kid, I did want to be a therapist just like them or a hairdresser, but then through adolescence I was pretty committed to forging my own path. And when I went to college I studied linguistics. But I think that for people who actually are fortunate enough to be raised by psychotherapists, it’s a really wonderful thing and it hooked me. It’s a lens on the world that I kept coming back to. And by the end of college I really had, I did a thesis on schizophrenia and language and then by the end of that experience I was more committed to pursuing an interest in mental health and in psychology broadly. I think it’s just an endlessly fascinating topic that there’s no one who probably doesn’t find some element of their own minds or other people’s minds interesting.

I continued, after college I had a position at the National Institute of Mental Health and I was in a lab that focused on schizophrenia. And by the end of those two years I was really hooked by a few key topics that actually still guide my career now. One of them was schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. One is impulsivity and self-control, and the third is suicide, suicidal thoughts and behaviors. And suicide of course is an outcome that’s tragic and that’s far too often the result of impulsive decision making. And so that’s the constellation of things that I got interested in at the beginning and continued to be interested in. And I followed that path to graduate school at Yale and then a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard, and then now I’m early career faculty at Harvard Medical School.

Rob Marsh:  That’s amazing. You mentioned psychotherapy as a lens on the world. And I know it’s really hard for us to step out of our own lenses to compare it to maybe what another lens would be, but I’m interested in going deeper on that. How does that change the way that you see the world versus someone like me who maybe doesn’t have that same kind of training but is maybe still interested in that?

Dr. Rebecca Fortgang:  Absolutely. I think psychology broadly is more the lens on the world, maybe even more so than psychotherapy in particular. And when I say that, I mean psychology includes also the study of the human mind and not only that interaction with someone to try to improve their lives and promote healing. I think both of those have been really important parts of my career and are really special to me and endlessly fascinating. And what they both share is a focus on people’s internal experiences as part of understanding their behaviors and possibly promoting change. So even when someone does something that really annoys me, my first impulse is to try to understand what’s going on in their minds that led to those behaviors that are bothering me.

And so that’s what by a lens on the world. I cannot stop myself from trying to understand what is going on in the internal worlds of other people and how that helps to explain their own individual behavior, how those behaviors come together to create social systems and larger systems in our world. I think that’s how psychologists typically think. So for people who are really drawn to that lens, trying to understand their own minds, the minds of others, sometimes it can be just an inescapable career path, because for some of us it’s so clearly endlessly fascinating.

Kira Hug:  I want to talk about willpower, because I was lucky enough to be in your class in the fall where we focused on willpower for the entire semester. You are the reason I went vegan-ish.

Dr. Rebecca Fortgang:  Are you still-

Rob Marsh:  Speaking of willpower. Vegan-ish, yes. I love that.

Kira Hug:  The ish gives me a 10% wiggle room there, but yes, still there. But could we talk about, I guess starting by defining willpower and what maybe you’ve discovered over the last year or two through the class and through your studies and research about willpower that’s been surprising.

Dr. Rebecca Fortgang:  Willpower, it’s defined typically as the self-control that can be used to do something that you might not feel like doing or to restrain impulses that you do feel like, to avoid immediate gratification in order to pursue longer term goals or to move your behavior also in line with your higher order values. It’s choosing the future rather than now. It’s overriding your immediate impulses in order to pursue something that’s important to you but doesn’t line up with those immediate impulses. And it’s true that you were in my class. I was so lucky to have you as a student, and one of the things that I do really on the side is teach at Harvard Extension School, this class, and I call it the psychology of willpower rather than using one of many other possible words that relate to this universe of terminology that’s used to describe and study this area.

For example, a near synonym for willpower is self-control. I use the word willpower in the class because I think the connotations of it are a little bit more positive and that when people think about self-control, they often feel like punishing themselves for not using enough of it. So in general, I think of willpower, self-control as a skill that I have, that everyone has, but that it’s best not to rely on all of the time. Some people think that they really lack it or really just don’t have it. That’s hardly ever the case. Everyone has it. If you didn’t have any of it, imagine what your daily life would be like, but there’s this tendency to really focus on the areas where it’s lacking or where you didn’t do the thing you intended to do or where you did something that you really meant not to do.

And not to give ourselves credit for the areas where we really are succeeding, but it is something that everyone pretty much wants more of. There’s not anyone I meet, very rarely do I meet someone who’s like, you study self-control? I’m all set in that department. I’m good. No, usually people say, do you need a research subject for someone who’s lacking self-control? And it is extremely important. It is something that predicts a whole host of outcomes in large scientific studies including physical health, mental health, financial health, crime. And in a way I think it’s more important than ever because it really is, it’s something that relates to your future and serving your future self. And now our lifespans fortunately are much longer than they ever were historically. So that means that we have a longer horizon to serve. We have a future self that’s going to be hopefully much older than would’ve been the case for our ancestors.

That means that we have loved ones and ourselves whose future selves we need to plan for and act in service of. And meanwhile we live in a time when temptations are everywhere. The internet makes them constantly available. We’re constantly getting pinged with distractions. It’s easier than ever to find unhealthy food. It’s often harder to get, for example, exercise. A lot of jobs involve sitting at your desk all day. All of these things conspire to make it harder than it may have once been to accomplish things that currently represent some of the biggest challenges people have in their own daily use of their willpower, their self-control. As far as the class and what has surprised me most about what I’ve learned teaching or what I’ve learned doing research, one of the biggest surprises that I’ve had about self-control and willpower as I’ve researched it, is really how complicated.

I think when I started out, which was over a decade ago researching this topic, I thought I knew what it was just implicitly. And it turns out that it’s almost like love. It’s so important. Everyone knows it’s so important. So many different people are interested in it and it’s really slippery to define and it’s really difficult to measure, which is something that scientists really care about. You can’t study something until you can measure it. There have been numerous ways of defining it, of measuring it. Every subfield of the behavioral sciences is interested in it from some angle or another and has a different term for it, a different way of defining and measuring these overlapping constructs. And there are components of self-control or impulsivity, it’s inverse, that relate to not planning for how much do you plan versus not plan in your decision making?

Or perseverance. How much do you persevere through difficulty, through boredom in pursuing your goals? Or how much do you become rash when you’re experiencing strong emotions in particular? How much can you control your attention on purpose? These are all these different components that relate to self-control and impulsivity. I didn’t realize when I started out how much this topic was going to defy simple explanation and clear measurement. And so it’s been something that it’s like the more I look at it, the more complex it is, and that’s why I guess more than 10 years later I am still equally as mystified by it as I was maybe more than I was at the beginning. But a lot of us continue to study it because it’s clearly extremely important and it’s related to so many different important outcomes in mental health and also for everyone across a whole host of areas of life.

Rob Marsh:  You probably know this far better than I do, I’ve seen in the world that tries to measure willpower, there’s been this argument going back and forth, people saying willpower is a muscle and it wears out over time, versus people who have supposedly debunked that or said, no, the studies that looked at that were flawed in some way. I like that you called it a skill because that leads me to believe that I can develop it, but can you talk just a little bit about that aspect of willpower? Do we run out of willpower over the course of a few hours? How does that all work and what is the latest on that argument? It is depletable, it’s not depletable, all that stuff.

Dr. Rebecca Fortgang:  You’ve certainly touched on a hot button issue where psychologists have gone to Twitter and argued with each other quite a bit. There is a concept that was very, very popular in the psychological sciences called ego depletion. Someone named Roy Balmeister was really at the helm of this research and the idea is that, yes, as you said, that willpower is almost an analogous to a muscle, that it can be strengthened through repeated use over time, just like weight training, but that in the short term it can be fatigued and weakened and you can run out of capacity. This was demonstrated through research studies where people were given two sequential tasks that tasked self-control and showed that people, after they had their self-control taxed in a subsequent task, they used less of it.

There have been a number of threats to this line of research. One was a major replication effort, which was really part of a broader replication effort in the behavioral sciences and really the sciences at large where there have been always been a number of small studies, where a really cool finding gets a lot of attention and there’s less incentive for researchers and scientists to try to replicate or find that again in another sample of people and make sure it holds up and that it continues to seem true across multiple studies. There’s less incentive because those papers are harder to get published. It’s harder to build your name as a researcher doing replications. There’s been some culture shifting around that, but after a couple of really high profile findings failed to replicate in scientific studies, there’s been a big push to replicate more and more. Part of that push involved a multi-site replication effort to try to find this ego depletion effect.

It failed ultimately, so that effect did not replicate in this large multi-site trial. There were a couple of problems with interpreting that for, one, I guess a major problem was that the version of the task that was used wasn’t the exact same one that had been used in the majority of the prior research on ego depletion. It’s also just very hard to know I think what to do with, this wasn’t an example of a finding that had just been found once in one high profile research study and then failed to replicate. It was one that was found in dozens, maybe hundreds of research studies, and then it wasn’t replicated in this one. I think a lot of us don’t know how to think about this, but what I will say is my opinion on it is that there’s enough evidence to suggest that under some conditions, people after the use of some kind of self-control show potential changes in their willingness or ability to use more of it, at least in many studies.

So some people after this field replication effort who had been ego depletion researchers like jump ship and didn’t want to study it anymore, got a bad name. I’m hoping that more and more people will turn back to that topic and help us understand what really is going on. It seems pretty clear from some subsequent research that it’s definitely not that you just totally lose your ability. It’s not as though you’ve strained your muscles and they cannot possibly work again after you’ve just used them. It may more be that there’s motivational shift after you’ve just exerted yourself. I know this happens to me, after I do a big workout or something, I’m like, great, I don’t need to do anything else major for a couple of hours, I’ve already done something good. But if something really important were to come up, I might kick it back into gear.

There’s some research showing that that is how it can work, that when the stakes are high enough or if something valued comes up, people can access that self-control again. But at the moment, this research area I think is under scrutiny, but is also one where we really just need a lot more information. I don’t think it’s a clear cut place right now to know whether there is ego depletion or not.

Rob Marsh:  Definitely feels true, but I know a lot of things that feel true aren’t true.

Dr. Rebecca Fortgang:  It does feel true. I think this is part of what’s fun about psychology, is that everyone can have a take on it. I do not have any intuitions about my biochemistry. I don’t know about you, but I can’t just introspect and say, you know what? That theory really feels right or that feels wrong. But in psychology, everybody can, and if something feels really right in a way that is helpful information if enough people find that pattern of behavior on their own. But that’s why though beyond that introspection, it is really important that we have behavioral experiments that show even if people think that this is how they function, when we put them in the relevant conditions, is this how they function?

Kira Hug:  We spent the semester talking through different tools and ways we can strengthen this area and really focus on our own willpower. I know it’s a lot to cover in this short conversation, but are there any go-to tools that you recommend, especially for creative minded entrepreneurs that are listening that are like, I’m struggling with this but I don’t even know what to do?

Dr. Rebecca Fortgang:  Yes, definitely. And I will come out and say that just because I study this, teach it and focus on it with so much of my life, does not mean that I don’t struggle with it myself. I absolutely struggle every single day with doing the things that I’m meant to do and I have lapses. I think as might not surprise you from having taken my class, probably my biggest message is to have self-compassion as you pursue your goals. From my perspective, the number one reason that people can just completely quit on their goals is a feeling of shame. And this is really to just easy to fall into this trap to feel like the fact that I’ve failed today or yesterday means that this is hopeless and pointless and this can start a shame spiral, and that’s really not a great place to get going again. It’s really important to see lapses as information.

If there was a lapse, that means it’s time for me to revisit my goal, it’s time for me to revisit my strategies. And the only way to make space for yourself to do that rather than getting caught in self-criticism, is to have compassion for yourself, just like you would probably for any friend or family member, other loved one who had a lapse in their goal pursuit. When someone else comes to you and says, I’ve been falling behind with this big project that I’m working on, I thought that last week I would have hit this particular goal, I would’ve finished this chapter, I would’ve finished this thing. And when you hear that, it’s unlikely that you judge them as, okay, you’re never going to succeed then, you might as well just quit. And so to have the same stance toward yourself that you would toward a loved one and think through, okay, well what went wrong, what came up, and let’s try to problem solve. The only way to do that is to give yourself that compassion first.

There are other major strategies though. The first thing that you start with is the goal itself and actually lately, and Kira, you don’t know about this because this is something I’ve been workshopping more recently. Lately, I’ve been focusing on starting out even before setting a new goal with a goal audit or a goal clean out or cleanse, look through your life. What are the goals that whether you’ve explicitly written them down or thought of them as goals or not, whether they’re just implicitly goals in the sense that you’re pursuing them even though you haven’t maybe identified them as goals, what are the goals you have in different areas of life, professional goals, but also personal goals, health related, family related, social? What are the things that you are working toward? Do they all make sense for you still? Are they all really still important? Are they worth the time and energy you’re giving them? Are they worth more time and energy?

Sometimes we keep pursuing goals just because it’s really hard to disengage from goals, especially for people who are more type A, which that’s not really a strictly psychologically, scientifically sound term, but I’ll use it anyway. People who are really not okay with the feeling of failure, disengaging from a goal can feel like failure, but in fact, I think quitting can be the most valuable, important thing you can do if that goal really doesn’t serve you anymore. The worst place you can be in is feeling still very committed and attached to the goal, but not even working toward it anymore. That is a really common place to find oneself in. I really still want to lose these 10 pounds. I really want to write a book, but doing nothing for that and just feeling bad about it every single day, that’s the worst. Much better to disengage from the goal entirely or there are a whole bunch of other options including deciding is there another alternate goal that meets the same overall reason I had that goal in the first place?

If I thought I wanted to write a book and that’s just not realistic in my life right now, I have a young kid or I have these other competing priorities and I don’t seem to really feel motivated to do it and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen. Why did I want that in the first place? What about that was important to me? There could be a whole host of things, or let’s say I wanted to be a rockstar. Why did I want to be a rockstar? Was it because I wanted to be part of the music industry? Was it because I wanted fame? Was it because I just love singing so much. Whatever the overall reason is for your goal, your why, you could potentially find another avenue to that meets that same need or that same drive that’s more achievable. I would start out with a clean out of your goals, look through them, write them down and decide whether they’re all still important.

Then when you’re really bolstering a goal, I would really only pick one or two at a time. So one of the pitfalls of New Year’s resolutions is setting a whole bunch of goals at once, and that is just a recipe for disaster, because there’s really only so much we can expect of ourselves every single day, and radical transformations don’t happen that quickly. I’ve been guilty of this myself. I’ll be like, I’ll download a new habit app or something and I’m like, I’m going to be a whole new person. This is the new me. I’m never going back. This is it forever and one week later it’s done for. So setting yourself up for success means thinking small and realistically and one thing at a time. So after you’ve looked through your goals, pick one or maybe two that are really important for you right now. Then you need to be very, very specific and concrete about what exactly the goal is.

I recommend using something like a smart goal system or WOOP, W-O-O-P, to try to clarify why you’re doing it, what you’re doing, exactly what the goal is, make sure it’s measurable so that you know whether you’ve accomplished it or not. That’s often people find themselves feeling like they have done nothing. They’ve failed. But they actually have been working toward their goal and they just never really clarified what constituted success, and so that could lead to a constant feeling of failure. Conversely, it can lead to constantly feeling like you’ve done enough without really hitting any target. And then I think most importantly, that it’s realistic and achievable. And so start small. If you want to start building a new skill in the workplace for example, don’t start off by saying you’re going to do this for four hours every day or you’re going to seven days a week do anything really.

Start with something achievable so that you are not guaranteed to slip up within your first couple weeks and let it go entirely. Give yourself a chance to build a habit so that it becomes more routinized and you don’t have to keep trying so hard to do it over time. Those are the two I think key things to start with when just getting started. Part of goal setting I will note can include implementation intentions. This is one strategy that has a lot of evidence behind it that I do definitely use personally since I learned about it years ago, that helps you to take the guesswork out of when, where and how you’re actually going to do the thing that you’ve planned to do. And an implementation intention is an if, then or when, then plan for your goal. So it’s not just that it’s specific. Often when I have students trying to write implementation intentions, the first impulse is just to get very specific with what you’re going to do, but it’s not just that it’s specific, it’s that it’s cued by something in the environment.

So it’s not just what you’re going to do, but when you’re going to do it, meaning what is going to happen in your environment that triggers you to do it. The classic example is for someone who wants to improve their heart health and move around more, exercise more, to not just say, okay, I’m going to take the stairs more and not the elevator as much. Specifically, what is going to cue you that it’s time to take the stairs? So when I see an elevator, I’m going to look for the stairs. When I need to go to another floor, I’m going to find the stairs. And that helps you to create the cues in your mind that you are ready for and you know that this is the time to do this thing I had planned. It’s not vague. You can also set an alarm for yourself, when this particular alarm goes off, I’m going to do this.

It’s just taking any of the guesswork or any of the wiggle room out of your plan can just relieve the pressure off of future you who’s feeling stressed and overwhelmed and isn’t sure if you should really do that thing right now or these 10 other things that have stacked up on your desk. Well, you already made the decision that this is when it’s going to happen and treat it as just as set in stone as say a meeting with somebody else that you can’t cancel. Those are some helpful things for the beginning of the process.

Rob Marsh:  All right, let’s jump in here. So lots of stuff to talk about here, Kira. Immediately I’m jumping to willpower. This is a huge thing that we all deal with at some level. Sometimes it’s work related, sometimes it’s personal. And for me, as I think about this, there are some things that come really easy to me that I know other people struggle with willpower. I mentioned exercising during our interview. I am actually really good at getting up and exercising, those kinds of things, but then there are other things that sometimes it’s just so hard to get into them. I just really appreciated what Becky had to share about the different kinds of approaches that we have here and how we developed the skill for ourselves.

Kira Hug:  And there’s so many tools you can use, and I think that for me was the benefit of taking her class, was just knowing that I can pull from all these different places when I’m working towards a big goal and I’m feeling stuck, that you don’t just have to power through it alone. There are tools you can access. And so we were able to talk about a couple of them with Becky. The most important one is self-compassion, which she mentioned a couple of times. And I feel like it’s really easy to overlook it because it feels warm and fuzzy. But I know for me, making significant changes over the last year, especially going vegan and even attempting to train for an Ironman, which I’m still in the process of doing that.

Self-compassion has been the tool I’ve used the most, because otherwise I would’ve given up already, especially during those moments of failure and moments where I fall apart and I’m devouring the cheese or I’m missing multiple trainings in a row because I’m preoccupied with work or something else, and it’s really easy to just give up and feel that shame. But because I’ve been able to just pull in that self-compassion and just ask those questions and really put on a scientific hat to say, well, this is interesting data, what can I learn from this? I was really tired when I devoured the cheese late at night because I woke up at 4:00 AM that day and I was exhausted by 7:00 PM. So what can I learn from that that I can adjust moving forward?

And I love that approach that she takes and she’s taught me because it makes it feel like it gives you hope, right? And it also gives you a tool to readjust and work towards the goal without just saying, this is never going to work. I can’t do this.

Rob Marsh:  And there’s a balance here too, right? It’s just like with willpower, sometimes we’re really good at it, sometimes we’re not. Same thing with self-compassion. If you give too much self-compassion, you let yourself off the hook. Now you’ve counteracted the positives from willpower. So it’s a balance. And yes, when we fail, we need to be self-compassionate and not make things worse, but at the same time, we also need to hold ourselves accountable and take the next step. I’m not judging you for eating cheese, I love cheese, but if I had eaten a big chunk of cheese, maybe it’s like, okay, that’s my cheese for the week, not letting that stop me from succeeding as I balance those two things out. Part of what Becky was saying is there is no settled science here.

I’m not sure there’s subtle science anywhere, but here where so many people talk about willpower and the things that we absolutely know about and the scientific studies, and then Becky was sharing, some of that hasn’t been replicated, and some of it is just how we feel about how we feel and not easily measured. I think it’s nice to be aware of that, so that we’re not, like you said, beating ourselves up about it when willpower is a little harder to muster than other times.

Kira Hug:  And in general, I have a feeling that most people listening to this show are overly critical and less self-compassionate. I think I agree with you that we can go overboard with self-compassion and maybe I’ll get to the point where I’m leaning too far in that direction and it’s like, no, we really need to get ahold of this and take control and not devour cheese five times a week if you say you really want to be a vegan. But again, I think for the people listening to this show, I know we have that critical inner voice, and so I think we can probably lean into self-compassion and still be okay. I don’t think any of us are probably hanging on too tightly to self-compassion in our day-to-day.

Rob Marsh:  And Becky mentioned one of those other tools for making sure that we’re able to accomplish this stuff. The goal audit, the goal cleanse. I really like this idea because I think it’s very easy, especially when we’re in business for ourselves to have lots of goals, lots of things that we want to accomplish. Yesterday I was talking with the copywriter and she was struggling to balance these three priorities that she has in her life. And so we were talking through the tools in order to do that, but I think oftentimes we set five, six, 10 goals or new year’s resolutions or whatever, and it’s worthwhile to take a step back and say, are these goals for me? Are they for someone else? Do these goals serve me in the ways that I want them to? And get rid of stuff that doesn’t actually make sense in their lives.

Kira Hug:  I love that concept too. That really stood out to me, just putting stuff on the back burner too. I think the nice part is it doesn’t mean that it will never be a priority, but it just isn’t a priority right now. And I think that’s something we’ve done with a lot of our think tank members as we’ve helped them set goals and create a plan, really more of a micro plan for three to six months out. And a lot of that exercises around what can we put on the back burner that is not going to move the needle right now and is not going to support your aspiration. It’s still important to you, but we don’t have to focus on it right now, and it’s just really hard for all of us to do it.

Rob Marsh:  And it is hard to let go of some of those goals. It’s like, hey, I’ve been wanting to do this my entire life. We talk about writing our books, we’ve talked about that a lot. Recently I’m not letting go of that goal. It serves-

Kira Hug:  Me neither.

Rob Marsh:  … me I think in a lot of ways. But there are a lot of people out there who think I would like to write a book, or maybe more realistically I would like to have written a book or have a book that I had written because the process is actually hard and that goal’s just not serving them. They’re really not that interested in making it. Or maybe there’s some other goals related to family or travel or work or income goals or whatever. And it’s hard to let that stuff go. And I just again appreciated what Becky was sharing about how sometimes doing that is the very first step in accomplishing better things for ourselves.

Kira Hug:  We also talked about the interesting juxtaposition between living longer lives, and this is great that our lives are extending over time, but also holding that thought with the other challenge around distractions and social media and our iPhones and just all the day-to-day overwhelm and distractions that actually prevent us from doing the things we want to do in the present moment, that could hold us back from hitting the long-term goals. And so I just liked that she mentioned that because to me that is so important. I really love thinking about what I’m going to be doing when I’m 100 years old and knowing that that may not ever happen, but I like to plan for it and think about, well, what am I going to be doing in my career? What do I want my relationships to look like? And thinking long term and thinking about my future self and building that connection with my future self.

And she mentioned there are different tools you can use, very simple tools like writing to your future self or writing in the voice of your future self to your present-day self. And so we can do that more frequently to really build that connection and help us get out of our own way in the day-to-day.

Rob Marsh:  I 100% agree as far as looking at the future and really keeping that in mind as we’re trying to figure out what is it that I want from this life that I’m living today. And that juxtaposition is not an easy thing to resolve.

Kira Hug:  And we do dive deeper into that part of the conversation in the second half of the conversation. We also talked about implementation intentions, which is another tool you can use, and that is really helpful. I use that as well. Again, going back to the vegan example, if you are going out to a restaurant, you can set an implementation intention. When I sit down at the table, at the restaurant and the server comes over, I’ll pull the server to the side and ask for any vegan options on the menu before even looking at the menu and before even getting distracted by all the yummy other options out there. That’s an implementation intention because you’re looking into the future, foreseeing a potential obstacle, and you have a plan to work around that obstacle. And so I love that idea. It’s something that I want to play around with more because it does work.

Rob Marsh:  I again mentioned that I’m pretty good at the exercise thing and it’s because of the implementation intention that I am. Because every night before I go to bed, the running shoes, the running clothes are set out. I don’t do that in the morning. I wasn’t doing it necessarily to give myself that intention, it’s mostly because banging around in the closet would wake up my wife at five o’clock in the morning, so I moved that stuff into the other room. But the fact that I do it means that it’s all ready to go and all I have to do is roll out of bed, pull on the clothes, and hit the streets.

Kira Hug:  And it is amazing how just a little obstacle like potentially waking up your wife, which could turn into a big obstacle depending on how she reacts to it, but it seems so subtle, but that is something that would stop me in my tracks and probably prevent me from getting up early or running if I know I’m going to wake up someone and deal with the damage caused by that. It’s like it’s not worth it. So all of this is just planning for the future, really being proactive and thinking ahead to avoid those obstacles.

Rob Marsh:  The goal setting framework that Rebecca mentioned, I think is called WOOP, it’s wish, outcome, obstacle plan, WOOP. And the whole idea there is that, okay, you’ve got your intention, the thing you want to do, and then you have the outcome that you’re picturing, but you’re also picturing all the obstacles that will get in your way for accomplishing that stuff and creating a plan for it. And so I actually like that framework better than smart goals because it does anticipate what’s going to keep you from reaching your goals rather than just saying, well it’s timely and measurable.

Kira Hug:  All right. Well let’s get back to our interview with Becky, where she gives us some much needed tools, tools that Rob and I need to use to avoid procrastination or at least decrease procrastination in our lives.

Rob Marsh:  As you talk through it, these feel like the big things, you get the right goals set up so that you have that motivation, and then real life happens. Maybe I have this goal to get up at 5:00 AM and write for a couple of hours before the kids get up or whatever. Only at 5:00 AM I’m really, really tired. Maybe I didn’t get to bed on time or maybe I’m just old and I’m tired all the time. Whatever the reason. Are there specific things in the moment that we can do to help turn up the willpower that we have? Obviously writing in the morning is one, but by the third time I’ve looked at the chocolate chip cookie and I know I can remove the chocolate chip cookie from my house, but my kids might bring it, right? So maybe that’s not realistic. So some of those in-the-moment things, what else can we do to build that willpower skill?

Dr. Rebecca Fortgang:  What you’re talking about to some degree is what I call gripping the table of self-control. This is-

Rob Marsh:  That’s exactly what it is. Yes, yes.

Dr. Rebecca Fortgang:  No matter what you’ve done in advance, and I really do advocate doing as much as possible in advance, these are called proactive strategies. Just like you said, don’t have the cookies in your house if you don’t want to be eating them. Set your environment up to make it as easy and frictionless as possible for you to do those things that you intend to do and avoid the things you intend to avoid. I often say if you really don’t want to eat pizza, is it the best idea to go to a pizza dinner with your friends and try to order salad? No, that’s really taxing your self-control. But best intentions aside, everyone ends up in these moments, in the moment where you just need to use gripping the table of self-control. And what are some ways to do that?

Well, one way is to take a deep breath. That’s where you start with. If you can build space, tell yourself it’s not that you’re necessarily going to make the decision that serves future you. You’re just going to give yourself a pause before you decide. If you can at least give yourself a pause, that’s a chance to change your decision. So then you’re not necessarily going to immediately act out your impulses. You’re at least taking a breath and seeing whether, okay, you know what? I am, I’m going to eat the cookie, I’m going to skip writing this morning. We’re only human. This is going to happen sometimes. Or whether you can remind yourself in that moment for the reasons why that is not part of your plan for the day.

So in that breath moment, the more that you can connect to the imagined future goal and the value that leads you there, close your eyes and picture the future outcome that you’re really working toward, remind yourself that this is possible and remind yourself that every single decision does count. There is this weird tendency that we all have that there is some interesting research on to think, well, this one doesn’t really count, and next time I’m in this exact decision point is when it really counts. This is whatever, but starting later today for sure I’m going to be on board or starting tomorrow. Try to remind yourself in this moment, this little bit of space you give yourself that every single decision you make adds up to account for whether you achieve this goal. And if it really is important for you, this is a great time to show that to yourself, to give this gift to your future self and try to connect with that goal.

It does not always work and people are much, much better at the proactive strategies than at the gripping the table self-control. So there are always ways to do more proactive things than you’re currently doing. And that is where I would tend to advise starting, is set up your environment for success. Think of yourself like a marketing executive and you’re also the target client base. You want to guide yourself toward making the goal, the decision, you want to increase friction when it comes to undesired behaviors and decrease friction when it comes to desired behaviors. Look around your home, look at your calendar, is 5:00 AM maybe for you? I am so nocturnal that waking up and doing something at 5:00 AM is just an unrealistic plan for me. I never create a new goal for myself that involves doing something at five in the morning unless the idea is that I’d still be awake.

But you have to be realistic with yourself. And when you find yourself in one of those in the moment, gripping the table dilemmas, get through it as best you can. I definitely recommend taking the pause, the breath, connecting with the goal, reminding yourself that this decision counts. But I also think that’s data. How can I avoid being in this exact dilemma in the future? If I really don’t feel like doing this at five in the morning, will I be a little bit more likely to do it, say after the kids go to bed than before I have to go to work? Just be honest with yourself.

Kira Hug:  You mentioned your future self a couple of times and it was one of my favorite challenges that we did together, was the future self-activity. Can you just share a little bit about that study and how we can work through that activity?

Dr. Rebecca Fortgang:  There’s a really cool line of studies showing that people when they are shown or in some way exposed to their future self and led to feel more connected to that future self, make decisions that serve that future self better. I’ll back up and say, well, on the one hand it’s obvious to many that you’re the same person over time. First of all, some philosophers actually argue with this and say that you’re not the same person throughout your whole life. Every cell in your body is potentially different by the time you’re 90 than when you were born. And you change so much. So on what grounds would you say that you’re the same person throughout your entire life? And it might make more sense, argue some philosophers to say that you have overlapping selves. That the five-year old you is overlapping but somewhat different from the 15-year-old you who is overlapping and somewhat different from the 30-year-old you.

And that by the time you’re through the lifespan, there might be very little overlap between who you were when you were five and who you are now. I don’t know that that’s true and I won’t weigh in on that, but what is true is that people implicitly, and by implicitly I mean, even if they don’t think that or wouldn’t say that they think that, that their behavior shows it. In that sense, people implicitly act like they aren’t necessarily the same person as their future self, especially the farther into the future we go. There have been some cool studies on this. One example is close your eyes and picture yourself at a dinner party tonight. People are more likely, and if you’ve just done this, people are more likely to picture themselves at the dinner party through their own eyes, seeing people around them at the table.

Now close your eyes and picture yourself at a dinner party, let’s say 30 years from now. In this case, people are more likely to see themselves in a dream or from a bird’s eye view or in a movie, to see another person rather than seeing out of those same eyes. And there have been a whole lot of other lines of evidence that we can feel pretty much like our future self is a completely different person. That’s a problem if we’re working toward these major life goals that are really in service of that person. It can feel like you’re sacrificing for somebody else who isn’t even you, which of course we do that all the time too. And I’m not saying that we’re all so selfish that we won’t sacrifice for someone else, but the trade-off can feel different than it might feel if you really genuinely felt connected to that other person.

And so this matters a little bit less for decisions about now versus tonight. For example, if I study now, then I can really go out tonight, versus if I watch Netflix now, then I’ll have to study later. This is more relevant for longer-term thinking, which many of us have very valued goals, professional and personal, that are really in service of something that’s a year or more down the line. There have been these interesting studies showing that actually even just showing people their own face but aged in an avatar can get people to make decisions that serve their future self and prioritize the future more than they would otherwise. Seeing an aged face isn’t fun. I do have students in my class try this out if they’re willing to to use a face aging app or website to see what their face would look like 30 years from now and see what that feels like.

Nobody likes doing, well, very few people like doing that. But instead, I focus more on other exercises to connect with your future self. For example, can you take 10 minutes today and write a letter to your future self? What are you hoping to say to that person? What are you hoping to have accomplished for that person? And try to forge a sense of connection with that person and feel closer. Can you take 10 minutes and picture what you think or hope your life will be like in 10 years, in 20 years? Write it down, think about it in detail. Any way of forging a stronger sense of connection to that person so it doesn’t feel like it’s somebody else can facilitate acting in service of that person, meaning sacrificing today to some extent.

And do I think that we should 100% sacrifice in the now just for the future? Absolutely not. But we need to do some of that. So if you have a big goal you’re working on, let’s say you’re starting your own company, right now it could be really tough, but you’re hoping in five years it’s smooth. Connecting with that vision and that person that you’re doing this for can really help you fight through the things you want to avoid right now and focus on them.

Rob Marsh:  Can we talk a bit about procrastination? I think I have a superpower of procrastination. It’s one of my strengths and it’s frustrating at times. I realize, I know from thinking about it, sometimes I procrastinate things because I don’t like the task or whatever. But can you talk a little bit about procrastination and how it relates to willpower? And especially if there’s stuff that’s got to get done, how do we overcome that procrastination?

Dr. Rebecca Fortgang:  Definitely. So how much would you say you procrastinate?

Rob Marsh:  Well, it depends on the area, but I push things off towards deadlines all the time. I’d rather do other things first. But then I don’t procrastinate my exercise. I get up and I do that every morning. I’m good at some things and I’m better at procrastinating other things.

Dr. Rebecca Fortgang:  And then when you have those deadlines, do you end up working in a frenzy right before the deadline?

Rob Marsh:  Not necessarily a frenzy, but it definitely energizes me to get stuff done towards the deadline.

Kira Hug:  You get stuff done. You get stuff done, Rob.

Dr. Rebecca Fortgang:  That’s clear. So most people procrastinate. There are different estimates of the proportion of people who procrastinate. A lot of studies looking at estimates of the number have been in students, but people don’t stop procrastinating after their students. Most people procrastinate. What does that mean? It means delaying an intended course of action, like you’re supposed to begin or complete a task and you delay it. And typically it means delaying it either needlessly or irrationally. For example, there are all kinds of delay that are not procrastination. Let’s say I intended to work on something today but had a medical emergency or my son did, put off the work thing, right? There are things that come up that force you to delay. That’s a really obvious example. The trouble is that it can be way less obvious. Oh shoot, I forgot to organize the mail.

I forgot that I meant to clean up the kitchen. Well, those are not medical emergencies. There is a really funny old essay that I absolutely love by Robert Benchley called How to Get Things Done. That’s all about how when he has a really big important thing to do, suddenly everything else would get accomplished. And so how to get things done, have something else big and important that you need to do, and suddenly everything else you’ve been putting off will come into focus. This is a widely experienced phenomenon. Now, some people argue that there are some forms of procrastination that aren’t bad or that may even be good. There’s this concept called active procrastination, that the idea is that maybe you want to delay your start so that you first of all spend overall less time on it.

Now, I can understand this. I think however much time I give myself to get ready to go out, I will take that amount of time. If I have four hours, I’ll take four hours. Do I want to spend four hours that way? No, that’s not a good use of my time on this earth. So sometimes I do leave myself just 20 minutes. So that’s what I take. That’s a form of procrastination that could be beneficial. Delay the start intentionally so that you don’t waste more time than you actually need on the task. Another form that some people argue, is that if you really like that kind of energy and rush, that can come from doing something up against a deadline, you might intentionally delay to access that. Some people feel like they really only have their best ideas under those conditions and that’s what they want. And to each their own 100%.

But I think in general, there’s more evidence that people can use those kinds of beliefs to justify procrastination that ultimately does interfere with their lives, including their sleep. Often in these dashes to get things done right before a deadline, we lose sleep, we stop eating as healthily. Our families have to pick up the slack. And so even if it could feel like a rush in the moment, it might come with some other costs. In general, we give ourselves a lot of excuses for delaying things that either are effortful or anxiety provoking. So what are some strategies to stop this? They’re very similar to the strategies I mentioned earlier. One thing is proactive strategies. Schedule things in your calendar for specific times, maybe even specific locations.

So let’s say there’s a work project that you’ve been procrastinating on. Set a series of meetings with yourself to do this task. Maybe not at your regular office or your home office, for example. You’re going to go to a specific location, you’re going to a coffee shop, you’re going to work on it during that time. If you can enlist a buddy for accountability, that can be really helpful. If you have someone else who’s working on another work goal and you set up a meeting to just co-work on this at the same time, you will be less likely to blow it off than if nobody’s going to even know about it. Those are some strategies you can set up in advance. In the moment when you’re feeling like not doing the thing that you’d plan to do, you can try to reconnect with your reasons for doing the thing in the first place and what the outcome is going to be if you actually complete it.

But another major strategy when it comes to procrastination is just do it whether you feel like it or not. One major thing that happens when people procrastinate is they feel like they need to wait to be in like this, and this happens to me too. I feel like you need to wait to be in this specific head space. Like, well, I’m not feeling quite right now. Maybe I need a snack. Maybe I need a nap. I feel like I really need to be in the zone for this particular task. Those are the tasks that are the most pernicious for procrastination. Something like doing the dishes or anything mindless, we don’t tend to procrastinate as much. It’s things where you feel like you need to be in a particular head space. Try to discard the idea that you need to be in a particular head space to make some progress toward a task.

Even if you just spend that amount of time writing something that’s terrible that you can edit later, that is still working toward the goal and just get going with it whether you’re in that right head space or not.

Kira Hug:  Okay. Now we’re not going to procrast-; Rob and I are not going to procrastinate moving forward.

Rob Marsh:  Getting stuff done.

Kira Hug:  Okay. So this might be an unfair question as a final question because I know I’m watching the time and I have 20 more questions for you, but I want to be aware at the time. In a minute or two, can you summarize State of the Union on mental health and where it is today in the US? Just to sum it up, just to give us a glimpse into what’s happening right now.

Dr. Rebecca Fortgang:  State of the Union for mental health, that is difficult to summarize and to-

Kira Hug:  In 30 seconds.

Dr. Rebecca Fortgang:  No, I think it’s almost a tale of two cities right now for mental health. In some ways it’s really the best of times because mental health is getting more positive attention and awareness, more efforts to de-stigmatize mental health issues and accessing treatment than maybe ever before. So people are talking much more publicly about seeking therapy. Celebrities are out there talking about it. More and more people want to work on themselves and more and more people are out there talking about their own mental health struggles. There’s wide recognition of the importance of this area. There also are some new efforts to improve accessibility, whereas accessibility has been one of the biggest barriers in mental healthcare. Still is.

In other words, even if someone wants to receive care, can they find it? Is there someone in their area who offers appropriate care? Is there a way that they can get themselves to the office? Do they have insurance? Does that insurance cover this service? And are people willing to access it or is stigma too much of a barrier? Do they not have the time in their schedule? All these kinds of things. There is some movement here that’s really exciting. A lot of it is spurred by the pandemic because that was this push that the field it turned out really needed to allow old rules about what psychotherapy needed to look like to go out the window. It needed to be in a specific kind of room for a specific amount of time with nobody else around and all these rules.

But when push came to shove and people needed mental healthcare and we couldn’t go meet each other in rooms for 50 minutes, the field flexed on it and it has been amazing and has sustained. So even just the fact that there are more online options for mental healthcare has made it so much more accessible for so many more people, including just people with busy jobs where just at a time of driving to and from the office might make it might remove your access if you really can’t take that extra hour of the commute. On the other hand it’s the worst of times because people’s mental health is really struggling, especially teens. It’s a really difficult time for a lot of folks. And so while there’s more discussion about resources and people are more open about their mental health and mental illness, it does seem like a really challenging time.

And again, especially among teens, there have been real rises in depression and suicide, suicidal thoughts, and it’s a time that we really need to figure out what is going on for people. Why are some difficulties and struggles worsening and what can we do about it beyond the changes that have already been made. And while there is more access in a sense, more things online, there’s also more demand. More and more people want therapy and there are not enough clinicians to go around. We really need more people to go into the field and become clinicians and make themselves available to work hopefully with a wide range of people. And so it’s an exciting time. I think there will be more positive change to come.

Rob Marsh:  I was going to wrap so that we don’t end on a negative note. Just really quick, if somebody’s struggling with feeling down, depressed, I know you specialize in suicide prevention and those kinds of things as well. Just a couple of simple things that we can do just to, I’m not talking about therapy or anything at that level, but just to impact our own mental health for the day, what are some small things that we can do to pick-me-ups?

Dr. Rebecca Fortgang:  It’s a great question. Well, first of all, I’ll say that if you’re struggling in more of a crisis way or do want care, I would recommend calling 988, which is a new nationally available phone number to access care. But smaller things, first of all, I think prioritize your sleep. Give yourself permission to go to sleep when you’re tired at night. This can do wonders for how you feel the next day. Sleep is a big mystery. We don’t really understand exactly why it seems to matter so much. It matters a ton for self-control, but also for mood and stress and overall wellbeing. If there’s one little tip that I would give everyone to try, if you haven’t, it’s to get a sleep mask. It’s the easiest possible intervention. It can cost just a dollar to get a sleep mask.

And we’re very sensitive to light more than you realize, and there’s ambient light at night for everybody now. So I would get a sleep mask, prioritize your sleep, get those Zs, that will really help. Another thing, my biggest thing is self-compassion. I think regardless of whether it’s for your self-control or for your mood or for your well-being, set five minutes to give yourself some kudos and some forgiveness for the things that aren’t going your way right now. We need to be our own friends here and talk to ourselves like we would talk to others who we love. So take a moment to maybe even meditate or take some deep breaths while thinking about what you love about yourself, what you’re proud of, what you have accomplished in the past day, month, year. There’s probably a lot more than you were thinking about before.

There’s also regular straight-up mindfulness meditation, which is something that I really love and that I do recommend for folks, especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed, at loose ends, can’t catch your breath or get your mind straight. Five minutes of a breathing meditation or a body scan can be really centering.

Rob Marsh:  Awesome. Thank you, Becky.

Kira Hug:  Becky, if any of our listeners want to get in touch with you or just learn more about your research, is there anywhere they can go to connect?

Dr. Rebecca Fortgang:  You can find me, my website, or you can find me on Twitter @beckyfortgang. Those are probably the two best ways to get in touch with me and my website has my email address too.

Rob Marsh:  Fantastic. Thank you.

Kira Hug:  Thank you for giving us your time and for being such a great professor.

Dr. Rebecca Fortgang:  Thank you so much for being such a wonderful student and for inviting me. This was a really fun experience and I love your podcast.

Rob Marsh:  That’s the end of our interview with Dr. Rebecca Fortgang. Let’s get into just a couple of more takeaways before we go. Kira, what jumped out to you from the second half of our discussion?

Kira Hug:  So much. The idea around every single decision adds up and counts, little things matter. I think that’s one I really struggle with because I tend to be someone who gravitates towards extremes, and so it’s either like I’m running an Iron Man or I’m doing nothing, or in the training process it’s like I’m either running for three hours or if I can’t do that, I’m going to sit on the couch and watch a show. And so for me, this is just an ongoing struggle, but just that reminder that every decision along the way, whether it’s a small decision or not, does make a difference. Going for a 10-minute walk is actually working towards your goal, even if it’s not running for three or four hours.

And so that’s just something I continue to wrestle with. But I love that she reminded us that we can’t let ourselves off the hook and say, well, this time it doesn’t matter, today it doesn’t matter if I let it go or if I don’t do the thing, but it does matter.

Rob Marsh:  That’s where sometimes we’re a little too self-compassionate. We’re like, it’s nice. I’m okay. I’m okay eating the entire pan of brownies, which that’s not hypothetical. It has happened in the Marsh room several times.

Kira Hug:  It has not happened recently though. You haven’t done that in a while.

Rob Marsh:  That’s true. It’s been a little while. But speaking of that kind of stuff, there are definitely times when our self-control is the gripping-the-table kind of self-control. Dieting is one of those where you have to be comfortable being hungry, and that discomfort means that sometimes you are gripping the table saying no to the pan of brownies or in your business you’ve set an intention to work with better paying clients, bigger clients, and then the client that’s not the perfect fit comes in and it takes some gripping of the table to say no to that lower paying client that’s going to take up the time or is wrong for all the right reasons, but you still want to either help them or you need the money or whatever. And so much of what we do is that you just got to grin and get through it. I love that description because I immediately relate to gripping the table for a lot of the things that I work through.

Kira Hug:  Now I want some brownies.

Rob Marsh:  I’m sorry about that.

Kira Hug:  Stop mentioning the brownies. We also talked about procrastination. And again, this is something that I think knowing the science behind it and what actually is useful and what’s not useful is a really helpful tool. I do like that there is a positive form of procrastination, what you call active procrastination, where sometimes it really is a useful tool because it helps our us use our time in a more strategic way. But in general, it was just a good reminder, the more I look into procrastination as a procrastinator, the end product will not be as good. I will not be as creative if I’m not sleeping and I’m not eating well because I left a project for the last minute. And so it’s just another good reminder. Even as I’m working on a project right now, I’m like, am I going to procrastinate or do I actually want to plan this out?

Give myself time, not hate my life over the next week and do this the right way, like a mature adult. Because it’s worth it. The end result will be better and I will not be miserable for an entire week of my life. The science backs it up. We got to stop procrastinating.

Rob Marsh:  Like you said, there’s positive procrastination. Some of us use procrastination to let things settle out in our brains when we’re doing work. We’re not necessarily writing, we may not be wire framing the page, but we may be just as we’re doing other things, letting our subconscious do some work too. So there are some positives to creativity with procrastination, but you’re right, if we leave it to the last minute, if it’s creating stress, if we’re literally wasting time and not letting our brains do that work, there are definitely better uses of our time.

Kira Hug:  And then she mentioned oftentimes we’ll tell ourselves a story that we need to be in the right head space, especially for copywriters, we do this. I’ve done this so many times. Where it’s like, well, I can’t work on the sales page until I feel well rested and conditions have to be met. It has to be in the morning because that’s my peak writing time and I need to be well-fed and caffeinated. We have the checklist, but sometimes we just need to just be able to do it, to do the thing without feeling like we’re in the right head space. So that’s something I need to remind myself of frequently.

Rob Marsh:  I can’t remember who the writer is that said it, but he said, I write when inspiration strikes and fortunately it strikes at nine o’clock every morning. It’s really easy for me to think, well, I can’t do this until the desk is clean or until I’ve done all that research or whatever. And sometimes it just takes that willpower to sit down and say, work starts now and to get with it.

Kira Hug:  Because most of the time you can do something, even if it’s at the end of the day and you woke up early and you’ve been on calls all day and it’s 5:00 PM, you could sit down and map out or do a brain dump or just explore a new idea or create an outline for a project. Maybe you can’t write perfect copy, but there’s always something we can do to move the project forward and get out of that procrastination rut that can stop us in our tracks.

Rob Marsh:  Yes.

Kira Hug:  I think ending with self-compassion, that’s where we circled back to at the end of the conversation. I love that we came back to that when we were talking about mental health and the importance of sleep, wearing a face mask and self-compassion. Again, that’s just like my ongoing struggle in life is the lack of self-compassion. So that is a priority for me right now.

Rob Marsh:  I appreciate what she shared about taking care of ourselves and just ideas for, it’s self-compassion or just the quick pick-me-ups. I don’t usually struggle too much with it, but it can really make a big difference. Just going outside for five minutes or taking a short walk, taking breaks. It all matters. We want to thank Dr. Rebecca Fortgang for joining us on the podcast to give us the tools and strategies that we can use in our daily lives to combat procrastination and tap into our willpower. If you want to connect with her, you can find her at

Kira Hug:  And that’s the end of this episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast. The intro music was composed by copywriter and songwriter, Addison Rice. Outro was composed by copywriter and songwriter David Muntner. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode and I hope that you did, I enjoyed it, please give us a review and let us know what you appreciated from our interview with Dr. Becky. And you can leave that review on Apple Podcasts. And then be sure to check out our newest podcast all about generative AI and how copywriters and creatives are using it in their businesses and careers. You can check out that new podcast at Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next week.


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