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Procrastination

My disease

Photo by Elizabeth Lies on Unsplash

As I type these words, I am procrastinating. I'd rather be writing about not writing than fulfilling my commitments. I bet this is you too. You're probably reading this when you should be doing something else. 

What exactly is procrastination? It is leaving for later what has to be done now, regardless of the consequences. Usually in spite of the consequences. The more dire the consequences, the bigger the urge to procrastinate. That should give us a hint to the nature of this beast.

Procrastination is avoiding being uncomfortable. Yes, it is an unhealthy response to discomfort, but that is all it is. We leave for later the things that make us ill at ease. It may be paying bills because we fear that we don't have enough money. Or making a phone call that makes us anxious. Maybe it is getting that school paper done or the work project we are not too confident about. Maybe it just is the process of doing something more difficult than watching Netflix. It seems as if I have trained my body to be in a permanent state of streaming stasis and any other activity seems "hard." Sometimes cooking seems hard and it's easier to get takeout. Sometimes catching up with friends is hard and it's easier to text a little and then ignore all communications. 

Maybe the skills that beat this beast are learned as we grow from childhood, but many of us just can't surpass it. Should we delve into why we are this way? No! We can do that later, when we are out of the trenches and not fending off the bullets of work and relationships. While we are in this fight, I want to do better now and not dig into my past. 

I have news for you procrastinators: being like this, like me, leads to depression. Maybe not full-on clinical depression, but a mild, low-grade version of the blues. Procrastination is never unaware of the perils it will bring: an angry boss, a pissed off friend, a bad grade, being reprimanded or even fired. You find that you are entangled in a loop of despair that ends in a frantic effort to complete the task and many times it is laced by excuses. You apologize to others and you apologize to yourself, and you make promises that are hard to keep: next time I will be better, next time it will be on time, next time, next time. One day, next time will be goodbye job, bye bye friendship, sayonara income, hasta la vista education. Mostly, it becomes the end of self esteem. The more you procrastinate, the bigger your regrets and your self loathing. The fear and anxiety increase, and you tend to procrastinate more and more.

So let's embark on an uncomfortable journey of forced achievement. Let's recognize this thing for what it is: a formidable opponent. Look it in the eye when you have a project you just want to make excuses to not do. Face it square on and realize the ugly mug you see is nothing but your own. YOU are the face of the lazy beast (and no, I am not calling you lazy, but maybe I am, just a tad, lazy). Once I recognize the feeling, I know it is me, making the choice of grabbing the remote instead of getting my project on the screen. How does it feel? What is it that's making me uneasy? Is the project too large that it will take hours to complete? Do I need to talk to others and social anxiety is making me pause? Am I missing some of the information? 

The thing to do: make a tiny little bit of progress. Make an outline, or break the task into smaller pieces. Do the very first part. Take that one first step.  Acknowledge you don't want to do it but thank yourself for trying. Reward yourself when you complete that one first thing.

I don't have the recipe for beating down my psychological barriers. I am on this journey of self discovery, trying to push back years of procrastination. That is why I write, and why I am learning to question myself and accept feeling uncomfortable. That is why I am leaving you now to go write that other paper, the one that I know is hard and requires tons of research, the one that will be judged. I know you all have stuff to do, too, so go on and get that first task taken care of now. We'll meet up later, to celebrate our progress and compare notes.

(...Later) of course I left this page to not write my other paper. I read my email and I revised this article. I texted a friend. I drank some coffee. I failed a little, but I can still persevere. I will try and try again until I succeed.

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