Oh, Procrastination, you insolent little scourge. You aimless wench. Do you have any clue what angst you heap upon our lives?
I’m feeling your force these recent weeks. You’ve got me alternately laughing gamely at myself and pulling my own hair out in boiling-over frustration. How have I let you wreck me like this — again?
It’s ironic the way the mind rarely balks when we’re inspired to do something easy or pleasurable (think of the unstoppable straight line we run to the freezer where the rocky road waits). But if the task is even remotely unpalatable — whether it’s physically challenging, mentally tedious, or, best yet, emotionally uncomfortable — procrastination takes over and we become evil geniuses of delay.
Tell me you feel this, too? That you’ve put off having a courageous conversation, or searching for a new job, or packing to move, or going back to school, or making an appointment with a therapist… or simply cleaning the cat’s litter box?
And tell me that, when you wait too long, you also see how things start to get nasty? (I don’t just mean the litter box, btw.) The mind starts talking down (“Who do you think you are? You can’t do that.”) and playing silly, circular bargaining games (“I’ll sit down and do _____ after I just do ______.”).
I’m seeing that as I’ve been trying to sit my butt in the chair to write. Even after all my excuses have been answered — when my house is clean and my desk is organized and my roots are touched up and I’m back from vacation and the kids are back in school and I’ve bought a big new computer monitor — I’m still suffocating on inertia.
Mostly that’s because the *sitting* to write isn’t the hardest part; it’s the *staying* I can’t seem to manage. Staying — and staying focused — feels like the ultimate challenge.
I know I’m not alone here. In times of discomfort, we as people tend to happily grant ourselves a break from the staying only to greet every new excuse the same way a puppy responds to a flittering butterfly: instantly losing attention on whatever lies directly in front of us, only to bounce off after something we’re not actually meant to catch. Because distraction is more comfortable. Distraction lets us off the hook. Distraction means we won’t fail at the thing in front of us, because it guarantees we won’t be engaged in the thing itself. When we are removed from it, we are not responsible for it.
Here’s the meat of it, and it’s something we all know deep down if we’ll only cop to it: Procrastination isn’ t just an innocent deferment of work. It’s a fear-based hesitation that can actually cost the opportunity at hand. It’s a thieving SOB… stealing our time, stealing our productivity, stealing our ability to move from A to B, stealing our actual futures.
But only if we let it.
When we procrastinate, we let, as Steinbeck put it, the perfect be the enemy of the good. And since we know we can’t ever be perfect, we often don’t even get started. What’s worse, we let the voice of Fear take over. And Fear and Perfectionism and Procrastination become braided together to form heavy ropes that keep us doing nothing.
Afraid. Inert. Stuck.
Pure mental sabotage.
I see my Fear crop up in my work all the time. Scared of what, you ask? Oh, I dunno. Maybe that my story isn’t unique enough, or gritty enough, or insightful enough, or impactful enough? That I’m nothing but a privileged white woman from the comfortable Midwest suburbs and WTF do *I* know about suffering?? Scared that strangers might connect with what I have to say but the people who know me IRL will be like how did she — that lazy, depressed, unemployed alcoholic who can’t string three words together — get a book deal? That Liz Gilbert has already thought up all the good metaphors? That I’ll never have hair like Glennon’s?
Some of it’s grounded in reality, the rest nothing but bullshit. And I see that all of this lives in my mind. It’s a story I tell myself. Most of all, this thinking is a bad act I’ve allowed to become a bad habit.
But, like most of the unhelpful and unproductive traits that live mostly in the imagination, the habit of procrastination is breakable. It only thrives when we accept it as a de facto part of life. But when we give it a thorough examination, it can’t withstand the scrutiny. It disintegrates under the intensity — eventually, anyway — and in its place we can foster desire instead.
Because when we want things to BE different, all that’s required is to DO different.
Does the work need to be perfect? No. Does it need to be better than the next guy’s? Nope, not necessarily. But does it need to be done, so you can move on to the next? YES.
When you’re in the second half of your life, you don’t have any time to waste.
The beauty of doing just one thing differently is that it will perpetuate itself. One step forward will propel us to the next. That’s the very definition of momentum.
As some wise soul said, “Procrastination is like masturbation: it’s fun for awhile, but in the end, you’re only screwing yourself.”
Anne Lamott’s advice on writing is perfect here, and can be applied whether the task is words or soul-searching or recovery or repairing a relationship or stopping or starting— anything that requires courage, really.
“How to write: Butt in chair. Start each day anywhere. Let yourself do it badly. Just take one passage at a time. Get butt back in chair.”
Another way of putting it: DO THE WORK. Again and again. And, most importantly, STAY. Because, as a friend told me the other day, “When you’re in the second half of your life, you don’t have any time to waste.”