Monday, January 16, 2012

Motivational Monday - Procrastination, the Ultimate Self-Soothing Mechanism

We all know at least one person at each end of the productivity scale -- the consistently productive and the perpetually scattered. Daphne Dammitall is perpetually scattered.

I am not.

Consistently productive people may seem to average folks like they are super-charged on caffeine. Maybe they are just naturally focused. Perhaps their minds are models of efficiency with each minute of the day color-coded and arranged somewhere in their gray matter in a kink-free tickler file system that is updated hourly. 
That’s probably not the case.
Perpetually scattered people might appear to be a wellspring of excuses (to themselves and those who depend on them). Maybe their desks are covered with empty coffee cups, chewing gum wrappers and bills from three months prior. Their brains might contain the answers to a million riddles, but the filing system is a shoe box packed with three years worth of old receipts dumped out onto the accountant’s desk. 
That’s probably not the case, either.
Nearly everyone procrastinates about something. Even the most organized person probably puts off some task until the very last minute. The difference between each end of the scale is when she procrastinates and why. 
Procrastination can be one of deepest-rooted methods of self-soothing. I don’t like this, therefore I won’t do it... yet. I will do it, just not now. If I put it off, I can’t fail right now. If I wait until my thoughts are more organized, the result will be better. I absolutely loathe this task, and not doing it makes me feel better in the here and now. And if I don’t do that thing I hate, think how much better I feel! 
Unfortunately, that kind of self-soothing doesn’t last. In fact, it procrastination can multiply so fast that it ultimately takes over. Things that are usually pleasurable can become unbearable to even think about because we know that if we indulge in them, the rest of the hurdles are still mounting higher and higher. After a while, exhaustion can set in, and then we’re really in trouble. 
It's Monday -- ALREADY?

Why do some people procrastinate, even with things that aren’t physically or mentally difficult?  
Psychology Today suggests that there are three main reasons why people procrastinate. If you struggle with this problem, you might see a bit of yourself in one of these. I know I do. I am a weapons-grade procrastinator.

  • We just don’t wanna do it. It’s icky or painful or depressing or overwhelming or for whatever reason, quite unpleasant to think about. 

  • It’s boring. We know it needs to be done, but for the love of Mike, I think my brain might fall out my ear if I have to succumb to even a minute of that mind-numbing THING, whatever it is.

  • We’re easily distracted. Although parts of me fit into the other categories, I fall flat on my face in the middle of this one. I am basically a ferret. If it sparkles, I am all over it like wrinkle cream on a “Cougar.” The phone rings, there’s a knock at the door, the dogs bark to go out, the dryer buzzes or, that phenom of life suckers, Facebook beckons me to check.  Just for a second. 
WIth all of these categories, one thing is clear:  If I don’t do it now, I'm sure I'll feel like it or get around to it or have the internal fortitude to make myself do it tomorrow

I would like to add another to the list:  Fear of failure. No, I am not afraid that I will fail if I do the dishes now. But I sure don't wanna blow what will probably be my only shot with an agent. If I don't finish, I won't fail because I can't query and tomorrow saves the day again.

The infernal tomorrow. At this very moment, I am procrastinating over three deadlines. They’re not difficult and I’ve not been distracted. They’re just plain bo-ring. ZZZzzzzzz  Sure, I’ll complete them on time. But I’d sure like to know what it’s like to have the peace of mind that accompanies getting them done early! 
So now that we’ve got three (four?) tidy boxes in which to place ourselves, what next? Surely, since head shrinkers get together at their head shrinker gatherings and discuss all things head shrinker-ish, they must have found some light at the end of the tunnel and a reasonably uncomplicated map showing us how to get there.  
Psychology Today goes on to offer a few weapons against putting things off to the point where it’s overwhelming. Light and a map. Cool.

  • The first, and of course this one is easier said than done, is to just get going, already, and do it. A body in motion tends to stay in motion. If you start the task, you’ll more than likely complete it -- eventually. Maybe even today! I use this method often. The way it works for me is that I will sometimes literally close my eyes and just START. Once I’m moving, I keep after it until it’s done, or until I collapse in exhaustion or depression or longing for a cupcake. At least I get something done, and my day isn’t a total loss when force myself to begin.

  • Look the demon in the face and call it a drooling, spitting, smelly old demon. Or something else. You can make up a name if you like. If your demon is obsessively checking your email, shut it down. You can do that, you know. Really. Supposedly, every single one of us will have unread email in our inboxes when we die. If Facebook or Twitter are the time sinks, just don’t go there!  What a concept. I might try this one tomorrow. Maybe. We’ll see. I already have separation anxiety, and it's not even tomorrow yet. *bites nails*

  • Don’t try to do a 180 overnight. You might sprain your ankle, and then you’ll be in even worse shape than you are now. You’ll also look kinda funny hobbling around. Take baby steps. If your ultimate goal is to finish writing one chapter this week, start with manageable goals inside that larger one and work your way up. Maybe it’s 2,000 words today. And another 2,000 tomorrow. My goal this week is to finish a certain book proposal that I have been putting off for about three months (shush, Stacey. I'm working on it. Really. I swear!).  Why on earth I haven’t done it yet is beyond me. Well, maybe it’s a little way up the page in one of those categories. Heh. 
Wherever you happen to be in the land of procrastination, there’s always a way up and out. Tomorrow really is a good day, and you can transform yourself into whoever you want to be. That, my friend, is within your power. You might not be capable of writing yourself a big bonus check, but you’ll probably sleep better at night and wake in a better mood. 
If you have methods for beating procrastination, I would love to hear them. 


Read more about procrastination -- what it really is, and how to get a handle on it --  at Psychology Today

Daphne Dammitall is created exclusively for Irrational Propensity by Daniel Cox, artist extraordinaire. View more of his work at Deviantart


All text and Daphne Dammitall images are copyright © Irrational Propensity 2012

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