The Thief of Time

The date of my last blog indicates the amount of procrastination which has gone on since then. Why haven’t I written anything in my blog since? A good question – laziness, fear of success, fear of failure, boredom, self-sabotage, creating the opportunity to fail on my own terms (i.e. failing to complete something I’ve started), finding too many distractions, I couldn’t think what I could write about! All these, apart from the last one were reasons given at a recent workshop on procrastination that I attended. Why wasn’t I writing this blog instead of attending a workshop on procrastination? Yet another distraction from what I could be doing!

There was some good advice given:

• Schedule half an hour per week to consider what is to be done. It MUST be written! You may then get the satisfaction of ticking them off (or not!) as you do them instead of just thinking about them .
• Utilise the visualisation technique of the ‘best case scenario’. Write it out and then read it out imagining the feelings and sensations you will have as a result of completing the task. This then works as an incentive to do it.
• Set upon a task and give your ‘self’ a reward when completed – put that cup of coffee off until it’s finished not half way through. Cups of coffee are just distractions to avoid doing what needs to be done.Have the cup of coffee as a reward.

The workshop was delivered by Jo Usmar, a journalist and co-author of the ‘This Book Will …..’ series – This Book Will Make you Calm/Confident/Happy and the forthcoming book This Book Will Make You Mindful. Jo is an advocate of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which as a person centred counsellor I’m not a great fan of, particularly as it relies upon the individual obeying commands – like ‘write down’, ‘should’ and ‘must’. As those who live a ‘person centred life’, or at least try to, will appreciate we haven’t ‘got’ to do anything. We always have a choice. We can choose to do something or we can choose not to. The choice we need to make is the one which is ‘in our best interest’. So whilst the statements above are relevant and helpful to overcoming procrastination such words need us to be a parent, or other authoritative figure, to our ‘self’. How do you react to authority? Do you baulk at it? Do you become stubborn? Does it trigger the damaged inner child in you? Chances are that you do and it does. Or, perhaps you are very obedient, just like you were as a child.

We need to be kind and understanding of our ‘self’. After all, if we procrastinate now we have probably been procrastinating most of our life so we are going to need (not have) to change the habit of a lifetime and that won’t be easy. We need to have an understanding of our ‘self’ and appreciate why we are where we are at. We have been subject to years of conditioning and life experiences which we have done our very best to ‘manage’ without any previous experience and therefore knowledge of how to do it. We’ve made choices, even if at the time we didn’t realise that’s what we were doing. It’s important to recognise these were choices. Some may not have turned out as we would have wished or were not in our best interest but they were not mistakes! Regarding them as mistakes gives us another opportunity to criticise and blame our self. We can make it even worse by believing that we did it out of stupidity. Perhaps having been told, as a child, that we were stupid. Hopefully we will have learned from the experience. If we haven’t it’s not too late – we can do that now! We may just not have been aware that there was an alternative – or we did but chose to ignore it. Sometimes we don’t learn and keep making the same choice and wonder why nothing changes and we get the same negative feelings. As Einstein said ‘Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’. Time for plan B!

So why do we procrastinate? Is it something other than the reasons given previously? Is there an underlying cause? Why would we do this to our ‘self’? What does it suggest about how we regard our ‘self’ and our feelings for our ‘self’? It doesn’t take a genius to recognise that it is probably not a lot! Would we treat someone else in the same way that we treat our self? We also focus on the possible snags and difficulties which put us off going ahead which then cause us to believe that we’re not good enough to do it or that it will be too difficult. The things we do when we procrastinate confirm the belief that we are failures that we’re incapable of doing the things we think interminably about. We may start but we fail to finish and are able to give one or several reasons why we were unable to complete the task proving to our ‘self’ that all our fears were well founded. We’re right every time! Our thoughts are self-fulfilling prophesies. Not having a high regard for our ‘self’ indicates our belief in our poor self-worth and a low self-esteem.

So, instead of setting our ‘self’ up for another failure, or just further procrastination, how are we going to fulfil our goals? The most important thing to do is to set an achievable goal however simple. High jumpers don’t start with the bar at two metres, they enter the competition at a height they know they can achieve and build up to it. Start with a simple task. Having succeeded, congratulate yourself and perhaps give yourself a reward. (You can now have that cup of coffee!) But most of all acknowledge your achievement. Gradually take on bigger achievable goals slowly building up your confidence and with it your feelings of self-worth and self-esteem. Eventually you may take on even more challenging tasks but, hopefully, if you don’t succeed the first time you will have gained such greater understanding of yourself that you won’t beat yourself up but will be able to reflect and recognise why you didn’t succeed and know how to put it right. You will then be able to approach the same task with greater information and understanding.

As the Nike tag line says ‘Just do it!’ – but don’t set the bar too high!

2 thoughts on “The Thief of Time”

  1. Thanks for that, Geoff. I’m currently preparing to face 2 small, straightforward tasks that have swollen into quite ridiculous and insurmountable obstacles, having become (as I now realise) the sink-holes for the emotional garbage I’ve been wading through over recent months. Instead of going back on the list each day, they are now only on the week’s list and one I did not write down at all this week, which isn’t the same as actually doing it but has freed me from the self-imposed pressure. Shedding the ever-present guilt of “you STILL haven’t done that” is a good start. My aim is to sidle up to each task and catch it unawares.
    A weekend of doing absolutely nothing I “ought” to do feels very necessary – and the coffee was good!

    1. Thank you Alison. Receiving your comment prompted me to review what I had written which led me to discover an embarrassing typo – ‘what’ instead of ‘that’ which I have now amended. Now I’m going to have a coffee!

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