April 28, 2012

Re-defining Procrastination: Ask Yourself Six Key Questions.

If you’re remotely anything like me, chances are your life feels as though it could use days that are longer than 24 hours.

Frankly, I’d be very satisfied if each day contained about 30 hours, providing me with adequate time to wake up leisurely, engage in my daily spiritual practices, make breakfast, get dressed and ready for my intense daily grinds, meet various conflicting priorities interspersed with my own personal ‘stuff.”

Then, I’d take a siesta or nap in the afternoon, the freedom to choose to socialize at the end of it all and finally, making my way to bed for a minimum of eight hours of restful sleep so that I may re-charge my batteries to return to the treadmill the next day.

But alas, this is not my reality. Being a morning person, my best hours are between 4 am and noon. Thereafter, things have a natural tendency of unraveling themselves. Awareness of this through observation has self-taught me that anything that requires my full attention, my habit is to tackle them during these pre-afternoon hours.

Perhaps you’re the reverse, with needs to sleep-in late and you only come alive after 6pm. I have never been a night owl. After going full throttle for 18 hours of the day, by 8pm, I’m usually physically, emotionally and spiritually spent.

In today’s fast paced world, too many of us are suffering from sleep deprivation with the subsequent result being societies that are filled with frenzied, short-fused, burnt out souls. Feeling like the last few minutes of the spin cycle in a washing machine, before we know it, we’ve fallen prey to procrastination.

Pausing for a moment, this week I chose to examine, what really is procrastination?

Procrastination means to

1. postpone something;

2. to hold off on doing something;

3. to wait till later to do something.

Procrastination is to put things off, as in not doing things in a timely manner.

Many of us attach negative connotations to it. Somewhere along the lines we’ve acquired the skill of putting off today what we can do tomorrow, even though the latter holds no guarantees, and view it a bad thing.

To break the vicious cycle of procrastination demands that we understand it, and feel what is at the root of it. For the most part, procrastination is a natural human trait. Chronic procrastination however is an entirely different matter for which there are a myriad of resources available about how to recognize it and break its grip.

Our feelings about procrastination are largely driven by emotions such as fear, guilt and shame. 

Being a quasi-Type A personality, achievements and results fuel many of my actions.

Can you re-member when you first learned that doing nothing when you ought to be doing something was a sign of laziness? Hard wired in our DNA like this, we then beat ourselves up for not accomplishing our goals.

Having recognized its source, the next step in dealing with procrastination is to see our patterns. A common one is our ability to naturally engage in those things that bring us joy and to shun those that feel more like a tedious chore. A quick flashback to our childhood, enthusiasm bound we leapt to do those things we loved (like playing), and dragged our feet when it came to the stuff we hated (like cleaning up our rooms).

What would happen if we flipped the switch, by first taking on those things that we have a tendency to avoid, getting them out of the way so that we have more time to immerse ourselves in activities that we enjoy?

Another approach would be to accept procrastination as it truly is:  the art of waiting.

As the Nordic runes state, the reward of patience is patience. While learning how to wait for divine guidance and timing to intervene, we could use this holding pattern constructively as a way to keep on removing resistances.

Sometimes we may even discover that these periods of seemingly non-productive time are in fact periods of preparation. For example I recall a girlfriend who, while doing her dissertation, spending inordinate amounts of time cleaning up her study area when instead that she felt that she ought to be actually working on the actual dissertation. During this period of distraction, she even bought a new desk and a computer. This way, once she finally buckled down to do the work, she had everything that she felt she needed at her fingertips.

Nowadays I’m learning to view procrastination as God’s clock at work and not my own.

I’m seeing how had I acted when I felt I should have that perhaps my actions may have been pre-mature. In other words, we may think that we’re ready, willing and able yet there is an invisible force operating beyond our control that is out of alignment with our schedules.

And here lies the root of procrastination, I believe; our incessant need to want to control all aspects of our lives.

Discipline for all its merits, if not properly managed, can grip us in a cycle of fearful “what if?” Rather than throwing our heads against a brick wall, perhaps if we are gracefully willing to wait, we’ll notice that eventually the gateway for us to pass through will emerge in a way that we couldn’t have thought imaginable.

Like a farmer, our role in life is to prepare the soil and plant our seeds with care. Once we’ve done this we can then set about to make sure that these seedlings are able to flourish and grow by watering them with loving-kindness. Our job is to focus on the preparation; when the timing is right, the harvest will appear.

Procrastination is what it is.  Its ability to cripple us into inaction stems from our interpretation of it. The next time that you feel you’re procrastinating; perhaps you may wish to ask yourselves the following questions:

>>What is the payoff that I’m gaining from not doing something that I said I would?

>>How does this payoff make me feel?

>>Where is the origin of these feelings?

>>Will my whole world crumble if I don’t do this right now?

>>Is this really that important?

>>Who says I have to do anything anyway?

By asking these questions which initially feels very confronting, and by allowing the answers to emerge from deep within, I welcome the gifts that procrastination can oftentimes bring.

As I relinquish my fear of losing control, I embrace the notion of learning how to graciously wait, confident that was is divinely intended for me is inevitable.

It is only a matter of time.

Like “I’m not spiritual, I just practice being a good person.” on Facebook.


Editor: Kate Bartolotta

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