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Procrastination (Part I)

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A cute story comes from a San Diego reader who wrote to ask for my help with her “character flaw” of procrastination.

The letter was written in October, dated in January, and sent to me in March!

Although this subject was unfamiliar to me and off the course of my present writings, I felt honored enough to spend 3 days researching procrastination.

Then, as a gift, I wrote and mailed to her 3 papers, 2 pages each. Thereafter, with each passing day of thinking about procrastination, I felt increasingly disturbed by the incompleteness of what I had written.

Despite having looked in several hundred psychology, word origin, and other books -- and finding almost nothing -- I decided to start all over with a fresh approach. This time I looked in psychiatry books under the title of “Oppositional or Deficit Disorders.”

These mentioned how toddlers in the “terrible twos” are defiant and that others show defiance by challenging or openly resisting authorities. This suggested that the core of any procrastination contained:

(1) a bad thought or a bad feeling;

(2) loyalty to both; and

(3) stubborness.

Stubborness is a persistence marching in the wrong direction. Although toddlers are too limited in knowledge and experience to be guided by reason, they have a strong will for persisting in having their way. Such stubborness is normal for the young but failing to grow out of it becomes a sign of weakness, not strength of character.

Stubborness in an adult implies that the adult is childish with respect to will-power.

The temper tantrums of toddlers from their demands not being met is the same as the outraged teenager who quietly says “I’ll show you” and then proceeds to destroy his/her life. In an adult, the same stubborness is seen when one goes into a rage when not given what he/she wants. All three groups have undisciplined and uncontrolled wills.

Loyalty is like a glue that holds thoughts, feelings, and emotions together in a firm attachment. What is held together may be good, bad, or some good and some bad. In procrastination, bad thoughts, bad emotions, and stubborness are all glued together but for a wrong purpose. The purpose may be to seek revenge, to seek power at any cost, or to go against some authority.

In a second group, the purpose may be for one to show that one is important or that one does not need to follow anybody’s rules or that one does not care about anybody else (i.e. arrogant). In this group are people who always show up late. Inside both groups are some bad thoughts and/or bad emotions with a definite intent. In a third group the thoughts and emotions may be confused and overwhelming.

The resultant frustration keeps them from knowing what to do and thereby causes procrastination. Or, the people may not have developed their rational thinking skills and continue to try and solve all problems of serious business using feelings or emotions.

A fourth group is simply afraid of moving out of a familiar comfort zone. A fifth group imitates what everybody else is doing so as “to belong” and “follow the crowd.” In other words, different people have customized reasons for their procrastionation.

Regardless of the group, procrastinators do what they do by either delaying getting started and/or delaying finishing. Those who delay getting started do a great deal of “putting off” or “postponing.”

Those who have problems finishing, once they get started, will dawdle (waste time in doing the job); do the job half-heartedly or sluggishly; work in a “stop and go” manner; not get much done from being too involved in too many other things; “drag out” the job; or stray off course by the pull of attractive distractions (e.g. “I have to go to that party”).

Since these insights were stimulated by the San Diego lady’s letter to me, what started as a gift to her turned into her giving a gift to me!

Joseph A. Bailey, II, M.D

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