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Procrastination (Part II)

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The best that can be said about procrastination is you know for sure when you will get started doing the job. For sure, you will do it tomorrow. However, the one tiny interference with this declaration is that “tomorrow never comes.”

When these two -- “I’ll do it tomorrow” and “tomorrow never comes” are joined, we have something Irrational (contradictions used as a plan of action). An analogy is two mules of equal strength pulling on a wagon in opposite directions.

Thus, because the wagon does not move and nothing gets done, the mules get tired, stop trying, and promise themselves they will be better able to get the job done tomorrow.

When people procrastinate, they have inner mule forces. But before trying to get the mules to pull in the same direction, let us be clear about what “procrastinate” means. It originated in the late 16th century from Latin cras (“to-morrow”) and “pro” (“forward”) -- literally “to put forward to to-morrow and “to not carry out.”

To replace irrational procrastination, Step I is to see the pattern and discover the reward you get from your type of procrastination. For example, if you tackle a different job every week and do not finish any of them, this is a pattern (something you have designed to follow over and over).

The reward is that it keeps you from “stretching” into the far corners of your capacities and therefore you do not have to inconvenience yourself. The same may apply to why you are “always” dissatisfied with your job -- finding incompetent bosses, uncooperative co-workers, or hostile circumstances that keep you from accomplishing what you set out to do.

Procrastination is used here as a tool of revenge and keeps you from seeing that you may be the cause of the problem. If you are always broke, no matter how much money you make, and therefore procrastinate in paying bills, your reward may be the gaining of a sense of belonging from being a “poor me” who someone has to constantly rescue.

Step II is to pinpoint the cause. Stop blaming or making excuses, and “get real.” Instead of me saying that I have been too busy to exercise over the years, the truth is that I have not given exercise top priority. If I had really wanted to, I could have done it. Instead of saying “I just can’t lose weight,” the reality is that I eat more calories than I burn each day.

Or the cause may be imitating others -- perhaps your parents since childhood or your friends subsequently. They may have made it a practice to be late to everything. It requires planning to be late all the time and to keep doing it means they can get away with it.

Learn to be on time when it benefits you. Or, look for hidden hostilities creating a need to control in order to feel important; or being so self-centered that “the world revolves around me.”

Step III is to use the cause of what is pushing your procrastination as an opportunity to change. By probing deeply enough you may find fears needing to be replaced by courage; or chronic anger you need to overcome, perhaps so as to reestablish a bridge of communication with a family member.

People do not remain chronically angry at someone because they get some benefit from it but rather because they are childishly and irrationally stubborn. They are losing out on benefits for themselves and for those in their immediate circle (e.g. their children).

Realize that short-term immediate gains coming from procrastination are not nearly as important as the bad things happening in trying to acquire those gains. What you lose may be opportunities to create successes for yourself. Step IV is putting your new goals into action. Begin anti-procrastination practices with the easiest ones first.

Map out stepping stones that go “straight ahead” but that require you to “stretch” to arrive at each one. Make progress in a tiny piece each day. This is the way to build self-trust, self-confidence, and be a winner in anything.

Joseph A. Bailey, II, M.D

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