Thursday, August 20, 2009

Discriminatory Procrastination

Ever notice how you never procrastinate doing things that are fun, exciting, or just the challenge you were looking for? No, procrastinating is reserved for all those mundane, gritty, unavoidable chores that give little joy until they are behind us. They nag us, implore us, scare us and threaten us to take action, often to little effect. And when we do decide to move, it feels like a surrender. Our resistance has broken down. There are no options left except to do what we should have done long ago.

And why do we put up with nagging, threats, stubborn laziness? A tension exists between what needs to get done and how desperately we want to avoid it. The pressure builds, and then the cracks in the wall start the crumbling of our will.

Sometimes we go through times of great discipline. We get up and go at it every morning, till much more is done than we thought possible. We are energized by our effort, encouraged by our discipline, and proud of our efficiency. It just does not seem to be sustainable for indefinite periods of time. And that's when the list grows, our lethargy kicks in, and the discrimination starts for each item waiting, waiting, waiting.


L. H. Lynch said...

I disagree. I have been procrastinating for the past hour from doing something that, in a theoretical sense, I very much want to do, and have been waiting the past three months to have more time to do. You remember that book by Stephen Pressfield, "The War of Art" that I lent you about six months ago? What he calls "Resistance" (capitalized) is exactly that: the avoidance of doing what is you life's calling.

Also, that last bit reminds me a little of something my psychology book brought up. We always overestimate what we can do in a day, but we underestimate what we can get done in a year. Sometimes, I think we get these giant bursts of unsustainable productivity because we want a result NOW. As soon as we realize that we can't keep it up forever, our energy ebbs. Little do we realize that if we kept going at a slower but more consistent rate, we could get far more accomplished in a year.

For instance, I keep telling myself to study French. The temptation is to memorize the vocabulary lists in my book as they come: about a hundred words at a time. Surely, I say to myself, I can memorize just that one list in a week! Nothing doing. Instead, I am trying to learn seven words each day. My problem is that this seems so insignificant, I have very little motivation to stick to it. If I miss a day, so what... it was only seven words. I can probably make it up tomorrow. But, if I stuck with that resolution and really did learn seven words each day, by the end of a year, I would have about 2600 vocabulary words.

That's something to think about.

Lisa said...

Ah. But the resistance. That is the part that keeps us from doing it. And although the larger picture is what you want to do it is the smaller pieces that are the stumbling block: the tedium that brings about the big result. I think we are getting at the same thing.