• Sarah Murphy, LCSW

Procrastination and You

Updated: Nov 10, 2018

Procrastination refers to the voluntary postponement of a task, often against our better judgement. We delay or avoid doing what we need to do, handing it off to our future self.

Instead of taking the trash out for the 7am pick-up, we re-watch the last Homeland episode because we didn’t understand the complex moves of the bad guy, Dar Adal, who is trying to undermine our favorite CIA agent, Carrie Mathison. We’re concerned for Carrie’s safety yet we ignore our own symptoms of anxiety - high blood pressure and stress eating - and cannot enjoy the show because the trash sits in the doorway, silently gnawing at us like a tick; hurting us without our permission.

We then feel disgusted with ourselves because we finish the show and still don’t understand Dar Adal’s maneuvers because we visited a future worry about the future, at the very moment Dar met with an Israeli asset. A wave of guilt and self-loathing hits our gut like a sucker punch from a bully chanting ,“you do this all the time! What is the matter with you?! The trash hasn’t moved, there are clothes in the dryer and the dog has to pee!” We cower in our shame-soaked skin, trying to watch the last minutes of the show by blocking out the voice of the bully - unaware that the voice of the bully is our own.

I’m describing myself. Procrastination has been a frenemy for years and has hurt me in ways big and small, wide and deep. For 3 years I’ve ignored letters from my doctor reminding me I need a mammogram and a colonoscopy. Despite having worked in oncology and end of life care for much of my career, and known wonderful patients who delayed their health care and suffered life-threatening consequences, I still do it. I could tell myself, and have many times, that I’m lazy, irresponsible and undisciplined but I know it’s not effective and makes me feel worse. I consider but do not follow Yoda’s advice - “Do it or don’t do it there’s no trying.”

Procrastination and avoidance are like nicotine. When we use them too often the quality of our life deteriorates, slowly but surely. It takes courage to stop, look at the facts and take action but that is what will make us feel better. It is simple but not easy and we won’t take action by shaming ourselves into it.

Not everything that is faced can be changed but nothing can be changed until it is faced.

- James Baldwin

When life is stressful, busy, and the state of the world feels tenuous, it’s easy to take the quick fix, open another jar of Nutella, instead of calling the doctor; it’s easy to ignore the calls of an old friend whom we adore but are afraid to reconnect with because we doubt our life is as interesting as theirs. We need to ask ourselves, “Who suffers unnecessarily while the phone rings and we assume that NYC friend is too hipster for us - though we miss them? Whose arteries get clogged when we avoid the truth, that nutella is not meant to be eaten like a bowl of ice cream.

Procrastination prevents us from applying for a new job, from maintaining relationships with family or friends and from attending to our health. There’s often big stuff at stake; our dreams, plans, and aspirations die on the vine. We gain weight in our mid-section, the most dangerous place for our hearts, and convince ourselves we haven’t really gained weight , just shrunk our skinny jeans. We drink too much, avoid too often and judge ourselves, and sometimes others, and we change in ways that we know aren’t good for us.

In mid-life I’ve realized how fast time flies and am starting to see the four corners of my life map. Until the last several years I’d been afraid to truly look out on the horizon, to identify the people who caused more damage than growth, and to embrace acceptance and change. From this improved view I notice all of the great experiences, loving friendships and mistakes that make my map just mine. We all have one. Life isn’t perfect but it’s great. I can see more more opportunity, adventure and compassion in myself and others. I don’t spend time with anyone whose life is committed to judgement or the maintenance of appearing a ‘certain’ way to others. I have compassion for them, am no better than them and I don’t have time for them.

Having taken a long look at the emotional hurricanes and forest fires I’m better able to see the wonder of small things and the dreams still waiting. I’m grateful for a wide-reaching tribe of friends committed to living lives with integrity and compassion. I want more sunny days - days when I do what moves me, what creates joy, what helps me learn, listen and forgive - I need to look at the whole map because, “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it’s faced.” - James Baldwin

We can start over in this moment and leave fears behind - the fears of inadequacy, abandonment and shame - until they shrink and the feeling of impending doom is slayed at least for today. We can shine a light on ourselves and those around us. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, love will make us come to life, make us real. Our perfectly imperfect selves will live big lives full of authenticity and adventure knowing the victory is in the striving, not in the hiding.

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