Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Procrastinating 101: Procrastination is NOT the Problem!

Procrastination, according to Neil Fiore, authors of The Now Habit:  A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play, has its rewards.  And that's why we do it.  Not because we are lazy, or too stupid to connect the dots.  

Because we find work painful and anxiety-provoking, we procrastinate.  In addition to the payoff of temporary escape from discomfort, we also find on occasion that putting something off brings other benefits.  For example, in some instances, someone else may get tired of waiting for the task to be done and do it themselves, thus relieving you of the responsibility.  My resident offspring and spouse have frequently enjoyed this result.  Or a tough decision may be avoided altogether by delay, as circumstances change.  An act of God may intervene, as when a blizzard cancels a meeting you couldn't make yourself prepare for.  And so on. . . .

Fiore tells us, though, that procrastination is not the problem.  In his sympathetic analysis of this much maligned coping mechanism, Fiore offers this schematic, which demonstrates the place of procrastinating as a response to potential pain.  
Perfectionistic demands → fear of failure → PROCRASTINATION → self-criticism → anxiety and depression → loss of confidence → greater fear of failure → stronger need to use PROCRASTINATION as a temporary escape [p.24]
Efforts to eliminate the habit of not getting around to stuff will ultimately fail, Fiore says, because they are aimed at an effect of the real problem.  The target, therefore, in attempting to change this ultimately self-defeating and stress-inducing behavior pattern, must be the internal conditions which prompt the reaction.  We need to "root out" the hardy perfectionistic demands. 

And speaking of perfectionistic demands, the dandelions that composed a warm yellow backdrop to the unfocused gaze of yesterday's meditation session have spread this morning over fully half my yard.  The initial interlopers were not my priority.  I'm against chemical removal, but don't really see spending several hours in this busy week on my hands and knees prying them from the space they've claimed.  Maybe I should just make friends with them?  

Is my personal perfectionistic demand infestation equally far gone?  Looks like I'll have to read on in Fiore's book for the promised answers.

In the meantime, Fiore also raises the specter of addiction, that talk show buzzword so liberally applied to various and sundry less than optimal actions.  
We can become addicted to the rewards of procrastination, learning to use it in three main ways:
  1. as an indirect way of resisting pressure from authorities;
  2. as a way of lessening fear of failure by providing an excuse for a disappointing, less-than-perfect performance;
  3. and as a defense against fear of success by keeping us from doing our best.  [pp.24-25]
 So does this make procrastination a "toxic derivative" of perfectionism?  Do we call in the SEC?  Or begin our very own 12-step program?  

It does seem that I keep coming back to perfectionism, the root of all evil.  I will continue to read and ponder what to do about it.  And I will attempt to burn off some of the angst I am no longer relieving with procrastinating by attacking, imperfectly, a portion of the yellow scourge before it advances further.  Wish me luck! 

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