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

Friday, October 29, 2010

Spring Forward--and Pay in the End

To me, this represents a swirling vortex of time-change hell!

Well, people, here we are on the verge of Halloween.  Last weekend, I spent half a day helping to turn my tiny grandson into a temporary pterosaur.  This weekend, I will try to restrain myself from eating all the candy we laid in to buy off potential tricksters, before they get here.  
Some years back, my scary Halloween moment took place in a coffee shop bathroom with a positive pregnancy test.  (Long story.)  I should have know something was up, because that year I did mow down the candy and have to buy more.  The ensuing pregnancy was harrowing, but the outcome was one of the great joys of my life.
This year, Halloween ushers in the last week of Daylight Saving Time.  I saw a menacing countdown clock in a Squidoo article about whether or not we should abolish our semiannual practice of time-shifting.  As I write this post, the seconds and minutes tick away. . . leading inexorably to (gasp!) November 7, this year’s Fall Back Day.
Like others who struggle with mood, I dread this change and its companion, now scheduled to occur each year in March.  And I have never understood the logic, or the "science" of this mass manipulation of our chronobiology.  For one thing, how is daylight "saved" by moving it to another part of the day?  And for another, why would we be concerned with saving daylight during that time of the year when daylight is most plentiful?  I, for one, am much more worried about surviving the winter, with its dearth of daylight.  And I am totally thrown for a loop when our already slender allotment of light suddenly gives out before I get home from work.  

I thoroughly enjoyed this video that encourages us to "lighten up" about the whole daylight saving time issue.  But I don't buy it.
Paul F. Tompkins - Daylight Saving Time
Funny JokesFunny VideosDaniel Tosh Stand-Up
And, as it turns out, neither does the scientific community.  For example, there is this upbeat little bulletin from Bora Zivkovic, chronobiologist at A Blog Around the Clock, whose post entitled "Daylight Savings Time Worse Than Previously Thought" tells us about
the latest study - The Human Circadian Clock's Seasonal Adjustment Is Disrupted by Daylight Saving Time (pdf). . . [which] shows that the effects are much more long-lasting and serious than previously thought. It is not "just one hour" and "you get used to it in a couple of days".   Apparently it takes weeks for the circadian system to adjust, and in some people it never does. In this day and age of around-the-clock life, global communications, telecommuting, etc., the clock-shifting twice a year has outlived its usefulness and should go the way of the dodo. 

Rachel Maddow recently conducted an interview ("Does Daylight Saving Time Make Any Sense at All?"  Short answer, no.) with Michael Downing, author of Spring Forward:  The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Timettp://, in which he pretty much debunks every claim I've ever heard for its merits.  He begins by laying to rest the old "good for farmers" myth, explaining how farmers are in fact particularly inconvenienced by losing an hour of daylight before they can get their goods to market.  He also cites an important Indiana study conducted after the entire state adopted Daylight Saving Time, which found, not the expected energy savings, but a substantial increase in energy cost.

A fun little page on provides a great deal of information in a "cloud view," which allows you to click on various aspects of the subject, including anecdotes.  It was here that I gleaned such fascinating tales as the one about 
Laura Cirioli of North Carolina [who] gave birth to Peter at 1:32 a.m. [in November 2007] and, 34 minutes later, to Alison.  However, because Daylight Saving Time reverted to Standard Time at 2:00 a.m., Alison was born at 1:06 a.m.
Thus little Alison became her older twin's older sister!

Another anecdote concerned a Vietnam era draftee who argued successfully that, because of Daylight Saving Time, his actual birthday had been registered incorrectly, and that he had, in fact, a much higher draft number.  He thereby avoided going to war.

I also discovered some anxiety-producing research findings about the spike in heart attacks that accompanies our yearly time travels.

My jury is no longer out on the whole enterprise.  While I agree that the long summer evenings are a gift, and that winter days are going to be excruciatingly short no matter what we do, my psyche can ill afford the cost of Daylight Saving Time.  That cost for me comes due most painfully in the fall.  I experience the abruptness of the earlier arrival of night, effected by our return to Standard Time, as a blow.  One that I remember more keenly with each passing year, and begin to steel myself against with the turning of the leaves.

So bring on the goblins, the over-sugared princesses and the axe-wielding serial killers.  I'm even ready to face down the bowls of over-bought treats.  But deliver me from the end of Daylight Saving Time!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Snooze, You Lose

This morning started 37 minutes later than planned.  All because of that alluring little button on my alarm clock.  You know the one.  Apparently, many of us have a love/hate relationship with the little devil.  

Some refer to it as an addiction, as in this clever little ad for Ugly Mug Coffee.  (And, by the way, you can see several other arch gems from Ugly Mug's campaign, slamming morning and pushing caffeine as the solution, at The Inspiration Room.  They're worth a look.)  

The t-shirt shown here also illustrates this approach, with its not too subtle gambling allusion.

People younger than I, including my daughter, are members of a cohort some have dubbed "the snooze button generation."  They even have their own website

Fifteen minutes of extensive research conducted on the internet just now revealed that we have Lew Wallace, long-gone Territorial Governor of New Mexico, Civil War Union General, and author of Ben Hur, to thank for the snooze button.  Wallace inspired this contribution to's collection of user submitted jokes:
I want to kick the guy who invented the snooze button...then five minutes later, I'll kick him again.
Wallace is vilified on the self-identified Alarm Clock Blog at, in a post entitled "The History of Snooze Clocks, and Why They Are Evil." 

But really, is it all his fault?  Might we want to take a modicum of responsibility for continuing to, like Skinner's pigeons, hammer away at that tiny key?  

I uncovered two avenues to change, in my cursory discovery process, in case you are persuaded that, as a very informative New York Times article by Monica Heaner puts it, [the] "Snooze Alarm Takes Its Toll on a Nation."

One is this 8 "step" program outlined in WikiHow's article on "How to Stop Hitting the Snooze Button."
  1. Set a timer so that a bright light turns on simultaneously with your alarm. When the light hits your face, you'll be less likely to fall asleep, even if you keep your eyes closed.
  2. Consider setting an outdoor-rated timer which turns a space heater on in your bedroom, for about an hour before you want to wake up. Waking up to temperature stimulus is much gentler on your neurovascular system, and you may find that you'll even want to bounce out of bed and start your day under extra-warm conditions.
  3. If you drink coffee, get a coffee pot with a timer. Prepare it before going to bed, set it for 30 minutes before your alarm and not only will your coffee be ready when you get up, the smell of the freshly brewed coffee may help you to get out of bed.
  4. Put your alarm clock on the other side of the room. You have no choice but to answer it, and before you know it, you will be out of your bed. Works best if you share your home with others so you must answer to avoid annoying them.
  5. Set a second alarm on your cell phone, computer, another alarm clock, or whatever you can hear from wherever you need to put it.  Place the other alarm by your coffee pot, in the bathroom, downstairs, in the hall, or whatever works in your home.  Then set it for 5 minutes after the first alarm on your regular alarm clock.  When you wake up, you will know that you need to go and shut off the second alarm, before it also goes off.
  6. If all else fails, lock the alarm clock in a box with a combination lock and attach the internal clock speaker to an external stereo speaker. That way you’ll have to turn on the light and work out the combination before you can turn it off.
  7. Consider super gluing your snooze button in order to make it impossible to use. Be careful not to destroy your alarm clock though! (May have unintended effect of encouraging use of the button that completely turns off the alarm)
  8. Setting your alarm for the last possible second before you have to scramble to get to work (or whatever) can help break the snooze habit.
The other change approach involves a more elaborate technological fix, developed by MIT's media lab.  According to Squidoo, it works like this:
when a sleeper presses the snooze, the clock retracts into hiding. . . thus making the sleeper wake up and look for the clock to stop the next alarm.  
I'm not sure if this is the same device, also referred to by Squido, being marketed as "Clocky Alarm Clock on Wheels," which is described this way at Amazon:  

A great alternative to the average screaming wakeup call, the Clocky alarm clock from the folks at Nanda Home Inc. combines customizable snooze and playful mobility to get you out of bed on time. Built on wheels, the little unit emits an R2D2-style beeping pattern whenever you set it to first sound off. Tailor the snooze feature for between 0 and 9 minutes, after which Clocky will beep again, roll off the nightstand, and start scooting out of reach. To turn it off, the reluctant riser has to get out of bed and chase it down, improving the odds of then staying awake. Sturdily built with a cute chunky shape, Clocky can survive a drop of up to 3 feet, travels on low carpet or hard flooring, and includes a backlit night display for easy reading. The wheel feature can also be disabled, if desired.  [emphasis mine]

I suppose those of us truly set on clinging to sleep could still return to slumber after such a workout, but at least we would have burned a few calories in the process.  

My real concern, though, is for the tendency, which I admit to, that has us hitting various snooze buttons on life, trying to delay the inevitable, or even the presumably desired changes and commitments.  Not sure what to invent for that, but I'll take that up later.  When I'm ready.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Achievements That Sneak Up on Us

I don't know why, or from whence the idea came to me for this morning's post.  I do know it popped into my head while I was watching the conclusion of Therese Borchard's Beyond Blue video post for today.  When I was supposed to be listening to her heart-felt reading of St. Teresa of Avila's prayer to a constant God--the prayer that was supposed to help me deal with the seasonal dread I share with Ms. Borchard.

Maybe it was because the video's theme was change, seasonal and otherwise, and coping with the fear it produces more vividly for some of us.  I too am especially wary of the waning light in late autumn, knowing the cold and darkness that lurks behind the fragile colors.  I connected with Therese's thoughts on the subject, and though I don't any longer share her faith tradition, my eclectic Unitarianism urges me to take comfort and inspiration where it is offered.  

But somewhere in the midst of the prayer's "punch line" I floated off into a reverie of change.  And that musing brought me into the realm of the blog-fairy who often dusts my thought process with the seed of a post.  

Maybe I am supposed to realize how many "good" changes have come into my life.  But in the context of "putting stuff to bed," and our attention to plans and lists and schedules, I am led to the recognition of the significant "accomplishments" in my life that I wasn't wise enough, or prescient enough, or egotistical enough to put on any to-do list or to feature in any life plan.

It has been humbling to this holder of an advanced degree in urban and regional planning to face this pretty obvious fact.  So obvious, in fact, that it boasts its own product line.  But just because we can order and own refrigerator magnets, bumper stickers, lapel pins, coffee mugs and t-shirts declaring that "Life is What Happens to You While You're Busy Making Other Plans"--attributed to John Lennon, in his song "Beautiful Boy"--doesn't negate the truth of this truism.

This morning, I am reminded that all three of my children were "surprises," all coming to me at times and from avenues that I would not have thought propitious.  My last long visit with my parents in my own home was courtesy of Katrina.  And recently, I "accidentally" achieved a brand of success in Sunday's 5K by virtue of having had a birthday three weeks before.  If I think about it longer--and I will--I know there are other great things I have done without knowing I was going to.  Without planning.

Think of it as life's positive little "gotchas."  A recurring surprise party on an unpredictable schedule.  I, for one, can't wait to see what I'm going to do next.  And in the meantime, I'll just keep plodding along with my little lists and intentions.  It'll give me something to do while I wait.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Procrastinating 101: He Doesn't Have to Tell Me Twice!

This week's chapter from Marshall Cook's Slow Down . . . and Get More Done is entitled "Spending Time With Books."  Here, Cook tells us that, in 
. . .seeking the wisdom to be found in slowing down . . . . [t]here's a great deal to be said for regular, reflective reading.
I love it when someone gives me advice I'm already taking.  Well, mostly.  It's not so cool, for example, if a friend recommends that I get a decent haircut--when I just did, or thought I did. Or if a colleague urges me to learn how to set up a website--when I'm our organization's web designer and website manager!

But this chapter on reading books is news I've been using since I cracked the alphabetic code.  

Cook begins with a defense of books, something we've heard more and more of in the seventeen years since he wrote this book.  Cook had been exposed to arguments concerning the "death of the book," though he was writing before ebooks, Kindles and iPads.  These devices undercut, somewhat, the strength of his assertion that 
[y]ou could never, for example, cozy up on the couch or sit under a tree by the lake with a good hypertext.  You can carry a book with you and read it anywhere. . .
--but not a hypertext, in those days.  Though his point that
[y]ou can check a book out of the  library[1] for free, and you don't need  fifteen thousand dollars’ worth[2]of technological intervention to crack it
still holds up.

Although I share Cook's affection for the printed page--making me something of a troglodyte, in my  i-everything husband’s[3] view--I don't really distinguish between forms in which people might "read" books.  This more democratic position has been reinforced for me by raising a dyslexic child, and having a literature-loving father whose vision was doubled by a late-life stroke.  Listening to books, for example, although it is dependent upon technology in most instances, actually harkens back to our oral narrative roots.  It challenges us, as do text-based books whether paper or hyper, to "make mind pictures," as Cook enthuses.  Cook distinguishes reading from other forms of entertainment as being active, and depending upon a learned ability. I would argue that listening to books requires the same. 

Cook lists the following as reasons for reading:

  • Reading for knowledge
  • Reading for experience
  • Reading for fun
  • Reading for beauty

All of these, to my mind, can motivate listening to books as well.  Or reading them in electronic/digital form, for that matter.

He describes two divergent approaches to selecting what to read--either serendipitous, or planned.  Most of us probably do a little of both.  I admit that sometimes the look or feel of a book sitting on the library's discards-for-sale table calls to me, and its contents find their way into my brain in this unanticipated way.  I have been known to pick up and read books "left behind" on trains and planes.  I learned about a more "planned" version of such opportunism or happy accident from a story on NPR's Weekend Edition several years ago.  This phenomenon involves booklovers "releasing books into the wild" by leaving them in public for others to find, and then tracking them online at

However we end up "deciding" what to read, we probably all have favorites, books that have stayed with us since reading them, even "changed our lives," in some cases.  For Cook, the list includes:

The Secret Panel, a Hardy Boys mystery by Franklin W. Dixon
The Boy Scout Handbook
the Bible
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain
The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway
A Death in the Family, by James Agee
Light in August, by William Faulkner
The Human Comedy, by William Saroyan
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers
Sometimes a Great Notion, by Ken Kesey
Afro-American Literature, ed. by R. Hayden and D. J. Burrows
A Christmas Memory, by Truman Capote
A Short History of a Small Place, by T. R. Pearson
Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry
PrairyErth, by William Least Heat Moon

Cook counsels his readers to "reflect on what we read" to extend the benefits of the time we spend with books, in one of three ways:  incorporating thoughts about what we've read into journal writing; thinking about what we've read while walking or biking; and discussing what we've read with friends, colleagues and family.  For many of us, pre- and post-Oprah, this third method has taken the form of book clubs or groups.  I am currently groupless, having broken up with my last group when their lives became sane and prosperous while mine headed into a fairly deep ditch.  I miss some of our discussions, but not those where a book's plot and/or characters echoed the troubles I was living with at the time, and group members expressed disbelief that life could be like that.  Maybe later for another book group.

At the conclusion of his Chapter, Cook directs us to
  • list a few books that have made a difference in your life
  • list a few books you'd like to read
  • circle the name of the book you'd like to start with.  Go find that book and read it.
I resist his first instruction, which seems a bit too much like naming your favorite child, or having one, if you are the parent of more than one offspring.  However, the book that I can say made the greatest difference in my life was War and Peace, which I read at age thirteen, because it made me see myself as a serious reader.  I have to admit, however, that the lofty influence that led me to attempt the book was the film Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation, in which Jimmy Stewart's character lugged Tolstoy's masterpiece to the beach with him each day.  Hobbs used the book to cover his ogling of women in their bikinis, to hide from stressful family interactions, and to impress people.  I read it in the back of the family station wagon on the way to Yellowstone, for two of the same reasons. 

I am currently on the bump-into-it-at-the-library plan for filling up my reading list.  And at any given time of late, I am well into four or five books.  So I don't have to find a book to start with.  I am never without a book.  At present, I'm reading Yoga Beyond Fitness, by Tom Pilarzyk; The Sweetest Dream, by Doris Lessing; It's Easier Than You Think, by Sylvia Boorstein; and In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner, by Elizabeth George.  On my way out of the library today, Barbara Kingsolver's The Lacuna jumped into my hands, along with Till I End My Song:  A Gathering of Last Poems, edited by Harold Bloom.  

Thank you, Marshall Cook, for helping me to acknowledge one way in which I've been slowing things down for years.  And since today is so blustery where I live that my hair nearly blew off my head and my coffee from my cup as I walked down the sidewalk earlier, it's a good day to curl up with a book or three.  In any form.

[1] In competition with my church and the mountains for designation as my “most sacred space”

[2] I don’t know where Cook was shopping for what technology was available in 1993, but either his estimate is    
                   hyperbole, or he isn’t much of a comparison shopper.
[3] Does he think of me as his i-spouse?  Or would such an item be preferable to him?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Done for the Week: Winning by Showing Up

Toward the end of last week, my mood went south. It seems unlikely that this was unrelated to spending less time exercising, meditating, being outside, and relaxing. Work was particularly stressful, especially when the websites I manage were both suddenly taken down--after I had spent considerable time redesigning both--because of an expired domain name. Communications concerning this impending action had been sent to obsolete addresses and unknown persons involved with the original site set up. This unexpected disaster took another half-day to resolve.

Life with my teenagers and my work-addicted spouse was not exactly a walk in the park either.

In the midst of it all, I got the following done:

Done for the Week:  Oct. 18-24

  1. Completed tapering week of 5K training, ran twice
  2. Completed 5K race, won my age group
  3. Finished The Swimming Poolby Holly LeCraw; To-Do Lists of the Dead, by Jonathan Katz; The Imperfect Birds, by Anne Lamott
  4. Continued significant support to transitioning nonprofit organization
  5. Worked my two part-time jobs--made significant progress on second website, strategically skipping a scheduled meeting to do so
  6. Published 5 blog posts
  7. Meditated 2 times
  8. Wrote 3 Gratitude Journal entries
  9. Wrote 3 Morning Pages
  10. Spent 3-1/2 hours working on my novel
  11. Continued reading aloud Elizabeth George's In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner with my husband; went to Happy Hour, and to see The Social Network
  12. Attended 2 yoga classes
  13. Took my dog to the dog park once
  14. Attended church
  15. Helped sew grandson's Halloween costume
  16. Called my mom twice
  17. Spent time cleaning two of our three bathrooms
My most important accomplishment of last week, in red above, was completing the 5K I ran yesterday.  In the rain.  I won my age group, and for the first few minutes of post-race confusion in announcing the results, it appeared that I was my age group, until another woman came forward to claim second--and last--place.  Clearly, the secret to becoming a successful athlete, at least for me, is to continue training, stay alive and keep having birthdays.  My recent birthday put me into the advanced age group where I rose to the top!  But accolades aside, deserved or not, I was happy to complete the race in the 39 minutes I had set as a goal, and to run the entire time.

Last week's focus goal, as that of the previous week, was to spend six hours on my novel.  I managed less than four (#10 highlighted in green).  I did manage to adhere to my scheduled writing time, though the press of website work lured me into violating my rule of not doing other work during that time--thus, 3-1/2 instead of 4 hours.  Again, the plan to spend two hours writing "sometime during the weekend" was dashed on the rocks of my busy household and my emotional reactions.  I ended up spending time reading the novels of others, instead of writing my own.  This week, my focus goal will be to spend four hours writing.  Since I am meeting or coming close to meeting that goal, and since I need to feel successful, it seems prudent to aim for what appears to be realistic at this point in time.

Again, my secondary focus was and will continue to be exercise, meditation and housecleaning.  I fell short of my desired goals in all three of these areas.  (#1, #2 and #7 above, all highlighted in green.)  This week, I have decided to be more specific about what I'm aiming for.  I plan to meditate 4 times; exercise 4 times; and concentrate on catching up the laundry (which will involve donating a large portion of it), and cleaning and straightening one room.

And to keep showing up.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Shenpa, Schmenpa: On Getting the Hook

Pema Chodron, in whose wise, albeit virtual company I spent last weekend, (see Time Out and Done for the Week:  All This, and San Francisco!) has been teaching for some time on the subject of shenpa.  Shenpa is a

Tibetan word . . . .usually translated "attachment," but a more descriptive translation might be "hooked." When shenpa hooks us, we're likely to get stuck. We could call shenpa "that sticky feeling." It's an everyday experience. Even a spot on your new sweater can take you there. At the subtlest level, we feel a tightening, a tensing, a sense of closing down. Then we feel a sense of withdrawing, not wanting to be where we are. That's the hooked quality. That tight feeling has the power to hook us into self-denigration, blame, anger, jealousy and other emotions which lead to words and actions that end up poisoning us. 
And though she didn't focus so much on shenpa last weekend, I have been doing my own little independent study on the subject the last couple of days.  Yesterday and the day before might aptly be termed "Days of Rage," in which I became "hooked" by my feelings of anger resulting from my rediscovery of the fact that the world is not my oyster.

It started on Wednesday evening, when my meditation group was once again besieged by a building full of noisy groups of people, evincing their outrageous unconcern with our need for peace and QUIET.  Recent weeks have seen a disturbing (to me, hence the shenpa) uptick in usage of our church building by various ad hoc and standing committees on the very night that our group had chosen to meet.  The first result was that we were bumped from our spacious, and familiar quarters, and reassigned to the "Quiet" Room.  The latter is a much smaller space filled with recently relocated church library overflow and items devoted to occupying fussy children and their parents during services.  The room itself has recently been renamed, its previous moniker "Cry Room" more fitting to my experience in it lately.  

Last week, we contended with loud conversations outside the door to our assigned room, and riotous laughing accompanying a video being played at a deafening volume on the other side of an apparently paper wall.  The offending soundtrack also boomed through the sanctuary where we sought to do our walking meditation--since our "meditation space" was too small to accommodate doing anything but sitting on our chairs and cushions in a tight little circle.  We tried seeking refuge for walking in the not-so-atmospheric church basement, but a Tai Chi group occupied the central area, and the other meeting rooms, like those upstairs, were all filled.  Back to the sanctuary, and the party noise spillover.  And our efforts to "be in the moment," and "focus on the breath."  That was a new low.

Until this week, when the noise and the apparent revelry continued unabated.  This time the sanctuary too was in use by new members "building their own theology" with our minister.  Having benefited from that curriculum myself some years ago, I could hardly begrudge them the space, or their having fun with the enterprise.  But I did.  Just a little.

When it came time for our walking meditation, we decided to head outside, to our "prairie circle" drive in front of the church.  The temperature was pleasant enough, and the moon was full.  But it was intermittently sprinkling and raining for most of our walk.  And then there was the coming and going of cars to this newly irresistible mecca.  And the gaping.  What were these weirdos doing walking in slow motion in the dark and the dampness?

I know that, theoretically, "everything is my teacher," and that I should have been able to block out all this distraction and use the opportunity to train my mind.  And theoretically, I should be able to meditate in Times Square, too.  But I'm not that good.  Not ready for that particular prime time.  

But here's the thing.  It wasn't the noise, really.  It was my emotion about the noise, and the fact that others were making that noise when it didn't fit in with my plans.  What Pema calls the "story line."  And that's what hooked me.  Meditation became anger management, and it wasn't going so well.  In retrospect, I can see myself spiraling down into the kind of martyred thinking that has been a challenge for me in other arenas.  I can't get what I want, what I see myself as entitled to, so I feel and act out my victimization.  

The meditation dilemma was bad enough, but as it turns out, easily resolved.  We decided to move to another night, one with almost no other scheduled meetings or events.  We will once again have the building mostly to our quiet selves, and can return to our preferred spot within it.

But I am seeing this morning, having spent a restless night dealing with a fresh anger, that it doesn't end there.  Apparently, given my response to my husband's actions yesterday, I have the same control issues in other areas of my life.  And they hook me again and again.  

All this relates to getting stuff done because it involves so much counterproductive emotion and action and inaction.  Yesterday I was too angry to meditate.  I fell off a curb and reinjured the left foot that I am going to need for my race on Sunday.  I spent too much time trying to calm myself playing Mahjong Medley on my computer.  All the jaw-clenching and shoulder-hunching gave me a splitting headache and unraveled my post-yoga serenity.  Hours that could have been spent writing went unreflexively down the rabbit hole of web design.  Lost time.  As in, I was lost for much of that time.

This morning, prajna

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ten Things to Know

I came across this article this morning, as I searched my mind and my archives for something to write about today.  It's entitled "Procrastination:  Ten Things to Know," and was written by Hara Estroff Marano, currently Psychology Today Editor-at-Large. 

Ms. Marano interviewed two procrastination experts who should be familiar to regular readers of Put it to Bed--Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D., and Timothy Pychyl, Ph.D.  From these two sources, she culled the following wisdom:
1.    Twenty percent of people identify themselves as chronic procrastinators. For them procrastination is a lifestyle, albeit a maladaptive one. And it cuts across all domains of their life. They don't pay bills on time. They miss opportunities for buying tickets to concerts. They don't cash gift certificates or checks. They file income tax returns late. They leave their Christmas shopping until Christmas eve.
2.   It's not trivial, although as a culture we don't take it seriously as a problem. It represents a profound problem of self-regulation. And there may be more of it in the U.S. than in other countries because we are so nice; we don't call people on their excuses ("my grandmother died last week") even when we don't believe them.
3.   Procrastination is not a problem of time management or of planning. Procrastinators are not different in their ability to estimate time, although they are more optimistic than others. "Telling someone who procrastinates to buy a weekly planner is like telling someone with chronic depression to just cheer up," insists Dr. Ferrari.
4.   Procrastinators are made not born. Procrastination is learned in the family milieu, but not directly. It is one response to an authoritarian parenting style. Having a harsh, controlling father keeps children from developing the ability to regulate themselves, from internalizing their own intentions and then learning to act on them. Procrastination can even be a form of rebellion, one of the few forms available under such circumstances. What's more, under those household conditions, procrastinators turn more to friends than to parents for support, and their friends may reinforce procrastination because they tend to be tolerant of their excuses.
5.   Procrastination predicts higher levels of consumption of alcohol among those people who drink. Procrastinators drink more than they intend to—a manifestation of generalized problems in self-regulation. That is over and above the effect of avoidant coping styles that underlie procrastination and lead to disengagement via substance abuse.
6.   Procrastinators tell lies to themselves. Such as, "I'll feel more like doing this tomorrow." Or "I work best under pressure." But in fact they do not get the urge the next day or work best under pressure. In addition, they protect their sense of self by saying "this isn't important." Another big lie procrastinators indulge is that time pressure makes them more creative. Unfortunately they do not turn out to be more creative; they only feel that way. They squander their resources.
7.   Procrastinators actively look for distractions, particularly ones that don't take a lot of commitment on their part. Checking e-mail is almost perfect for this purpose. They distract themselves as a way of regulating their emotions such as fear of failure.
8.   There's more than one flavor of procrastination. People procrastinate for different reasons. Dr. Ferrari identifies three basic types of procrastinators:
o   arousal types, or thrill-seekers, who wait to the last minute for the euphoric rush.
o   avoiders, who may be avoiding fear of failure or even fear of success, but in either case are very concerned with what others think of them; they would rather have others think they lack effort than ability.
o   decisional procrastinators, who cannot make a decision. Not making a decision absolves procrastinators of responsibility for the outcome of events.
9.   There are big costs to procrastination. Health is one. Just over the course of a single academic term, procrastinating college students had such evidence of compromised immune systems as more colds and flu, more gastrointestinal problems. And they had insomnia. In addition, procrastination has a high cost to others as well as oneself; it shifts the burden of responsibilities onto others, who become resentful. Procrastination destroys teamwork in the workplace and private relationships.
10. Procrastinators can change their behavior—but doing so consumes a lot of psychic energy. And it doesn't necessarily mean one feels transformed internally. It can be done with highly structured cognitive behavioral therapy.
Wow!  This sounds like a serious problem. . . .

Of course, I tried on these "ten things" while reading, to see if they fit.   
1--Yup, that's me.
2--I knew that.
3--And that.
4--My father was not the stern type.  He was more the gone type, busy tending to life-and-death medical stuff.
5--Not so much.  Substances other than caffeine have never featured much in my life.  I quit a light smoking habit with relative ease.  Three times.
6--I do say these things to myself, but they're not really lies.  
7--Oh yeah.
8--Avoider.  That would be me.
9--Now that's just depressing.
10--Highly structured cognitive behavioral therapy.  Or, a blog.

How do you measure up?