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

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Procrastinating 101--Reactance, Revenge, and Regret, Oh My!

We are presently spending our "Procrastinating 101" Tuesdays with Dr. Joseph R. Ferrari's Still Procrastinating?  The No-Regrets Guide to Getting it Done.  This week, the focus is on Chapter 8, "The Three R's of Procrastination:  Reactance, Revenge and Regret." 

Maybe it's just me, but I am having difficulty throughout this book accessing Dr. Ferrari's logical structure, or breaking his code.  This problem arises again in Chapter 8.  

I find the chapter a mixed bag, literally.  Ferrari speaks of the three r's as "three ways of dealing with anger," and as all being related to procrastination (hence their inclusion in the book, obviously).  The kind of anger he posits, specifically, is that which results from our feeling controlled--that someone else is telling us to do something.  

He begins with this umbrella statement:
Many procrastinators overreact and/or use revenge to deal with their anger, and others do nothing worthwhile with their anger and suffer through lives of regret.
He  continues:
Some psychologists label the tendency to overreact in a violent [sic] way reactance:  reacting against pressure to engage in a task.  Social psychologists report that reactance occurs when a person feels that his or her personal control and freedom are taken away.
Already, I'm getting tangled up in subtleties.  To start with, he mentions violence, but none of the examples he discusses subsequently involve anything more violent than arriving late to meetings.  And what is the significance of mentioning social psychologists separately? Are we to understand that "some psychologists" came up with the label, and that "social psychologists" discovered its cause?  And what, if any, difference does it make?

The next section entitled "'Sorry I'm Late':  Apology or Apathy?," deals with the aforementioned nonviolent meeting tardiness.  Ferrari suggests that some late arrivals at meetings can be a form of reactance, expressing anger at having to interrupt our work to attend yet another meeting.  But I begin to get confused again when he says that latecomers also may be "getting revenge against you and others at the meeting by arriving late."  

The distinction seems tremendously nuanced to me, almost beyond the point of being distinguishable.  If the straggler thinks in terms of 
How dare you ask for a meeting when I am so busy--imposing your need for discussion on me when I have more important things to do?  Well, I'm doing my projects first, before I go to your silly meeting,
we are looking at reactance.  But if said feet-dragger has 
perceived past meetings or interactions to be unfavorable to himself or herself. . . , felt hurt by something that occurred and, by being late for future meetings can get back at the group for not respecting him or her," 
then that's revenge rearing its ugly little procrastinating head.

Ferrari further confounds things for at least this reader by tacking on a paragraph concerning regret--which doesn't seem to mention anger.  He asserts that some "latecomers [may] feel regret from being late."  He ends the section by reiterating the "chapter purpose" of the first section:  "In this chapter, I'll talk about procrastination that is motivated by reactance, revenge, and regret."  But this time he leaves out anger.

Ferrari goes on to explore "Reactance:  'O, Yeah?  Just for That I Won't Do It!'" I have written here before about "reactance," without using the term--which I find a bit clumsy.  Dr. Neil Fiore speaks about resentment as it affects procrastination, and that seems to me to be quite similar to what Ferrari means by reactance.  He delineates three possible responses to feeling that our "personal freedom has been disregarded:"
1.  Go along with the "demand."
2.  React with open aggression, yelling and throwing things at the person.
3.  Use reactance.
Procrastination in this scheme is a type of reactance.

But here's where Ferrari loses me again.  He cites a 2009 study
titled "The Loyalty Deficit" report[ing] . . . that many British workers . . . voluntarily put in an extra six hours--almost a full day--her week of unpaid overtime. . . . Many of these British employees were so unhappy in their jobs that they hoped to find new jobs as soon as possible. . . . [T]he extra demands placed on the workers were causing a breakdown of trust and commitment between employers and emplyees.  Overworked and underpaid.  Underappreciated and overextended.  Reactance is brewing here.

Ferrari's solution?  Employers should provide "onsite day care centers, concierge services, and referrals for professional resources."  Like, maybe, therapy?  Massage?  Coronary care?  Coming as I do from the current brouhaha in my state over workers' rights, I can't help thinking that maybe these employees' anger, leading to "reactance," is in fact quite justified.  And unlikely to be mollified by palliative measures or tossed bones that do nothing to address the issue of basic human capacities being stretched to the breaking point.

Ferrari would have the worker be more of a "team player."
Instead of using procrastination, use your skills to talk to others in a friendly and approachable manner.  Try to understand why they need that task done now, and attempt to meet their needs.
I don't think the soon-to-be-defunct AFSCME union members are going to buy that approach.

Ferrari follows his discussion of reactance with a section entitled "Taking Revenge the Passive/Aggressive Way."  And this one I get.  It provides a straightforward description of how some of us drag our feet because we feel we've been unfairly dealt with.  And his admonitions, which basically amount to "grow up" and "get over it," seem reasonable to me.  An interesting wrinkle is his mention of research demonstrating a correlation between seeking revenge and procrastinating.  The study, however, does not reveal the nature of the relationship--just that the two behaviors coexist in some people.

And now we come to regret--"Are Your Regrets Too Few or Too Many to Mention?"  Ferrari details some interesting research findings concerning regret, including its near universality; the experiences that engender it; and differences and similarities in the types of regret reported by procrastinators and nonprocrastinators.  What he doesn't discuss, despite his "tell the readers what you're going to tell them" introduction, is anger, and its relationship to regret. 

As I read what Dr. Ferrari has written, it appears that reactance and revenge drive procrastination, and regret results from it.  I don't see how regret is a way of dealing with anger, as originally outlined.

Overall, not the most satisfying of chapters, or especially practicable.  But maybe I'm just showing reactance.  And maybe I'll live to regret it.

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