By Scott Sullivan
I haven’t read “Why You Procrastinate” but expect to learn many things when I do.
Why delay? To start, there’s the story’s subtitle “It Has Nothing to Do With Self-Control.” I hate non-news, like what wasn’t in the Mueller report. What was in it?
“If procrastination isn’t about laziness, then what is it about?” the lead teases. It isn’t the Hokey Pokey?
Worse, the story appeared in The New York Times — aka “the legacy press in New York City” per one would-be populist who writes here whom I doubt meant The Wall Street Journal, Daily News or Post — “who are leading the Trump hate bandwagon.”
The Limousine Liberal stigma exists for a reason. But equating The Times — which has won 125 Pulitzer Prizess and has worldwide bureaus — with “the mainstream media” overlooks most outlets which are not that. No one likes snobs, but if “elite” means surpassing quality, why aspire to less?
So I read it. Sure enough, one sentence started “Etymologically …” which you don’t see in The Boondocks Bugle. It’s a word about words’ linguistic origins.
“‘Procrastination,’” it said, “is derived from the Latin verb procrastinare — to put off until tomorrow. But it’s more than just voluntarily delaying. Procrastination is also derived from the ancient Greek word akrasia — doing something against our better judgment.
“‘It’s self-harm,’ says Dr. Piers Steel, author of ‘The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done.’”
Etymologically, “stuff” can mean lots of stuff; Dr. Steel could be more specific. But why quibble? The Romans and Greeks knew about our malady long ago. It’s classic.
Self-awareness is the key. “This is why we say that procrastination is essentially irrational,” says Dr. Fuschia Sirois, a psychology professor. “It doesn’t make sense to do something you know is going to have negative consequences.” Like when her parents named her Fuschia?
Yet people do it anyway. “Procrastination,” she says, “is a way of coping with bad moods brought on by certain tasks — boredom, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, self-doubt … It’s about the primacy of short-term mood repair over the longer-term pursuit of intended actions.”
So I wasn’t lazy putting off reading this. I was, well, what the doctor said.
Which gives rise to research into “procrastinatory cognitions,” i.e. bad thoughts we have about putting off things, which makes them worse. Doctors love stuff like that. It is why they’re elite, we’re putzes. We feel good about putting off bad things, until we don’t. Like the national debt, it just keeps compounding. Our only hope is we die before all this mess catches up with us.
How do we fix this? If doctors cured everything they’d be in a fix — we’d no longer need them — so they take pains their practice falls shy of perfect. To rewire any habit, says Dr. Judson Brewer, we have to give our brains a BBO: Bigger, Better Offer. Not Bring your Own Booze, Dr, Brewer says.
This better reward than avoidance must be internally based. Self-forgiving for our failures can be a starting point, says Dr. Fuschia. It buffers negative reactions to self-relevant events, hence helps us move beyond them.
Other, healthier ways to manage feelings that typically trigger procrastination include cultivating curiosity, considering the next action and making temptations less convenient.
For example, if you compulsively check social media, delete those apps from your phone or “give yourself a really complicated password,” suggests author Gretchen Rubin. By doing this, you add friction to the procrastination cycle and make the reward value of your temptation less immediate.
Conversely, or as a complement, make what you hope to accomplish easier. If you want to go to the gym before work but are not a morning person, says Rubin, sleep in you gym clothes,
Wash between wearing, I’d add, or your wife may take actions negating your newfound physical, mental and marital health. I can’t wait to put off that.