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Is Procrastination a lifestyle symptom or an attitude?

Remember: clarity, consistency and commitment.

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Sagar 19, a medical student training to fight pandemics had fallen into the trap of delaying his studies. With online studying he lost the desire and motivation to pursue his passion of helping the community. Sagar saw high levels of anxiety prior to the lockdown with the upsurge of deaths due to COVID-19. One-year into online studying he started questioning the very essence of his career. He knew that being a doctor in the pandemic world and post it would be of prestige and demand. However, not having any practical training made it very hard for him to pursue his goal. Working with deadlines of exam dates and projects he found it tiresome to complete the portions and assignments. His preoccupation with online games and distraction with social media applications for hours together increased his procrastination. His parents constantly nagged him for being lazy. Sagar was procrastinating and actively created excuses for delaying tasks. He was bored through the lockdown’s and avoided activities that could improve his health, fitness, musical skills and socializing.

Dr, Knaus, author of “Change your life now” claimed, procrastination process is personal and becomes a habit or a pattern that needs conscious reconditioning. Humans thrive on comfort and in a modernised world of gadgets, discomforting and unpleasant things are delayed and postponed. It is not only the unpleasant activity that is avoided but also the thoughts of initiating the activity is overwhelming. Gen Z wished that they would have a magical button for all unpleasant, discomforting activities at the click of their I-phone. Short-term benefits of avoiding the unpleasant activities are rewarding as one uses distractions such as Netflix and binge-eating that further reinforce the procrastination as these are ego-syntonic. The initial relief from the discomforting activity and the constant avoidance creates a loop of a long-term procrastination maze. These escapist behavioural strategies are invisible and work on the idealistic rather than realistic perspective.

Procrastination can be a reaction to anger when a child rebels to study in resentment towards his/her parents. While another teenager shows indifference and puts off cleaning his room as it does not please him enough. Some individuals use procrastination as a tool to gain a false sense of power and control. A classic example is of bosses arriving late to meetings consistently to show that they have tight schedules. These hindrances over time lead to increase in frustration and irritation and this dodging attitude becomes a way of life disrupting relationships.

Priya was a perfectionist and in the first few months into the lockdown she was highly inclined to complete her daily chores and report to her banking job on time. As weeks passed by and the boundaries between work and home became less established, she felt exhaustion and fatigue. She questioned her boss and their insensitivity and had decided to quit regardless of the uncertainty of the pandemic. Priya, a mother of two kids, constantly doubted her capabilities as she couldn’t catch up to the online schooling program with her children. Although they were physically at home, she was not able to monitor the sibling rivalry and academic grades. She felt she was a failure not only as a mother but as an employee as well and thus devalued herself. Priya cried on a daily basis and couldn’t sleep as she suffered from constant rumination thoughts “I’m not good enough”, “Do I want to continue with this job or should I just be a better parent and a better wife”. Her tasks at work remained incomplete and she did not show up for important meetings at work. Neither did she delegate the task and nor would she achieve completion of the same. She put on weight through the pandemic and although her evenings were relatively free, she felt that she just couldn’t get herself to engage in physical activity and dieting. Small tasks around the house such as ironed clothes piled up for days while she continued being lost and frozen. In therapy she identified working with an all or nothing thinking style. Priya suffered from maintenance procrastination, where she delayed activities of daily living, much like the ergophobe, one who fears effort. This affected her relationship with family members and increased her anxiety. In order to achieve perfect control, social approval and perfection Priya lost complete control, felt inferior and became less tolerable to unpleasant situations. 

In perfectionism lies the black and white dichotomous thinking. Much like Priya one does it perfectly or avoids initiating the task. Having a debate and weighing the Pros and Cons of delaying versus completing the activity today helps in moving a few steps forward. Comparison with others and their achievements also entangles the individual. Devaluing the self for not being able to reach rigid standards set by the self, reinforces the fear of failure cycle. 

 Creating a lot of self-doubt the individual indulges in blame-game “it’s not my fault it’s the pandemic that’s responsible for my poor performance” and gets stuck in a vicious cycle. With low levels of tolerance to frustration Harshal, 34 years worked with his father in business and kept delaying collecting pending payments from clients. As it did not affect his day to day business transactions and was fairly an unpleasant activity to collect payments from difficult customers he delayed the same for over 3 years. Harshal was stressed and constantly irritated with the piling up of dues; however he could never convince himself to initiate the calls. This low- impact procrastination made him feel out of control and helpless. For some getting stuck in a backward loop of finding mistakes and failures in the past is a way of rationalisation and postponing change.

 Psychologist, Susan David reminds us “who’s in charge, the thinker or the thought”? Getting untuck requires conscious awareness, acceptance and accountability. Procrastination is a choice, however a self-defeating one. Rather than questioning the self the individual can test the hypothesis, in this case the thinking style ‘Can I handle discomfort?’, ‘Am I capable enough to complete?”. Along with the 3A’s the constant reminder of the 3 C’s is essential, namely clarity, consistency and commitment.

1.     Clarity: Awareness of one’s goal and activities that are being postponed

2.     Consistency: Effort in continuously moving towards frustrating and discomforting events rather than avoiding them

3.     Commitment: Accepting and wishfully committing to engage in tasks until its completion rather than being forced.

 

Implementing and internalizing the 3C’s requires unconditionally engaging in tasks regardless of tension, mood and motivation within us and around us. Taking perspective and maintaining an optimistic attitude is helpful. In conflicting problems seek alternative solutions. Focus on what can be controlled rather than what is out of control. This enables the individual to be mindful to create modifications in the present. 

The human mind is a storyteller.  Working on a set of assumptions and the ‘if then’ thinking worsens the procrastination. The ignition keys to combat procrastination are self- awareness and self-discipline. With a goal to become a ‘doer’ rather than a ‘thinker’ the individual makes conscious attempts towards discomfort and the completion of these activities fuel the next few steps forward. Biologically, as one of the most evolved species we have the innate desire and drive to achieve. Historical evidence is proof of how civilization and modernization has been achieved by humans. However, reaping the comforts of the same individuals have become merely cough potatoes waiting for action in their inaction.

The pandemic has been an eye-opener for many showing humans that full guarantee and certainty despite scientific progress cannot be achieved. It is highly possible for individuals to fail. However, this does not entail the probability that one will fail. Procrastination is a choice where postponing activities is a decision the individual makes for himself. Change is discomforting and effortful. One tends to retreat back onto the old neurotic patterns of gaining social approval, control, perfection, and comfort. Self-discipline and time-management are skills acquired in schools. It’s essential to reflect back on our earlier learnings and incorporate those into our multifaceted life. Maintaining physical flexibility through yoga and exercise is now mandatory to a healthy body. Retraining the mind through journaling or in counseling sessions is a reminder to achieve mental flexibility required for a meaningful purposeful existence. Philosopher Marcus Aurelius stated, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way”.

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