Let’s talk about anxiety—an unenjoyable emotion that is inevitably in close connection with our self-defeating tendency to procrastinate.
It is clear that anxiety, particularly when we feel it at high levels of intensity, can hinder or block our action.
We can define anxiety as an unenjoyable emotion that results from the simultaneous presence in our minds of two specific thoughts. The first thought consists in believing that some danger or inconvenience threatens us. The second thought consists in believing that we are more or less unable to conquer this danger or inconvenience, avoid it, or deal with it.
Thus, if we believe that a danger or inconvenience is huge and terrible, on the one hand, and that we are completely helpless to conquer it, avoid it, or deal with it, on the other hand, needless to say we will feel anxiety at high levels of intensity. That is most probably what we would experience, for example, if we were aboard a plane in free fall at high altitude.
When we give way to procrastination, it may be that we are afraid of the pain that the mere fact of taking action would entail for us. As a matter of fact, while an effort is always at least a little painful, inertia is not. So, not only may the task at hand seem laborious, tedious, and painful to us, but when we procrastinate about it, we avoid at least temporarily the pain of spending our energy to accomplish it.
In some cases, our procrastination will prove to be productive. What we procrastinate about, well, maybe somebody else will do it for us tomorrow. And who knows, maybe this Good Samaritan will even do it better than we would have done it ourselves!
However, both you and I know that it is not always the case. Alas, there are some deeds that can be accomplished only by us. For example, to feed ourselves intelligently, to visit the doctor or the dentist, to study to pass our exams with success… in short, deeds that nobody else can do for us.
The challenge will be for us to consider both the benefits and inconveniences of procrastinating. Here is a set of questions to help us do this: Where does the greatest danger or inconvenience lie? In taking action right now or in procrastinating about the task at hand?
Let’s keep in mind as well that it is not uncommon for the tasks we procrastinate about to become increasingly difficult to accomplish. For example, is it better for us to do the dishes after each meal or to let it pile up for a week? In order to avoid the mild trouble that would simply consist in sprinkling the plates and utensils with some hot water, don’t we condemn ourselves to an additional hour of weekly chores, working harder to scrub the dishes now encrusted with hardened food debris?
Not only would this be a miscalculation on our part, but, as a result, our procrastination would cause us problems and hassles that we could have avoided in the first place if we had been more skilful in evaluating the benefits and inconveniences of postponing the task of doing the dishes after each meal.
It belongs to us—and to us only—to challenge the thoughts, ideas, and beliefs that cause our anxiety. Where does the danger or inconvenience lie? Is it as huge and terrible as we believe it to be? Is it true that there is absolutely nothing we can do to conquer it, avoid it, or deal with it? Will our fleeing this danger in the now result in more benefits or more inconveniences for us in the short, medium, and long term?
© Chantal Beaupre 2011
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