Procrastination: The Art of Deferring Until.. Whenever

by Dr. Thor Bergersen

Looking back, it seems I’ve taken the summer off from writing. I’m not sure why. I didn’t mean to avoid it. In fact, I had every intention of writing quite a bit during my usually less busy months. I realize that by not doing what I intended to do, I was engaging in something I advise my patients to avoid at all costs. I was procrastinating.

I’ve written on this topic before, but it deserves a second look. It’s just so insidious, so stealthy, so adept at creeping into our lives and settling in for the long haul that it must be dragged out into the light and exposed for the scourge it truly is.

I’m fond of consulting my word processor, in this case Microsoft Word, for synonyms of slippery terms with which I am wrestling. In this case, it offered several options: delay, postpone, adjourn, dally, defer, dawdle, take a raincheck, drag your feet and put off. The definition it offered was brief: to put off doing something. The origin of the word – credit to Google - comes from the Latin pro (forward) and crastinus, (belonging to tomorrow). Putting those together, we have the Latin word procrastinare, which means “to defer until tomorrow.”

The ancient Greeks were optimistic, I believe, in that I am able to defer until… indefinitely. Once I put something off, it enters the realm of “maybe someday.” Then, only when a looming crisis presents itself as a direct result of casting that task into oblivion, I will seize upon it with a vengeance, stopping only when it is complete.

The problem is, some tasks or goals will never reach that critical stage. Take, for example, exercise. It is unlikely that, at some point in the future, someone will hold a gun to your head and scream “You get on that treadmill buddy!” No, it is for us to decide whether to put on those shoes, head out that door and go for a jog. It’s our responsibility to pack the gym bag, get in the car, drive to the gym and choose a machine. The trouble is, when it comes down to decision time, it seems like there are always more important things to do.

We have to work, go to school, study, spend time with family and friends, run errands, cook, clean, feed the dog, sleep, eat and basically try to get through each day. Squeezing in a workout is just one extra thing to do, right? Yes, it is. I would argue, however, that deferring exercise until tomorrow is often the first stop on a long road to self care procrastination that leads to, well, a place you don’t want to be.

This summer, I discovered the above argument could be applied to writing. Nobody was telling me to write. There was no crisis. There was simply the absence of putting words on a page. The writing muscles in my brain atrophied, and I just sat back and let it happen. Fortunately, the brain also has “muscle memory.” As my fingers became acclimated to the keyboard today, metabolic activity in the writing regions of my gray matter started sputtering, eventually running on all cylinders.

Procrastination is certainly a creeping, insidious creature. Its tendrils extend into our lives, bringing good habits to a halt, preventing new ones from beginning, rendering us unable to complete even the simplest tasks and leaving us feeling helpless and lazy. The good news: it is easily defeated. It is weak. All we need to conquer procrastination is schedules, routines and sheer force of will. Often, however, encouragement, prodding, coaching and/or personal training is necessary.