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Crush the Urge to Delay: Here's How

Can procrastination be conquered? How a friend who went the "extra mile" taught me a valuable lesson.

 

Distractions sure come in handy if you're not at your "mental best." When the mind is not in balance it tends to overwhelm you with constant reminders that things could be better. This annoying "chatter" is quieted by distraction. 

Being busy with your job, your family, chauffeuring the kids around , making dinner, getting groceries — all these obligations provide welcome diversion from the irritating self-talk that can take over when things suddenly quiet down.  Chatter, also known as our internal "judge," is often very difficult to turn off, and gets in the way of turning your mind to recovery, healing, or just plain feeling good about yourself.  

Perhaps, like me, you don’t have a “day job,” your kids are grown and gone;  perhaps you live alone or your partner is away most of the day. Perhaps you’ve read all that you can read, you can’t stand what's on the tube, and you’ve listened to your favorite music so often that you’re just plain sick of it. If you're feeling low, it's at this stage of the game that you crave distractions, you’re desperate for diversions! There are all sorts of things you could do but you just don't feel like it, you can't get started, you feel like you've lost your mojo. You're "dead in the water."

A good friend of mine recently found herself in this situation, and taught me a valuable lesson in persistence and determination. She’s a retired professional, a breast cancer survivor, and now teaches yoga part-time. She had just gotten over a nasty virus and had undergone a minor surgical procedure. As she noticed her mood darkening, she started wondering if she should resume the medication for depression that had helped her in the past.

Like many people whose depression is mild and comes and goes, she sees a pill as a later option, knowing that other simple measures can start to turn things around. She wanted to swim at the , but needed to be home for a scheduled furnace repair. When the technician left in the afternoon it was "too late" to go, and she could easily have put it off, could have given up for the day. But no, she decided that even though the Y was out, she’d haul her bike out of the garage and take a spin. 

First problem — flat tires! She thought that finding her tire pump would make it easy but — no go! — the tires simply wouldn't inflate. Well, that would have put me right in front of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" Not my friend Linda! She figured out it was the pump, and actually dug around the basement for a second one.

Voila! With newly inflated tires, she managed to get 20 minutes of exercise in before calling it a day. She felt better for doing it, and had the added benefit of a bike that was all set for the next outing. I was amazed at her persistence, her refusal to give up, her conviction that this was a necessary, albeit small, part of a simple plan to chase the blues away.

What Linda did is something that may come naturally to most in dealing with an unexpected situation — she took action, she didn’t procrastinate. But to others like myself with depression or illness, it doesn't come easy. In his book, “Undoing Depression,” Richard O’Connor, PhD, makes the statement that motivation follows action, and not the other way around. 

How often do we tell ourselves, “I just can’t get motivated,” even if we’re not ill?  Inaction is the natural consequence of procrastination. But be careful — if you're not sick to begin with and keep putting things off, you soon will be! A healthy mind simply takes action without needing a constant push. Paradoxically, the action itself helps provide motivation for the next step.

In his book O’Connor lists five specific tools we can use to beat the nasty habit of procrastination:

  1. Do a cost/benefit analysis, meaning we should list the advantages of procrastinating vs the advantages of getting started (or better yet, the disadvantages of not getting started).  Often, this step alone is enough to initiate action.
  2. Write down a plan. This isn’t necessary for taking a bike ride, but for other, more complex tasks it can be a major leap forward. The plan should include the steps needed, as well as anticipated obstacles and  ways you can surmount them. 
  3. Make the task as easy as possible by setting realistic goals. I had to sort through things in a storage unit before I moved here last year. If I’d thought I could do it alone, or would finish in two days, I never would have made it!  By finding someone to help and giving myself enough time, I finally got through the mess. It actually took several months! But my expectations were based in reality, not fantasy.   
  4. Think positively. Reminding yourself how  much you dislike the task will only discourage you more. Create a pleasant component you can add, like listening to music or doing it outdoors. Remind yourself how good you’ll feel after you get started. Set the stage for success, not failure. Linda knew she'd feel better after the ride. 
  5. Give yourself credit — maybe even a reward. “I’ll finish this, then I can veg on the couch” or have a couple pieces of chocolate, or take a hot bath, etc.  One of my spiritual advisers used to tell me, “Helen, pat yourself on the back.” Sometimes I actually do this; I may look foolish, but I just don't care. You don’t need an outside voice for positive feedback — use your own! — or use your hands, like I do.

My son recently took a free course on procrastination, and I remember asking him what he learned. He told me, "Mom, it's just human nature to want to be doing something. So once you start doing it, you feel better!" 

I remember how simplistic this sounded, but I've started taking his advice. It works. I can use the tips above, of course, but sometimes I just fall back on his common sense e statement. Or I can remember Linda and her bike. Either way, it helps me to get started doing something — now.

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This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Paula Rothaus May 05, 2012 at 03:36 AM
I read this blog a couple days ago, and I admitted (to myself) that I, too, tend to put off too many things. If I were Linda, I, most likely, would have just bagged riding my bike that day. Almost every day, as I am shlogging away at the gym, I resolve that I will tackle the piles of 'stuff-' old clothes, books, etc. that have accumulated in my house over the years. When I get home, I take one look at any of several piles, and go, "UGH!" Then I think of all the much more pleasant things that I would rather be doing, and I turn away, saying, "Another time..." I suppose, if I would not turn away and rid myself of some of this clutter, I would feel great. It would also make my family happy. I didn't want to actually admit this, so I also procrastinated in responding to this blog.

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