PROCRASTINATION PART II  How to overcome procrastination?

Last week, we looked at a ton of questions to help us discover why we procrastinate. This week we will look at how to stop. I’m not sure we ever really overcome procrastination. It seems to have a life of its own. I may overcome it in one area only to find I’m procrastinating in another. A different project may have different answers to all those questions we looked at last week. However, reviewing the reasons why I procrastinate encourages me to recognize it’s not because I’m lazy or just weak-willed.

There are a variety of reasons. says procrastination involves how we feel about a task. If that feeling is negative, we avoid the task. NJ sites Professor of Engineering at Oakland University, Barbara Oakley, who states in her book, A Mind for Numbers, research using medical imaging has found that people who don’t care for math avoid it because just thinking about it hurts. (I know it hurts me. I’m not one to seek out mathematics, though I want and need the results, I don’t care for the calculation.) Seriously, according to Oakley, the pain centers in the brains of those research subjects who didn’t like math reacted as if in pain at just the thought of doing it.

To test the theory, I chose a specific project I habitually put off, and inevitably regret—Weeding my flower beds—and answered the questions from last week’s blog. Here are the reasons I came up with: Weeding is hard work. It is backbreaking, it is (by now) too vast a project; it is a dirty, sweaty job, and is time consuming to say the least. It’s important to me because, well, I value order, cleanliness, and beauty. A tidy flower bed represents that value to me. However, when there are only a few weeds here and there, I put off pulling them in favor of other things I value. Now, they’ve taken over and I am overwhelmed just thinking about having to pull all those weeds. So, I avoid it. It hurts. Hurts my knees, my back and my wrists. Just as Professor Oakley said, the thought of pain causes me to avoid a certain thing.

I stood with hands on my hips and surveyed my courtyard. Flowerbeds were overrun with morning glory vines that had creeped their way to the strawberries and covered my lawn furniture and birdbaths. Crabgrass and wild sprigs of Johnson grass choked out most of the flowers and were coming up in the cracks of the brick walkway. Even the flowerpots had begun to grow wild grass instead of flowers. I was frustrated, angry that I had to weed again. That is the awful consequences of procrastination—of not pulling those weeds as they came up, a few at a time. Of not using an herbicide when they were small sprouts. Now they were entrenched everywhere. It was my own fault. I had put it off too long.

I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. I wanted to cry. It was important but evidently, not important enough. I opened my eyes and looked up at the blue sky, a few birds drifted across the view. I was tired before I even got started. Drained, I turned around and went inside to the air-conditioning and watched television and nibbled on popcorn. I just couldn’t tackle those weeds. Not today. I thought of this blog and the struggle many of us face. I knew I wasn’t alone. I knew I had to conquer those weeds. But how? If I must do something I don’t like, and I avoid it because it hurts, how can I find pleasure instead of pain? My attitude toward the task I am procrastinating, must be changed.

Dr. Charles Swindoll has made a profound statement that helps.

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.

Attitude to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than success, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home.

The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude… I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And, so it is with you… we are in charge of our attitudes.”

I may not have control over everything, but I do have control of my attitude. From that perspective, I can see which direction I need to adjust my attitude in order to accept those things I can or cannot change. I’ve found hope for overcoming many things just in the management of my attitude. A positive attitude can bring about motivation and excitement. I’m not hopeless. I can get it done. But, like an addiction, weeds are overwhelming and invasive. The longer we let it go, the deeper it is rooted and the wider it spreads. Like the morning glory, it’s pretty at first. Like Clover, it’s lush and green in Spring until it kills the good grass, and leaves dirt in the winter. Like sin, we can never totally get rid of weeds. As soon as we get control of one, another tries to take root. It takes work to maintain our garden and our lives. But in the grand scheme of things, I value meaningful work. The pure satisfaction of being productive.

I had to embrace the hot, sweaty, dirty, and backbreaking work weeding involves, and focus on the positive rewards of the finished product. I need to imagine the flowerbeds without weeds, with fresh mulch in place, and yellow butterflies fluttering from one colorful flower blossom to another. To envision myself sitting in the early evening shade with a frosted glass of iced tea beside my reclining lawn chair. Screeeeech! Halt! Hold everything.  I can enjoy the reality of that imagined scene after I’ve weeded my flower beds. Their beauty and order are rewards of a job well done. And then, a job maintained (rather than procrastinated) keeps it from getting too big, and makes it easier, less backbreaking, less dirty and less time consuming.

Professor Oakley says the research also found that after the research subjects got started doing the math project, the pain centers no longer responded negatively to math. Once they got started, the work became interesting. I can very well see that is true in my own life. I may complain about having to do something and try to put it off, when my husband reminds me, “…but you always enjoy yourself once you get started.” He’s right. As soon as I get started, I don’t want to stop. It’s the getting ready to do it that is a pain. Gearing up for a task sometimes takes longer than the task itself. Just get started. Look for small, but meaningful steps to complete the project. Start with one step and you may discover, like I did, that once started, the project isn’t as dreadful as anticipated.

Still can’t get started? Ask yourself why the project needs doing in the first place. After all, for instance, one can live with weeds, some of them even flower, but they choke out the real beauty and the tranquility I value. Therefore, I choose not to live with them. Recognizing it’s my choice makes it easier to adjust my attitude and complete the project.

How about you? What is the value you place on the project you keep procrastinating? Can you adjust your attitude toward it? How? Feel free to comment. We can all use fresh look at this old problem. Next week, in Part III, I will share more tips and resources that have helped me.

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