My history with procrastination and postponing living the life I want to live:
But no matter what it is that we postpone, time doesn’t stand still while we postpone.
I used to procrastinate a lot more. I feared starting because I didn’t know how to take breaks and I didn’t know how to emotionally deal with a finished product less than perfection. It wasn’t that I could work hard, I can handle hard work (sometimes I worked for 126 hours a week and did my best the whole time), so I always wondered why I had trouble getting started.
For me it was fear, if I started something I had to face emotionally both outcomes, a good and a bad outcome, and I wasn’t emotionally robust enough to handle more failure in my life.
I took failure personally, thought it made me a failure, then I found a quote that said “failure is not the opposite of success it is part of success.” – Arianna Huffington
I had heard of Edison testing thousands of light bulb materials that didn’t work, his friend Walter S. Mallory asked “ ‘Isn’t it a shame that with the tremendous amount of work you have done you haven’t been able to get any results?’ Edison turned on me like a flash, and with a smile replied: ‘Results! Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work!‘”
Failure sums up my early life, but I didn’t even begin to understand the value of that failure until about 3 years ago. Slowly my attitude changed and that changed everything significant to me.
Three years ago I was a new mother, and I hated it, my mood sank lower than ever before, so I sought and began practicing new coping mechanisms including ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy), radical acceptance, mindfulness and stoicism.
Last year was the last straw in a positive way, the last coping mechanism I needed to deal with the stress of modern life and uncertainty in an ever changing world was gratitude.
I thought gratitude was something you either were born with or you were not born with, or something you were raised with or not raised with, but I was wrong, I was able to pick it up in a few months after finding a really clear and beautiful post challenging me to try it.
Somewhere along the line I stopped wanting to be happy and started wanting to be good, meaning I wanted to live in a way I wouldn’t regret. Interestingly I became happier anyways, but over a few years I realized that being happy emotionally is like being full physically. It’s not meant to be a consistent state, there isn’t something wrong about it, but it’s not the most important thing, it’s something to be listened to, managed, enjoyed, but it’s not the main point of life to me.
Example a school bully may be happy while bullying another child into suicide, that isn’t worth chasing, it’s not evil to be happy, yet it’s possible to be evil and happy, therefore happiness isn’t the whole picture of a good life.
It sounds cheesy, but I try to live a life of virtue now and happiness comes as a byproduct, but I don’t seek it. Living by my values aligned with good brings me joy and satisfaction.
It was hard to encounter the idea of “valued based living,” since I’m not religious and didn’t know anyone else personally who focuses on values based living.
I encountered Russ Harris by accident in the book “The Confidence Gap,” later I found Stephen Covey, Chris Voss, Rachel Macy Stafford, Dale Carnegie, Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus who all made the case for living based on values and accepting happiness that came without focusing on how much came and when. Martin Luther King is also said to have lived a values focused life, but I haven’t read that part of his philosophy before.
- “While we are postponing, life speeds by.”
- “Nothing … is ours, except time.”
Most my life I was stuck postponing everything I wanted to do to study (in hindsight I could have balanced studying better), but at the core of the problem wasn’t the studying it was the reason for the studying. I was studying for the wrong underlying reason (fear).
I wasn’t going to medical school because I hoped to work as a doctor or make a difference in that way, rather I felt I had to do it.
My mother had Munchhausen syndrome, she put the idea in my head the world was almost impossible to survive in, to do it we needed pain killers to kill any pain (mom was also a prescription drug addict), money to buy what we deserved to have and to get what we wanted immediately. It was weird and complicated growing up with my mother, but I only very recently considered that it wasn’t originally my idea to go to medical school. I started “wanting to” be a doctor when I was two, my mother had given me books about doctors that made it seem fun among other things (brainwashing = the dark side of the delightful “It’s My Turn Now Doctor”). It’s embarrassing to think I was brainwashed and didn’t figure it out either immediately nor upon adulthood.
Three red flags started alerting me to the idea I didn’t want to be a doctor, 1. I had trouble writing my personal statement saying what made me want to be a doctor. 2. I didn’t think the doctors I followed had a good life that I wanted (family balance was skewed too far towards work) 3. I wasn’t sad when I didn’t go to medical school, I was confused and embarrassed, but not sad at all.
It’s been about five years now and I know that I was more suited to intellectual vs service pursuits and that I have more passion to be a philosophizer and writer, than I ever had towards medical school.
It’s hard to choose your major in college when you are so young that you don’t know who you are nor what options are out there. Or easy, easy to choose poorly…
But here I am today, I am alive, well (thanks to gratitude) and finally have time to do what I want because I didn’t get to do what I thought I wanted to do.
Being stoic started with reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey, he talked about “proactivity” being able to choose how to react if we are angry or not angry, it’s our choice not to hit our spouse, boss, child, friend, computer, dog ext. The moment between when something happens and when we act is the space we have to be proactive “to choose how we respond”.
My 1st Step to Stop Procrastinating: Understanding I Had the Choice
So the stoic response to the “busyness” of modern life is that it is our choice.
We don’t have to postpone what we do because we don’t “have time”. Time is all we ever have.
My 2nd Step to Stop Procrastinating: Understanding My Life Matters (At Least to Me)
When I read this quote from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations (his private journal on the struggle to live a good life, which inspired a lot of my life and habits):
“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”
So you were born to feel “nice”? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?
You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you.”
I realized that I didn’t love my nature, I didn’t know my own nature very well and I had almost no idea of what it demanded of me. I made a choice to believe that I do matter (without knowing for sure) based on the idea of valuing diversity, mentally letting all animals, plants and people matter to the grand tapestry of all living beings gave me a sense of self worth I had always lacked.
So under the assumption I matter (which is my choice to make and I have no logical evidence against) the issue of taking breaks, self-care, making time to enjoy life at a deep level and taking time to seek inward to answer who I am and what I wanted became valid pursuits. I felt the need to justify if any of it mattered (why do it) before figuring out how to do it (live my best life).
My 3rd Step to Stop Procrastinating: Hoping I Can Stop Procrastinating and Live My Best Life
Being emotionally abandoned by my parents, who both had mental health problems, is what I feel caused me to question if I did or didn’t matter. In the end it’s not that I have proof that I can or will matter to others, yet I can choose to let myself (and or all human life) matter to me or not.
It takes some amount of hope to try something new, to make a change and determining (or deciding) that it matters is where the hope comes from, it may take more than hope to complete a project, but it seems to require some hope to begin one. Hope seems to be the emotional ticket price of going somewhere new.
Stephen Hawking said “Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the Universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”
I had a poster of that quote, for years I was always looking for a reason it was true. Today my perspective is that it isn’t true or untrue, that it is simply a choice to fill your heart with hope or despair. Mark Manson wrote an interesting book against hope gone wild Everything Is F*cked: A Book About Hope. I enjoyed the book, but having read it there was a sense that he was right about extreme cases while at the same time missing the total picture. It’s taken eight months to explain why I refute his principle that hope causes suffering. P>Q, Q≠P. Hope causes suffering sometimes, it’s true. There is suffering, but that doesn’t mean it’s because of hope there are myriad factors. I think entitlement and high expectation are more to blame for suffering and mental inflexibility as well, rather than hope.
No view of the future has evidence, both hope and despair are illogical, or alogical (perhaps not only lacking, but not meant to contain logic). It seems that we trick ourselves into thinking we are psychics who no the future while most of us scorn such people as fake. It seems like we all don’t know the future, not what possibilities there will be, nor which ones we will choose. It seems that both the path of hope and despair are completely free and available to all people at all times. Often I gravitated towards despair, perhaps because both my parents did, perhaps not, but my sister in the same circumstances to hope. She was focused more on others, helping in some small, possible way, I was focused on creating the illusion of stability in an ever changing world. I was much happier, I didn’t know about psychological baseline. I am happier by fate, by DNA than most people, I have a gene for optimism. So perhaps I was wrong that hope belongs to the miserable. There is a power hope has over the inner-world that makes it seem dangerous, but it’s about using the right tool for the right job. Hope doesn’t work as a contraceptive, as a way to prevent STDs, it doesn’t work in place of insulin or driving skills, but nor do any of those things work to make life seem worth living. I’ve been finding that all human emotions have valid uses, but also that like tools the situations they work best for are complex and nuanced.
My 4th Step Stop Procrastinating: Mindfulness Journaling
Julia Cameron is known for “Morning Pages” writing down normal thoughts, I did that for a few years, but eventually switched to Stoic Meditation Journaling like Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Meditations was the name of a book, which was intended as a private diary (much like the Diary of Anne Frank). Some differences would be, it doesn’t matter if it’s private or not, it’s not meant for complaints, but feelings are fine. So I could write “I” get sad when my husband makes jokes about me, rather than ranting about it. It’s a similar, but different mental experience. It’s a good place to work out the landscape of the mind, but there is a sense of control, not complete control, but some control. I would say morning pages is like permissive parenting of yourself, you allow fits, you don’t do anything to get in the way of emotion. In stoic journaling, you don’t hate the fits or the emotion, but you question the validity of the beliefs that lead to the fits or the emotion. You can still validate the feelings, but you don’t view them as you. They are like fish in a pond. You “have” anger, but you “are not” anger, because you are much more than that. So you write about struggles and challenges, but it is different because the overall view is that you are not your struggles nor your triumphs, but instead something larger than both. Not the white chess pieces, not the black chess pieces, but rather the board or the player. Morning pages is writing thoughts on paper, stoic journaling is writing meta-thoughts on paper. Thoughts about thoughts. Ex, I notice I’ve been feeling negative often in my life I wonder if I’m getting enough of a rest or if I’m too over scheduled or if I am not accepting my own anger or sadness ext. Rather than life seems so hopeless today, I’m very busy, it’s my husband’s fault, it’s my fault… Both types of writing are actually great, but for different things. Morning pages is great to complain to yourself, unload your heart of bitterness that keeps lingering and be better conversation with other people so you can listen about them instead of dominating the conversation with your unhappiness. It’s a good mind dump, it’s a good place to validate your feelings of hurt and suffering that everyone goes through. But it’s not the same as meta thinking. Morning pages is like a tool to deal with a chronic illness, stoic journaling is like a cure to change the way you think to what you choose it to be.
My 5th Step Stop Procrastinating: Discipline, Plan, Prioritize
In a perfect world everyone would be emotionally and mentally ready to just make a plan of what they want to do and do it, in my childhood I was like that, but in my adulthood it seems that there are metaphorical weights of priorities that drain people’s resources enough to prevent them from having the energy to do what they plan so that they fail to do what they plan enough to loose faith in their ability to improve their own life or to make plans that will work. At least that what happened for me, but I hope that my failures help others to be able to analyze their failures with no shame, so they can find the small errors that keep them from living their best lives as well. Though I’m sure there are many differences, there may be a common ground between any human and myself in that humans fail and have to deal with change and failure in order to create a better life.
So after roughly 30 years of procrastination based of not knowing that I could control my life, not knowing if it mattered to make my life better, then choosing to decide it matters (while still not knowing for sure), facing the doubt of if I could control my life via my thoughts and beliefs and yet doing so using writing powered by the hope that I did matter and the belief that we can all change, it only took about 4 years to stop procrastinating. To my knowledge I don’t procrastinate any more, somethings are under my radar, when I notice them I adjust, I’m not perfect by any means, but I am playing the piano I wanted to play, loving my kids as much as I’m able to, forgiving the past to live in the moment ext rather than wanting to do those things “someday”.
Thank you readers for all your help, some have offered wisdom when I was stuck, some love when I was hopeless, some company on the road of life when I felt alone, some strength via inspiration when I was tired of struggling. I feel like one chapter has closed in my life today (essentially the prologue) and I’m interested to see what I write in the book of my own life from here. In a way reality is the writer, my life the article and you are welcome editors.
At the end I notice a promise and a choice underlying the ability to believe I can live my best life, a promise from my now self to my future self to try my best and a choice to believe it matters.🕸️