Once upon a time… wait, no…
Last night I dreamt I went to… no, no… that’s not quite it…
Marley was dead, to begin with… oh that’s totally not it either…
Welcome, foolish mortals, to the ha… argh!!
You’ve been here before.
OK, that’s it.
With apologies to Stephen King*, you have indeed been here before. You’ve procrastinated on something, again. You think you’re the only one who waits until the last minute. You’re alone in your dark little chasm of discomfort, and no one else is to blame, and no one can get you out of the horror story but you. When I’m talking with clients and others, I’m aware that there are other kinds of stories that people tell themselves. Take, for example, the idea that “other people,” or even worse, “normal people” (whatever that means) never struggle with procrastination.
Go on Amazon, filter for “books,” and search “procrastination.” There are over 10,000 results. Are we really thinking that 10,000+ books have been written for a subject that affects only you?
Of course I procrastinate. Recently I’d been putting off this interminably dull book I have to read for a class I’m in (it shall remain nameless). But actually, was it really dull? It’s not like me to put off reading a book. Was I perhaps a little intimidated and afraid I wouldn’t understand it? Or, would I start to understand it, and would I change my mind about some things? It made me feel all kinds of discomfort to contemplate it, and so it sat – sad and lonely in my office for days (with a deadline looming). The stall monster was, for a time, bigger than my ability to push through.
We tell ourselves all sorts of stories – “Oh, I have plenty of time,” “I’m just not ready,” “I don’t have the right ________,” “I’ll probably get it all wrong so what’s the point,” etc. Then we’re living in a bit of a self-created dream world, and it gets bigger and darker the further we take it. Riffing on my title this week, I did some exhaustive, ridiculous research about A Nightmare on Elm Street that revealed how the monster – Freddie – is defeated. Side note: I can’t handle slasher movies despite my love of creepy, Halloween-y stuff, so I’ve never seen any of the series. But I learned that in at least one iteration (seriously…there were nine?), he’s eliminated by being pulled out of the dreams and into reality. Hmm.
Scientists believe actual nightmares serve a purpose (I believe they do as well). There are many theories. Since the images in nightmares frequently make little sense, I tend to follow the school of thought that they bring up symbols from the subconscious to help us move forward in waking life. In some instances of lucid dreaming, a dreamer can face the scary thing and see it transformed into something much less overwhelming. The stories we create around what we’re putting off rarely make a lot of sense, either.
Those 10,000 books likely all have some good tidbits in them. But when I think about my pushed-off task and talk to (or write to) myself about it a little, I can check in with what I know is real vs. the story (“Reading that big, complex thing is going to be boring.” ):
I know that there’s a fair chance I won’t be able to just sit down and binge it for a couple of hours. I’ll probably read a paragraph or two, and then I’ll need to stop, think, and process. I might have to change my pattern, and I don’t like changing my patterns. OK, now there’s a little more clarity. It’s not so much about boredom, but me needing to shift my normal. So, what if I tried just looking at the preface first?
Or another thing I like to play with – what if I looked at the last pages to see where the whole thing goes? I kind of like to cheat and jump to the ending. Now I’m off and running – it’s actually not dull at all, nor is it too much for me to wrap my head around if I take it a little slower. I’m approaching the situation differently.
Sometimes, it is a fright to come face to face with your stalling, but we’ve all been here before. What’s the story or nightmare that’s gotten built up around the things you’ve been putting off? What could pull you into reality that lurks behind your procrastination?
Oh, and by the way…Happy Halloween. 🎃
*OK, anyone who can guess where all of these opening lines come from wins…well, wins the comment section. No fair Googling. Ready, set…