0395 – procrastination as Parent vs Child breakdown

I felt like that last post was a lot of beating around the bush and exploring the area around what I wanted to talk about without actually talking about what I wanted to talk about. [1]

Here’s the idea– the way most people think about motivation and procrastination is wrong. I think a lot of people get away with it because their problems with motivation and procrastination are relatively superficial. They don’t really feel like studying one night, they’re such procrastinators, ha ha. I’m talking about life-ruining procrastination, permanent anxiety in your stomach procrastination, fall sick from worrying all the time procrastination. Flunk out of school procrastination, ruin your relationships procrastination. That’s the kind of hellish procrastination I want to talk about.

It’s interesting how different people respond to such a qualifier. I’ve had some people go, “Nah, you’re just dramatizing things so that you feel important and significant. You’re faced with the same bullshit as everybody else, you’re just turning it into this glorious drama.” I’ve had other people go, “Fuck, that sounds cripplingly serious. You probably have like severe clinical depression, or major ADHD or something, you should see a doctor and/or a therapist and/or get some medication.”

Both of those responses strike me as having a kernel of truth in them, and yet both of them rub me off the wrong way. I agree that it’s a sort of dramatization, but the point is that in some sense it’s a dramatization beyond the person’s ability to control it. I can’t just turn it off when I want to (I’ve tried, and I’m constantly trying, in some sense, with different approaches and attitudes), so for the most part I ratioanlize that I don’t really want to, or it’s not that big a deal, or whatever. Some sort of coping mechanism. Some people are literally crippled, this is my own little form of psychological cripplehood– this is my reality, so be it. I can still laugh at some things and have a somewhat fulfilling life.

I also agree that it’s a health problem, in the sense that anything stopping you from living a happy, fulfilled life is a sort of health problem. It boils down to how well you cope with it, isn’t it? Everything is a problem to the degree that it stops you from functioning effectively. Of course, different people have different ideas about what “functioning” means.

So to frame my problem better– I think there are millions (or at least tens to hundreds of thousands) of smart young people around the world who get caught up in this crippling procrastination that keeps them from being happy, that swallows them in frustration and anxiety. You can see the notes on Tumblr and Imgur and Reddit and wherever you go in these spaces. And I think it’s a solvable problem, but I personally haven’t entirely solved this problem for myself, nor have I encountered a person who’s persuaded me that they started out as bad as me or worse than me, and ended up better. I think Allie from HaaH might’ve had it worse than me, and she doesn’t seem to have solved it. I think Tim Urban from WaitButWhy relates to it, but I’m not sure if he’s had it as bad as me (or at least, as bad as Allie). He has a functioning solution/prosthetic that works for him, and it sounds really nice, but I haven’t been able to fully internalize his style. There’s something missing from his picture. I think it’s just that he’s never had it as bad. Or maybe I just haven’t read it enough times. Maybe there’s something I’m missing, or maybe I just haven’t lived his way long enough to see the alternate mode of being. In my case I think things like low blood sugar levels and sleep deprivation and lack of exercise greatly exercabate the problem (and I don’t see either HaaH or WBW talking about this part of the procrastination picture).

There are a couple of lenses through which I’ve looked at this idea of procrastination, work-aversion, etc. One of it is mismatch– everybody works hard at something. You can be lazy in school but work really hard at World of Warcraft. That’s still something worth paying attention to and thinking about. It’s something Parents tend to pooh-pooh at, but it’s really something to think about.

Another thing is fear. And fear is a primal response, but it’s also this really complex multifaceted thing. Different people experience fear in different contexts and to different degrees in different ways. I’m reminded of Chris Hadfield’s TED talk about fear, about being an astronaut, and about deliberately reprogramming your brain by walking through spider webs, for example. Procrastinators have a certain fear of certain kinds of work– we associate those things with intensely painful or negative thoughts, and so we avoid them altogether. There’s a great post about this on LessWrong called “Ugh Fields” which I think captures it very well.

Another thing is a breakdown of communication between Parent and Child. Very often procrastination is the Child failing to do what the Parent is ordering to do. From the Parent’s point of view, this is the failing of the Child. The Child is bad, naughty, lousy, petulant, needs disciplining and punishment and such. Needs systems, orders, structure. This can sometimes work out, but more often than not the Parent first needs to truly listen to the Child and understand the Child’s needs and concerns and fears and such, and work WITH the child rather than try to WORK the child.

There’s probably more. I feel like pausing here for now. The overarching point is that procrastination is a very multifaceted, complex issue. People who don’t have crippling problems with it are very fortunate compared to the people who do. I can’t yet even imagine what it’s like to not have a problem with this, but I’ve witnessed people who seem to function that way (my boss is a great example for me to study and observe day after day).

I will figure this out. I will solve this, at least for myself.

EDIT: On hindisight, The Procrastination Matrix on WBW looks like it’s worth reexamining


[1] I seem to do this a lot, especially with things that I haven’t gotten good at talking about yet. I suppose everybody does this, too. I get violently frustrated when people do this instead of actually talking about ideas. I mean, it’s okay to do it when you’re figuring stuff out, but it’s not okay to use it as a substitute for actually talking about something. Oh well. Maybe it’s just me projecting my own frustration with myself onto others.

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