Friday, May 14, 2010

Procrastination - A Bad Word for a Real Problem

Hello Friends: 

I noticed today that I have 31 followers - thank you so much for joining me in my adventures in Anxiety Land! I learn a great deal from your insightful blogs, and the comments you make on my posts. It is great to have the validation and to know there are people like me, dealing with the same crazy and trying, whenever possible, to enjoy the ride.

Right, back to the post. Sort of. I know I owe you Part II of Self Parenting, but I'm still doing my research on that. I need it to be just so - I can't make a half-a$$ed post, after all. Which got me thinking about why. Why can't I make a half-a$$ed post? Why can't I accept that some posts will be better than others? Who is the one creating these expectations, anyway? Why am I stressing over this?

And the next thing I know, I haven't posted in days. I'm procrastinating again.

The word procrastination has such a negative connotation. We know we are procrastinating when we are avoiding doing something that needs doing. Something that we know, eventually, must get done. But we put it off, again and again, until it becomes a crisis. Why?

And therein, I believe, lies the rub. I think most people think 'why' is because the procrastinator is lazy. That this person simply does not like to work, or only wants to do what they want, and d@mn the other stuff and the consequences. This behavior is seen as destructive, anti-social, and selfish. But procrastination is not the same as lazy. Lazy is only one possible reason why people procrastinate. For those of us with mental illness, procrastination can be about self-hatred, fear of failure, a need for drama, perfectionism, agoraphobia, and so much more.

So here are my own suggestions for trying to cope with procrastination. I cope poorly, but here is how I do it, whenever possible.

1) Stop equating procrastination with lazy, and realize it is a true mental health issue that needs to be addressed.  Figure out why, personally, I am avoiding doing something specific.  Each thing might have its own reason.  Admit it is a problem and try to strategize instead of continue the cycle.

2) Stop beating myself up for what I do not accomplish. Positive reinforcement works on adults to change behavior, punishment does not.

3) Pat myself on the back anytime I do anything at all, no matter how "minor." (See 1, above). I deserve to get praise for what it is I do manage to do. Did I brush my teeth? On a bad depression day, this can be a major 'win.'

4) Get similar reinforcement from my support network. Example - hubby. We are beyond mind games or passive aggressive nonsense. He can't read my mind, and I know that. So I've told him to make sure he is not critical of mistakes or things left undone. I already know they are undone and don't need it pointed out. What I do need is praise for what I accomplish. If I don't get it, I ask for it. Really. "Tell me how great I did calling and getting my own meds refilled." When he gets a request like that, he's happy. He knows exactly what to do and say, he does not have to guess.

5) Realize that there are some things I can only do if I am well/motivated, and some things I have to do even if I am not well/motivated. For me, checking email is in the first category. There are days I cannot check email, no matter how much I might 'want' to do it. I'm terrified, deathly afraid, of emails telling me how I messed something up. Getting on the treadmill, however, is in the second category. I hate, hate, hate it. Some days it seems 'pointless' because of my depression. Other days it seems suffocating because of my anxiety. But on good days, I still hate it. Nothing will make me want to get on the treadmill. So it is something I have to force myself to do, even when I don't want to, because I will never want to. It is fraught with issues around my weight, self image, and hypochondriasis, but still, it is qualitatively different from my issues with email. I cannot force myself to open emails if I am 'unwell.' I can, in fact, force myself to get on the treadmill even on my worst days. It's hard and I hate it, but I can do it.

6) Realize that 4 and 5 above are different for everyone. Other people might think badly of me that I can't make myself check email. They might think I'm 'just not trying hard enough' or am 'lazy.' I have to realize that they are ignorant. Only I know truly what I can and can't do.

7) Do things "okay" intentionally. Some of my procrastination is related to a need to do everything perfectly. If I can't do it perfectly, why bother? This is self-defeating since perfect is impossible. So sometimes I do things only okay on purpose. I stop when it isn't perfect and go do something else. This sort of feels like ripping your heart out, and makes you go nuts. But in some cases it works really well. Housework, for example. I used to spend all day cleaning one room, and then had no energy for anything else for a week. Now I do a little here and there. The place isn't perfect (or even close) but it is now livable in every room, not just the one room I managed to clean.

8) Notice the reactions of other people when I do something less than perfect, intentionally or otherwise. In almost every case, people don't realize I didn't give it my all (or have my all to give). They are usually just happy to have participation or help of any kind. Sometimes that's not the case, but actually keeping count has made it clear that I drive the negative numbers way out of proportion.

9) Only worry about today. My task is not to take my meds 365 times this year. When I look at it that way it feels overwhelming. My task is to take my meds today. Only today. If I don't take them, there is no "make up" or something like that. It means I may have consequences and need to face them. BUT it also means when I get up, what I did yesterday is off the books. And I only have to take my meds once, today, for a full win.

10) The classic - break everything down into tiny parts. I often feel overwhelmed with something when it is too big to handle. I try to break everything down into tiny pieces, and just do the tiny pieces one at a time.

Anyway, those are the things I do to cope. It means that sometimes I actually CAN check email, because I continually pave the way to create safe mental space for that. Treadmill - ugh. How do you deal with procrastination? What gets you motivated and moving? Or how do you deal when you still just can't do 'it' whatever that is?

Your Hostess With Neuroses

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Jennifer, aka beautiful mind, complex life said...

Thanks for posting those tips! I procrastinate too, and it can lead to depression and a feeling of helplessness, and stasis. I think you made some great points on using coping skills. It's important that we all remember we are merely human and we do have limitations. By the way, thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving your insightful comments there. I appreciate them!

The Blue Morpho said...

Hello Jennifer: Thanks for reading and commenting! It is good advice to remember we are 'just human' and yet sometimes that very thing is so frustrating. I need to remember that perfect is impossible, and good enough really is good enough.

Linda Freedman said...

This is a great post, especially since it speaks to everyone. And the tips are great. I linked over.

expwoman said...

Thank you for writing about procrastination! A major part of my ocd has been avoidance of anything I might do imperfectly, which leads to massive procrastination. I write some blogs for work and would go a month at a time with no posts, and my current exposure is doing one post per week, and practicing living with the anxiety that I didn't write about the right thing or in the right way. It's definitely getting easier to post!

I also have a "to do list" where if I do even the slightest work on an item, I get to cross it out and then rewrite it at the end of the list to cross off the next time I do a bit. That has helped with crediting myself for every step.

The Blue Morpho said...

Linda - Thanks for reading and linking!

expwoman - I'm really happy for you that your posting exposures are showing some results. I'm still struggling mightily with my email issues, but if I can get myself on a schedule like you are, I might make some headway.

Amy said...

I tend to spread a difficult task over a few days. For example, if the mail/paperwork piles up, the first day I just separate all the recycling (catalogs, etc.) and put it in the bin. The second day I just open all the envelopes and put the remaining bills, letters, etc. back in a pile. (It's amazing how much smaller the pile is just from those two steps.)

The third day I can usually pay the bills and deal with other stuff. The fourth day I'll file the "keepers."

I try to make sure each step is relatively short and do-able to make it feel less threatening.

Marj aka Thriver said...

This sounds like very healthy awareness.

Hey, I wanted to let you know that we have another blog carnival coming up. The deadline is midnight tomorrow (Wednesday). Hope you can join us!

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