PROCRASTINATION CAN RUIN YOUR LIFE…trust me, i know
This is my story
It was like a camera had zoomed out and my life was being recorded from a long distance away.
I’d wake up in the morning with this constriction in my chest. I wasn’t ill or anything, I knew that, the tightness was a dull pain that was nothing physical but rather mental. Each day I felt like I was falling out of sync with my own life.
I’d do my best to get stuff done, I often had a to-do list, if not written then it was at least mental. So for this day, with this ache, I’d try to get through my list.
On the outside I looked like a productive person. Friends would call me up and actually apologise for disrupting whatever they thought I had going on. Sometimes I even agreed with them and said this busy-ness they claimed on my behalf was the reason I couldn’t get to be at an event or help with XYZ.
In reality, I was hiding, I really didn’t like to be out that much. My life was going further south each day and I was at lose as to how to fix it.
Months before, I’d quit my day job and following closely was the closure of my clothing store. I have no regrets on either really, the store had done its time. I had to move on. As for the job, my exit should have been more strategic if at all, however, it did throw up an upheaval that revealed a fettering wound that I had refused to address for years. So at the end, it was a beneficial move.
So here I was , with no business and no job and personal life all whack.
I thought I could figure it out. It seemed easy enough, pour myself into this phase of my life and begin anew.
Life had other ideas.
They say coaches and mentors are overrated. I disagree. The highlight of those months was when I had a writing coach who held me accountable for developing my love of the craft. I didn’t have a choice but to deliver on time, every time.
Soon enough, our contract was over and as I had low funds couldn’t renew.
It was delightful getting praise for my writings. I was often amused and amazed that people found value. I knew what to do to consolidate my months with my coach it was crystal; but…
From one day to the next I’d get caught up in one task or the other. I’d set myself up to begin work on a particular project at a particular time and when the time arrived, I decided I needed to read a book, watch a Youtube video, just so that I have more material to use for the task at hand.
Weeks and months rolled by and soon I was in this place where I had many half-done jobs, still broke and now feeling an utter sense of self-loathing.
How hard was it to follow through on my to-do list? It was my list after all, no one shoved it down my throat!
I think the worst, the very worst part of blowing off important things I needed to do was the heaviness I woke up with daily. I had personal drama going on, but this weight was what really scared me.
My life was going nowhere, and fast.
It was scary and I didn’t know what to do.
Well, actually I did. But I wasn’t doing it so that knowledge was pretty useless.
Is this perhaps why people prefer to stay in jobs even when they hate it or/and when they desire to start off on their own? This inability to self-start and keep going? It seems a viable reason, because if you can’t get yourself to do what you need to do without someone’s boot on your behind, you will fail…except you get someone to hold you to your promises to self.
I would never have labelled myself a procrastinator, why would I? Didn’t even cross my mind that I was putting things off, I believed I just didn’t have the ‘follow through’.
I sold myself on that story for like forever, and indeed I lived up to the limitation.
However, what was really going on was procrastination and it was a paradoxical cycle. I was putting off important stuff and part of my story was that I didn’t like stress and strain. I love to do what I love to do only, and when I ‘felt’ I love to do it.
This condition then fed into the need to put myself in the ‘right frame of mind’ to get important things done. Which meant I spent time unwinding (from doing nothing important) watch a movie, read a book (a good one at that), yep those were my two usual jams.
You see when you can convince yourself that your escape from the important is so that you can get back to the important later and do it marvelously well, you have just locked yourself in prison and thrown out the key.
That’s what I did.
And the longer I stayed in the jam, the more dread I felt and the less I got to do what I needed to do because as I said I needed to put myself in the right frame of mind to do the important stuff.
“When you argue for your limitations, they say, you get to keep them.”
To say life was one long drawn out tussle between my ease seeking self and my drowning impact desiring self would be an understatement.
The more I told myself it was too challenging to do my projects, the less I wanted to do them, the less I wanted to do them the more I escaped into easy fun stuff. I was feeding myself the very poison that was ruining any chance of getting important work done.
I don’t know when the tide changed, I can hazard a guess though.
It was Eid, and I had spent the afternoon at a fun fair but I wasn’t at ease. I felt like that camera was there, zoomed far off and I was behind it, observing myself live a lie.
I was watching myself live life from behind a mask.
The fair was over, I said my sundown prayers and left the rest of the vendors packing up their wares.
As I sat in my car outside the venue, I watched as one by one they all left. The final truck that drove off was the one that packed up all the marques and plastic chairs used.
It was pretty late by this time you can tell, if the chairs and canopies were all packed up and the field cleared.
I sat there and thought about how my life had become so lacklustre, so colorless. There was nothing to look forward to except the care of my (quickly growing) kids. Teenagers in secondary school and to be honest, I was quite happy I didn’t need to ‘baby’ anyone anymore. I had recently read them the riot act.
“If you are too lazy to get out of bed in the morning, well that’s just too bad. You will stay at home and do chores if you aren’t ready for school on time.”
I was tired of being a drill sergeant every morning, dealing with lost socks, missing notebooks and bickering over who spent thirty minutes in the bathroom.
From that morn, I chose to leave them to sort themselves out for school. The most important thing was for the house to be sane as they walked out the door and a plus would be for no one to be upset. I got out of their way and I had less pent up mornings.
So my kids were no longer a reason not to be firing on in my life on all cylinders, not that they ever were.
What was I doing with my life?
What went wrong?
Where are all the stuff I set out to do after I closed shop?
What was I missing?
I had access to people who could help me out, in fact had more than a few. But I knew in my heart that I had drawn up too many of those cards, I couldn’t go back.
Why? Well, I had built a reputation (in my mind) of not following through on the advice I was given, so being the self-respecting girl that I am, I would not, could not, take myself back to ask for help from someone I had not followed through on her advice before.
The night was getting darker, I had finished the bowl of food I was eating. As I dropped it on the passenger seat I realised I had finished what could have sufficed as a meal for two.
Emotional eating is never a good sign.
I eventually pulled out of my reverie and called my friend. The phone rang out. Some dark thoughts were chasing themselves around my head and I needed them diffused fast. I called again. Nothing.
I called my other friend, she seldom picks up but I tried anyway. No surprise there, it rang out.
From somewhere still in the company of these dreary thoughts about my life I decided to go see a movie, something to take me away from this place I was sure I didn’t belong.
That night was the darkest most depressed I have ever been (and will ever be so help me God!). It was foreboding and if not for God that tuned my heart to possibilities besides the ledge, I may have lost it.
I saw first hand how it takes just a nudge in the wrong direction for one’s life to go spiraling completely, irreversibly out of control.
I was fortunate to have a chance to introspect and retrospect.
I was extremely fortunate.
What happened to the ‘me’ that a dear brother called a ‘first class’ brain?
What happened to the ‘me’ that wanted so sincerely to be involved in something bigger than me when my peers were still chasing personal dreams?
What happened to all the plans and dreams I had scattered all across tens and tens of journals I had kept over the years?
I will tell you what.
I was sincere in my desires but not vested in them.
I sold myself on belief that life was a smooth run and anything that took that away must be discarded.
I let the drama in my home life interrupt and disrupt the growth I was experiencing in other areas.
Now believe me when I say, for us women at least, when home life is troubled, almost all else is on hold. However, I had no way of making that bit of my life work without selling my soul to the devil, so my option was to let it unravel as it will but not unravel with it.
As I had no nine to five to report to nor enterprise to nurture, I had waaaay too much time on my hands, time that I sadly didn’t put to the best and highest use.
Really though, what did I need to do to have not ended up in such a bad place?
It was quite simple, follow through on my many plans to completion.
Done is always better than perfect.
If I had competed just 50% of the many ideas I had come up with, I am sure my self-esteem wouldn’t have ended up in the gutters.
Becoming a hermit, unhappy, unfulfilled, filled with regret, dread and a real fear of ruining my life is the dividend I had gotten from skipping on important things.
It had to change.
It must change.
I went beyond my usual excitement of planning elaborate projects and never executing them to actually ticking off a few from my list that year.
In my desperation that night, I reached out to a ‘remote’ coach, someone I trusted and knew would help me separate the nonsense from the common sense in my state of mind.
We scheduled a meeting and as usual I was all pumped. Another solution in the horizon.
You won’t believe what happened.
Can you guess?
I missed the appointment.
Just like that.
Again I blew something that was critically important to me. I remember the reason like it was yesterday, I will leave it out here. No need spreading all my linen out to dry.
As I sat in the parking lot that morning, almost thirty minutes late and having been told she’d be travelling out of town and unavailable for the next two weeks, I sat there and wept.
I had done this to myself. No one was to blame. No, no one but me.
How could I have let this happen? How?
I cried and cried. Again I phoned a friend, no I texted, needed to speak to someone, anyone. This time, this friend had family drama going on and didn’t even have the space to accommodate my pain.
An hour passed, then two. I began to get pissed. This is so pathetic I thought, this is so lame so unacceptable.
“How long do I have to wait for my mind to catch up to what I want my life to be? How long?”
All these lifeboats I keep thinking I needed to get on to be saved were not coming.
I was just waiting and waiting for something not in my control. How much longer?
“What if, I could just for once do something, just do something really important and as I always wanted, bigger than me?”
What if for once I checked off something as ‘done’ on my not-fun to-do list?
I kid you not, this singular indignation moved my spirit from near broken to hopeful. I don’t remember where I drove off to that day, but I do know quite clearly that from that point on- this was September, I mapped out a strategy to compress all the things I was supposed to achieve from January to December into the last three months of the year.
Did I achieve it all? No.
Did I achieve something significant? I absolutely, most certainly did!
I took out my yearlong projects and packed them into the last few months of the year.
This did a number of things for me
1. I was on a tight schedule, no room for pity party
2. I asked for help where I needed help, not my usual path
3. The adrenaline dulled the ache in my heart
4. I didn’t have time to escape into fun undeserved activities
5. I felt driven the more I got done
As I said, I’d never in a thousand years have labeled myself a procrastinator, what I know myself to be though is reasonably self-aware. I can tell myself if what I am doing is cool or uncool, self reproach.
It’s in an insidious return of the nasty habit that I have caught myself questioning why I am putting off stuff again, and noticed the pattern and now I know, that avoiding tasks is a habit I fall into when I feel angst.
It’s a coping mechanism from anything that makes me feel stressed, I escape into easy fun stuff.
The pattern is undoubted. After the extreme place of self-flagellation I was that dark night, I am never letting careless choices put me in such a horrible place again.
Planning is pretty easy for me.
I can map out to dos and break down the small parts.
It is the DOing that is my Achilles’ heels.
Now I know.
I also know that the joy I feel when I do get things done is so worth the ‘pain’ of making myself double down and do it.
“Immediate gratification is the enemy of a life of meaning.”
Watching TV, scrolling through social media feeds, enjoying a book, cleaning out your closet (again), hanging with the girls are all okay stuff but when they are done instead of practicing a skill, building your relationship, studying, honing your talent or exercising, you can be sure to wake up one day with a fear that your life will end and mean nothing.
“Good is the enemy of Great.”
I wrote about the four quadrants a while back, Q2 activities are the ones that bring us lasting joy, meaning and fulfillment. They are stuff we dream of doing, someday in the horizon. We dream of more time to spend with our spouse and kids, of changing our diet and eating healthy. We look forward to being a published author, to visit our parents more, to acquire new skills so we can change our job, fine tune a latent talent. All wonderful things we leave in fantasy land.
Q1 are our must dos, we don’t have a choice except we want to be really irresponsible people. A lot of people manage to live meaningfully from here. They achieve mainly because there are public consequences for not performing – no one ones to be embarrassed or labelled a bum.
However, it is often filled with stress and endless race to the finish line. If there were no deadlines, these things would likely not get done.
Q4 and 3 are excusable if they are once in a while rewards for well-done Q2 and 1.
To have a life worth living is to make plans to fulfill most important Q2 activities in bit sizes without fail. Reduce Q1 by scheduling ahead or completing well before deadline.
I finally learnt to cut down on urgent unimportant things by removing myself from people’s line of contact when they felt the need to share or reel me in. First off, I have little patience for small talk and second I so hate anything that gets me anxious (often, i get a headache instantly) – which is the case most times with people’s definition of emergency- just some information they didn’t investigate before sharing.
I still have my lay back and do nothing periods but I am aware that that’s what they are.
I can’t say I don’t procrastinate any more, that will make me almost super human, but at least now I am on a journey of constantly choosing activities that will be more rewarding in the long run rather than quick fixes that will wear off and live me feeling guilt ridden and self-deprecating.
It’s a continuous process of self growth, i am light years ahead of the girl i was at that fair, still many rivers to cross but i am so game for the challenge. I learnt how to get important things done and believe me when i say, there’s nothing as satisfying as achieving something important to you. You are proud of yourself, your self-confidence takes a mega boost.
If you have walked in my shoes, dealing with anxiety, overwhelm, worries, missing dead lines and feeling constantly inapt, trust me, you have procrastination raining on your parade.
Need help getting your life back?
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Here’s to a life fully lived!
Victory over procrastination!