by Kassandra Lamb
I postponed a deadline this week (one of the perks of being the co-owner of the press).
I think it was a good stress-management decision. But it’s hard to tell sometimes when we’re “managing” our schedule and when we’re just plain procrastinating.
We all procrastinate occasionally. I have a very tall stack of papers on my desk (about two years worth of receipts) that can attest to that.
The most common reason for the average person’s procrastination is that they just plain don’t like doing that particular task. That’s how I feel about filing paperwork. On my list of top ten least-liked tasks, it’s about five, right after having a root canal and right before having a mammogram. That’s right. I’m better at making sure to have my boobs squished yearly than I am about filing away those receipts that the IRS might someday demand to see.
But for chronic procrastinators, the motivations are usually more complex. They put off everything. Often they’ll tell you that they work best under pressure. Or even that they produce their best work under pressure (a subtly different statement). Most of the time, neither statement is true.
Usually, there are two factors at work here. One is psychological, the other is habit. The psychological factor has to do with self-confidence. On some level, they don’t believe they can do any task well. This makes every task unpleasant to a certain degree. So every task gets put off.
And because it gets put off and is done with inadequate time to do it well, the belief is reinforced that the person can’t do it well. It gets done “good enough” but not really well.
But what about the belief that they do their best work under pressure. Hmm, there may be a little truth to that. Some people do indeed perform better, are more motivated and energized, when they have a deadline. But waiting until that deadline is looming is not a recipe for high-level performance. More on this in a moment.
The habit part… when we get into a pattern of doing things a certain way, it’s hard to break out of that. So if our mind set is that anything that isn’t due in the next day or so doesn’t need our attention, we’re going to keep procrastinating and doing things at the last minute.
Sometimes we’re tempted to dismiss ‘habit’ as a simple thing to overcome. It’s not. These patterns become ingrained in our thinking and are automatic. We find ourselves doing it that same old way before we even realize what’s up. It takes a fair amount of conscious effort over a lengthy period of time to break these patterns of thinking and behaving.
Which brings us back around to the belief that one does their best work under pressure. Often this is rationalization for the habit of procrastinating. But that justification can also be an indicator that you’re a closet adrenaline junkie.
Maybe you’re not bungee jumping or hunting wild game, but you may be feeding your need for stimulation by setting yourself up to be stressed by looming deadlines.
We all have something that psychologists and physiologists call ‘thresholds’–pain thresholds, stress thresholds, sensory thresholds, and stimulation thresholds. All of these thresholds vary somewhat from one individual to another. Some of us tolerate pain better than others, for example.
The same is true for stimulation thresholds. Some of us need more stimulation in order to feel fully activated, energized and alive.
And some of the folks who have high stimulation thresholds get into the habit of stimulating themselves by procrastinating, so that they then have looming deadlines creating an atmosphere of stress/stimulation.
Is this healthy? Psychologically speaking, on the one hand, they are meeting their needs for stimulation, but on the other hand they are setting themselves up for unnecessary anxiety and less than optimal performance.
Physically, they are stressing their bodies with that unnecessary anxiety. And such chronic stressors take a high toll over time.
Me, I tend to be a precrastinator rather than a procrastinator. But more on that next time when I talk about how to overcome the tendency to procrastinate (including how folks with high stimulation thresholds can find healthier ways to get that stimulation).
How about you? How much do you procrastinate?
Here’s something you don’t have to procrastinate about if you’re a Kate Huntington fan. My latest novel in that series is available for preorder. With two quick clicks now, it’s ordered and it will pop up on your ereader when it’s released on October 27th.
It’s on sale for a reduced price during the preorder period. Just $1.99 (goes up to $3.99 after the release).
Psychotherapist Kate Huntington is rocked to the core when one of her clients commits suicide. How can this be? The woman, who suffered from bipolar disorder, had been swinging toward a manic state. The client’s family blames Kate and they’re threatening to sue for malpractice. She can’t fault them since she blames herself. How could she have missed the signs?
Searching for answers for herself and the grieving parents, Kate discovers some details that don’t quite fit. Is it possible the client didn’t take her own life, or is that just wishful thinking? Questioning her professional judgement, and at times her own sanity, she feels compelled to investigate. What she finds stirs up her old ambivalence about the Catholic Church. Is her client’s death somehow related to her childhood parish?
When she senses that someone is following her, she wonders if she is truly losing it. Or is she getting dangerously close to someone’s secrets?
(Nook, Kobo and Apple fans, it’s coming soon to those e-retailers!)
Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series and has started a new cozy series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy mysteries (coming soon).
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