Procrastination is a Self-Con Game

I’ve been meaning to write an article on procrastination for months, but I just haven’t gotten around to it.

Funny, I don’t see myself as a procrastinator. But, then, what procrastinator does? I’ve been convincing myself that I’ve been very busy.

Doing what?

I have no idea. But I know I must have been doing something very important.

Let’s see. Oh, yeah. I spent several months slowly reading and digesting the concepts of a fascinating book, The Power of Habit – Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg (Random House, 2012). Among other things, the book helped me ferret out the genesis of my procrastination about writing another blog.

The author explains that the process of forming a habit occurs in a three-step loop in the brain.

First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and   which habits to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future:

 Over time, this loop — cue, routine reward; cue, routine, reward – becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges. Eventually,…a habit is born (p. 19).

 The key to changing habits, Duhigg explains, is to alter the routine. We always will have a cue that triggers a craving to do or not do something and the reward always will be dangled out there for us to chase, he explains. How we choose to get from cue to reward — and how to change the routine– is ground zero.

For example, if we’ve had a stressful day at work (cue) and we want to feel better (reward), we may practice any number of routines – from having a drink (or 10), to hitting the gym, to eating something sweet or greasy-salty-crunchy, to taking a long bath, to falling into any of a variety of web sites (Do I really need to get specific?). Any of the preceding activities, done occasionally, may be healthy, or at least diversionary. The frequency of such activities determines whether they’re so routinized that they have become habits.

There have been points in my own life where I became so habituated to the after-work drink that alcohol turned into a problem. Then, in an effort to change that routine, I started going for long runs every day to the point where I got compulsive about that practice.

Thankfully, alcohol and other ingestible substitutes are no longer a problem, and the drive to exercise has diminished to a more reasonable level. But I still have my “stuff”.

That “stuff” can be traced to emotional roots. Like many of us, I’m still hypersensitive to others’ opinions and criticisms. And that’s where the procrastination comes in.

See. I didn’t get lost here. I merely meandered from the topic in order to set up my theme. (Well, it sure took you long enough! Thank you for sharing, dear critical parent voice.)

My procrastination loop works this way:

I feel embarrassed, ashamed or guilty (cues) and I want to escape to a place where I forget the emotional pain (the reward). Too often in the past my routine for getting from cue to reward was to ignore responding to such situations until they faded from conscious memory. The problem is that the feelings are buried alive and they eventually resurface like a hand reaching out of the grave.

In the case of avoiding my blog for the past five months, the procrastination is an outgrowth of embarrassment, shame and guilt in equal doses. In my last Above the Roar blog post (Celebrity Face Swap, June 21, 2014), I made a reference to David Carradine in Revenge of the Nerds. Big oops.

 The actor in that movie was Bobby, not David, Carradine. My editor had provided me with the proper information, but I wrote the wrong name anyhow, and did not send him my revised version to re-edit.

Pure hubris on my part. (I don’t need no stinkin’ editor to re-edit my editing. Thank you for sharing, rebellious child voice.)

My editor caught the gaffe immediately upon reading the posted version of the column and sent me a terse e-mail.

Starting to get the “embarrassment-shame-guilt troika I was going through?

My response has been to shut down and rationalize a raft of reasons for not getting back to blogging.

But while on a recent run, my damn synthesizing brain linked what I learned in The Power of Habit with my blog-voidant behavior and I finally could face what has been holding me back.

Yet, procrastination being such a firmly entrenched routine – stretching back to early childhood – I still dallied another two weeks after my self-revelation before starting this column…and then took four more days to cop to my habit in print.

Here’s hoping that posting this column clears the mental channel so I can return to the routine of writing regularly.

I mean, the cue to blog the random thoughts that come into my head is always there and the reward of launching it into cyberspace is still a rush. All I need now is to succumb to the good habit of double editing and I’ll be back pestering you with more frequency.

My new goal is to anti-crastinate, that is, not to get bogged down in the morass of negative feelings but to keep up a steady stream of these columns.

We’ll all know soon, eh?

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One Response to Procrastination is a Self-Con Game

  1. Hey Gil! Sorry I missed your call but happy to see you figured out the technology glitch. A great post! Perfectionism is the mother (or at least MIL) of the procrastination the many of us suffer from. I know this one. Glad to see you back to blogging.

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