Do It Now

Jane leaping on the flank of an active volcano in central volcano

There’s nothing like unexpected lockdowns to make you think that you should do what you can, when you can do it. Is there someone you haven’t seen lately? Give them a call or, far better, go visit them. You don’t know when a lockdown might get in the way. Want to spend some time in the outdoors but don’t know how to fit it into your schedule? Just shove those meetings to the side and make it happen – you could be in Level 4 and stuck in your house (everyone in Auckland is). Meaning to learn a musical instrument? Go buy one, and a stand, so the instrument can sit in the corner glaring balefully at you when you haven’t made time in the day to practice (although, if it stares at you balefully for too long, sell it, because it’s obviously something that you aren’t actually going to do).

Chris and I tend to come from opposite positions on the do-it-now front. For me, if there is something that ought to be done, my first reaction is to do it now, whether it is something that I like to do or not (actually if it is something I don’t like doing I will probably make its timeframe even more urgent so I don’t have dread doing it). If Chris likes doing something that ought to be done, all good, but if he doesn’t like it then he will probably suggest it could be done tomorrow, or next week, or some other vague point in the future. I wonder how often couples have opposite traits, the good side being an ability to balance each other, the problematic side that people are even more likely to stick close to their pole in reaction to the other person’s opposite tendencies.

When I looked on the internet, it turns out that procrastination can have a myriad of immediate causes. The overall question, is whether our internal push to do something is outweighed by the negative factors, such as anxiety, fear of failure, or dislike of the task. There is also the problem of deadlines being at some point in the future; people are frequently overly optimistic about the time it will take them to do tasks, so delay them too far into the future. I have never quite understood this one – my principle is that, if you have free time now, start doing something that isn’t due yet to give yourself breathing space.

There’s a funny nexus between procrastination and delayed gratification. Delaying gratification is generally thought to be a good thing. There is a famous study from the 1960s, showing that young children who can wait longer to get 2 marshmallows, rather than getting 1 marshmallow immediately, are supposedly more successful in life. The study was debunked recently, when researchers tried to replicate it and failed (one of their conclusions was that the ability to delay gratification is not a stable trait through time). Delayed gratification is supposed to be good because one can skip eating the fast food today and thus avoid diabetes in later life. But if you get run over by a bus in between these points in time, you will have missed your treats to no avail. Life is never simple, is it, one’s bestest interests consistently remain elusive. To me the most obvious rationale for delayed gratification, is that it allows one to enjoy a potential event for longer – anticipation creates a much bigger overall experience.

If we say delayed gratification might be good, why is procrastination bad? Aren’t they the same thing in different guises? In both cases one is experiencing later something that one could experience now. This leads me to the theory that ‘procrastination’ must only refer to things that one considers undesirable. If you like doing something, delaying it is called delayed gratification; if you don’t like doing something, delaying it is called procrastination! To add another layer to the conundrum, if I don’t like doing something but Chris does like doing it, which word do we use? I don’t like eating brussel sprouts, so I leave them till last on my plate, he does like eating them so he eats the brussel sprouts first. Were we both bad? I procrastinated and he didn’t delay his gratification? At least we both ate them!

On that point I will leave you for a few days and go back to my approximately weekly writing. Sorry Aucklanders that you remain in Level 4, those of us in Level 2 need to seize the moment and go and do all those Level 2-y things that we haven’t done for the last 3 weeks. No procrastinating.

Published by janecshearer

I'm a self-employed life enthusiast living in Gibbston, New Zealand

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