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“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?”
– Hillel the Elder (110 B.C.E.-10 C.E.), rabbi
Why do we procrastinate? Whether the tasks be large or small, it’s all too easy to put off unpleasant tasks – and even easier to keep letting things pile up.
Yet, In ‘The Unexpected Antidote to Procrastination,’ Peter Bregman, writing for the Harvard Business Review, points out that we can’t truly avoid the inevitable. Using surfing as a metaphor, he explains that “No matter how good, how experienced, how graceful they were on the wave, every surfer ended their ride in precisely the same way: By falling.” However, “not all falls were failures,” and the element of surprise, like a force of nature, is the determining factor.
So, if the end outcome is the same – that we forcibly address an issue or complete a task – why not face the challenge head-on? Bregman speculates that this relates back to our fear of feeling, not of failure. Yet the longer we procrastinate, the longer we subject ourselves to the emotional stressors we’re ‘avoiding’ in the first place.
I plead guilty to those charges. How often have I allowed anxiety and false fears of failure to paralzye me? And, as Bregman suggests, some of this paralysis comes from the fear of feeling pain, feeling foolish, and feeling overwhelmed. I’ve also stayed in stressful situations far longer than needed because I didn’t want to acknowledge how uncomfortable I actually felt. I’ve certainly postponed writing lessons, holding difficult conversations, and deepening relationships. Translation: it’s easy to put off important decisions and drift from day to day, postponing both reflection and action.
Feel more, fear less?
How do we avoid avoidance? How do we find the inner resources to confront situations and move forward?
“[F]eeling is what tells you you’re alive,” Bregman explains. By riding out our emotions like waves, we become less intimidated by them – and maybe even enjoy them. It’s like learning a language: the more you ask, the more you know and the more you share. The more you share, the easier conversation flows. In both scenarios, the potential rewards far exceed the risk.
Despite this celebration of feeling, taking initiative is still often easier said than done. What advice can we offer our peers, our students and – perhaps especially – ourselves when it comes to taking the final plunge?
Practice makes progress
Start by starting. In the words of Lao Tzu, ancient Chinese philosopher, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Goethe also reminds us that “Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” Let us dare to create the lives we imagine possible.
I too need to ride more waves, take more risks, and wake up to the many fantastic possibilities of 2018. I need to say “yes” more often and worry less about false fears. I need to answer emails faster, accept more invitations, and keep writing. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect – or at least progress. Let’s make progress, one wave at a time.
What are some of your antidotes to procrastination? How do you take more initiative in your daily life?
What habits are you looking to make – or break – in the new year? For a collection of classroom activities on this topic, check out the Making and Breaking Habits chapter from Compelling American Conversations, available on our Teachers Pay Teachers store!