So many teens come to me distraught about how much they procrastinate! They always reveal it quietly, shamefully, as if procrastination is a huge sin.
But what if procrastination isn’t all bad?! What if — in fact — there are some gifts to be found in putting tasks off?
Let’s look at one of my clients, Lyndsey. Every week in our sessions, she assigns herself several tasks on which she wants to follow through. Lately she has been trying to review her anatomy flashcards every day for just 5 minutes. Just five minutes; that shouldn’t be too hard, right?
Each week, however, Lyndsey reports that she has — yet again — “failed” to follow through; there’s a different “excuse” as to why it didn’t make sense to do her flashcards that week.
Trying not to sound too frustrated, I asked Lyndsey about whether seeing me weekly is helping her break her procrastination habit. She had a fascinating response: although she’s not yet following through on the behaviors I suggest, she is actually NOTICING when she procrastinates. Whereas last school year she was procrastinating unconsciously, this year she is procrastinating mindfully, becoming more and more conscious of the choices she’s making.
This observation about mindful procrastination corresponds with a quote by David Whyte that a friend recently shared on Facebook:
Procrastination is not what it seems. …what looks from the outside like our delay; our lack of commitment; even our laziness may have more to do with a slow, necessary ripening through time and the central struggle with the realities of any endeavor to which we have set our minds. To hate our procrastinating tendencies is in someway to hate our relationship with time itself, to be unequal to the phenomenology of revelation and the way it works its own way in its very own sweet, gifted time, only emerging when the very qualities it represents have a firm correspondence in our struggling heart and imagination.
..Procrastination does not stop a project from coming to fruition -what stops us is giving up on an original idea because we have not got to the heart of the reason we are delaying, nor let the true form of our reluctance instruct us in the way ahead…
From Readers’ Circle Essay, “Procrastination”
Too often I — and my clients, as well as their teachers and parents — interpret procrastination as delay and lack of commitment. It’s all too easy for both Lyndsey and me to conclude that she is not committed enough to her studies because she is not using her flashcards daily, as we’ve decided.
What if, though, Lyndsey’s lack of follow through on flashcards was actually, as Whyte says here, a “slow, necessary ripening through time”? What if, rather than judging her relationship to procrastination, she were to view it as a revelation in the making?
What if I, as Lyndsey’s academic coach, see myself as someone who can nurture this revelation? Rather than just giving up on the idea of flashcards, what if we take Whyte’s advice to “go to the heart of the reason” that she is delaying and “let the true form of her reluctance instruct us”?
If we look deeply enough, we see that the real need here is not to follow through with flashcards. Rather, Lyndsey needs to learn about anatomy effectively and efficiently, in a way that works for her. The flashcards are just *one* of many strategies towards that goal. When I actually looked at the anatomy worksheets that Lyndsey’s teacher provides daily, I realized that perhaps she needs a more foundational study skill: to re-imagining her notes (which have been organized by her teacher) into a structure that makes sense to Lyndsey’s brain.
We spent the rest of our time practicing rewriting the notes, finding new ways to present the same information. It only took 5 minutes to work through one day’s lecture, and Lyndsey realized how effective it might be to practice this “reorganization” strategy every day after class. She appreciated this new problem solving task, which was more engaging than the memorization task that flashcards provided.
Will this new habit be the one that sticks for Lyndsey? Only time will tell. However, thanks to David Whyte’s re-framing of procrastination as a ripening, I find myself honored to be a witness to this “ripening” of habits that emerge only “when the very qualities [the habit] represents have a firm correspondence in our struggling heart and imagination.”
What tasks do you procrastinate on? What do you notice when you reframe them as a “ripening” instead? Please comment below; I’d love to hear.
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