Towards the end of 2010, with snow thick on the ground, I took Jack for a walk. For the hundredth time, my eye caught a wonderful sight, and I vowed to start a blog, on which to share photos and thoughts from our walks.
All through 2011, this scenario played itself out repeatedly. The weather changed, the sights changed, our walks were varied, but every time, I remembered my idea, and chided for myself for not actually getting on and doing it.
Now, with the season of resolutions upon us, I decided to investigate this phenomenon a little more closely. We believe that this time of year is a good time to start or stop, begin or end, gain or lose. All those things we've meant to do, but just haven't got around to. All those things we've promised ourselves we will do, but have been putting off. How does procrastination come about? Are we right to give ourselves a hard time over it? Can we actually control events and timings in the way that we think we can?
It seems to me that our procrastinating thoughts fall into two categories. Firstly, the 'When I...' category. So, the thoughts that frequently came up when I was thinking about starting the blog included; When I've got a decent camera; When I've done some more writing for myself; and When I've done an editing course. I concocted a whole set of conditions that had to be met before even starting. Then, I'd get into thinking through each of the conditions. I can't afford to go and just buy a camera, so maybe I can borrow one. But then I'd have to give it back at some point. Maybe I can get one on Freecycle - after all, I gave away that camcorder. And so on...
The second category is, of course, 'What if...' What if other people don't like what I write? What if it turns out I'm just no good at it? What if someone else has done the same, only much, much better?
So, we create a feeling of risk, a feeling that some negative emotion or experience may arise as a result of the action. The creative urge is stifled, belittled as our superegos have a field day, and we stay safe in non-action, keeping our creation unmanifest.
Then come the recriminations. You really should have got around to that by now. She's managed to write and get published. You had the idea months ago and you still haven't done anything about it. More superego stuff. More shame. But remember: the mind that is now coming up with recriminating thoughts is the same mind that came up with the procrastinating thoughts. Giving ourselves a hard time about procrastinating simply fuels the superego. Much better to investigate the truth of all these thoughts. Inquiry methods like The Work of Byron Katie are a great place to start.
All these thoughts also assume that we are able to control our selves and life, and that we are totally responsible for our actions and the timing of those actions. We believe that we are separate selves, at the helm as we navigate through our lives. It would seem, however, that this is just not the case; that it really is just a belief. Likewise, the belief that things should have happened sooner or later than they did, or that we are deficient in some way because we have or haven't done something, is also just that - a belief.
Maybe if we stop giving ourselves a hard time, and accept that things happen in their own time, we can free ourselves of the critical, anxious, voice that leads to procrastination. Or maybe it really is time to go and watch another episode of The Wire.