Procrastinating as self-medication?

I had told Joy that I would write a blog post about procrastination, but I hadn’t done it.

The first point I want to make about procrastination is very important. Sometimes it is okay to procrastinate.

For at least a week, I wasn’t writing because I was busy taking care of my daughter Ranna, who had had surgery for breast cancer. If you have something important to do, even something very important, sometimes something else that is even more important has to be done.

Obviously, during that week, taking care of my daughter was more important than writing a blog post. For me, when I have too many priorities and I can’t do everything, it’s important to make a conscious decision about what has to be done now and what I can postpone doing. Then, I remind myself that it’s okay to procrastinate on some things sometimes. It’s helpful for me, too, to make a plan about when I am going to do whatever it is I’m postponing.

However, eventually, Ranna had had her surgery. Even though Ranna’s war with cancer was not over, she had finished one battle. Why wasn’t I writing about procrastinating?

The second important point about procrastinating is that sometimes we use procrastination as a form of self-medication.

I was definitely procrastinating. I was telling myself that writing a blog post was too big a job after all I had been through with Ranna. I was trying to avoid dealing with my feelings of extreme sadness about Ranna’s cancer. I was feeling tired, partially because I was physically tired and partially because avoiding my feelings was exhausting. I also was playing a game with myself, fooling myself into doing nothing. Often, there is drama in our procrastination.

In fact, I was self-medicating with my procrastination. I was trying to manage my mood with procrastination the same way some people try to manage their moods by overeating or drinking alcohol.

I was avoiding writing because I was fearful that I wouldn’t do a good job because I didn’t feel I could work with my normal quota of physical and emotional energy. I was avoiding the work and the bad feelings I thought I might have if I didn’t like my writing. I knew that, if I had to deal with bad feelings about my writing, I also would have to deal with my sadness about Ranna’s cancer.

I also am procrastinating when I delay sorting through my mother’s belongings that are stored in the garage. I have procrastinated since my mother died  because I fear the work involved and especially the feelings involved in deciding what to keep and what to give away. And, I have procrastinated with this task so long now that I fear I will feel  like a slob if I ever get started.

A big problem is that I really don’t feel good about procrastinating. It’s like overeating. It helps a little, briefly, but not for very long, and generally I feel worse after I have eaten too much. Procrastination takes energy, and I feel bad when I am in the middle of it.

Finally, when I realized why I was procrastinating about writing about procrastinating and I started writing, I felt much better. I reminded myself that what I was writing didn’t have to be perfect. And it wasn’t. But I knew that what I had written made some good points about procrastination

The third point I want to make about procrastination is that it can be a tough battle. For many of us, it becomes a habit, a game we play to try to keep from dealing with bad feelings. But the first step to stopping procrastination is to understand why you are procrastinating and what payoff you’re getting from your procrastination. My payoff was that I was avoiding all of my feelings, especially my feelings of unhappiness about my daughter’s cancer.

Daniel Akst makes some good points about procrastination as a lack of self-control and a way we self-medicate in his book We Have Met the Enemy—Self-Control in an Age of Excess. He also talks about the difference between shame and guilt. We’ll share some of his good points in our next blog post.


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