Self-Image & Procrastination

I am procrastinating. I should be shoveling the sidewalk, but writing trumps shoveling snow any day in my books.

Shoveling the sidewalk technically isn’t my job. The building’s owner has hired a young man who also lives here to do it, but he doesn’t really understand what he’s been hired to do. He shovels a narrow path from the parking lot to the front door — when he thinks there’s been enough snow to shovel. Sometimes, he doesn’t bother.

He doesn’t understand city ordinances require sidewalks to be cleared. If they’re not, the property-owner can be fined. Too, if someone is injured on a sidewalk which hasn’t been cleared, the injured party can sue the property owner. That means, the sidewalk needs to be cleared from the corner to the end of the parking lot.

Working at the pace of a snail, which is the way I tackle something like shoveling snow, it takes about an hour. I know it’s good for me to get outside and engage in some physical labor, so I don’t even mind doing it. Getting started, more often than not, overcoming the inertia of whatever sedentary activity I have chosen indoors, is the hardest part.

I’ve noticed that’s true about a lot of things — at least in my life. The task itself is less challenging than the effort it takes to begin.

Over the weekend, I organized my office. The space was undoubtedly intended to be a dining area since only a counter separates it from the kitchen, but I don’t really need a dining area. I long ago succumbed to the temptation of eating on a TV tray in front of the television set, and suspect that habit will be sustained through the rest of my life — or until I’m forced into eating communal meals in a nursing home.

Because I don’t really need a dining room, that space made a convenient area in which to store boxes when I was unpacking. When I left my job at the newspaper, I decided not to worry about getting rid of the boxes because they might be needed if I ended up moving again. However, that was five months ago, and it doesn’t look as though I’m going anywhere in the near future, so I decided it was time to get rid of the boxes.

I actually made the decision about the boxes a month ago. At that time, I’d been living in the apartment for eight months and was tired of the storage unit ambience. Once I made that decision, I started thinking about how to use the space and decided it would make a good office. I had been using my scrapbooking area — affectionately called Creativity Central — to take care of business, which means I’ve not done much scrapbooking in months.

As a result, I’ve been getting cranky. Creative activity renews my spirit and draws me closer to God. When I’ve not been creative, I feel alienated from myself — which sounds odd, but is true.

So! If I made the decision to organize an office area for myself and saw the need for this office space, why did it take so long for me to make it happen? Well, I needed to get the table which I’m using as a desk from my niece and I needed to carry the boxes to the basement. I needed help to do both — and the inertia factor effectively prevented me from getting too assertive about lining up that help.

However, on Saturday, Katie and I decided to make it happen. It took an hour to clear out the boxes and move the table in. One hour. That’s all. Granted, getting eveything organized once those two tasks were accomplished took a little more time than that. I actually spent an entire day on that. But the barrier to setting up the office was moving the boxes and table.

I wish this wasn’t a pattern in my life, but unfortunately, it  is. If I am excited about something, I don’t have a problem getting started. I get up in the morning, make coffee, feed the cats and sit down to pray. No problem. In the afternoon, when the weather permits, I go for a walk around 3 or 3:30. I put on my shoes and jacket, grab my iPhone (which conveniently has an iPod app, so I can listen to music) and head out for some bracing fresh air. No problem.

Going through job listings? Filling out applications? Writing cover letters to send out with resumes?

None of those activities fall into the fun and exciting category. To keep the stress in my life manageable, I opt to engage in those activities only twice a week. Each time, I spend the morning working to overcome the inertia and the afternoon tackling the task. Each time, when I’ve finished, I discover it wasn’t as bad as I had feared.

I don’t think I’m the only one who has a problem with procrastination, which makes me wonder. Why do we dread some tasks more than others, and why do we put them off, even after we recognize our aversion is no more than a chimera which will dissolve when we do not allow it to dissuade us from doing what must be done?

I think as much as anything, it has something  to do with self-image, comfort zones and expectations. I don’t see myself as a physical person, so the idea of shoveling snow, of tackling anything involving physical labor, creates mental discomfort. Each time, I am pushed out of my comfort zone. And, because I don’t know what to  expect from the experience — will I give myself a heart attack? — I procrastinate.

Similarly, I am not the kind of person who likes to brag, so the idea of selling myself in order to obtain an income-producing occupation — I have no problem staying busy with activities that generate no income whatsoever — creates discomfort. And, because I don’t feel comfortable bragging about my accomplishments, I’m not entirely sure I do a good job marketing myself, which in turn means I don’t see myself getting a job, and that expectation makes the whole enterprise seem futile.

Of course, I could be wrong. I’m just basing this observation on personal experience. But, if I’m right, that does suggest berating myself when I am procrastinating is probably counterproductive, a bit like whacking someone who is limping on the leg for not walking straight. It might be better just to sit back, recall times when a similar task has been undertaken and dwell a bit on the positive outcome. Perhaps, with that image in mind, the task won’t seem quite as onerous, may actually become somewhat attractive.

It’s worth a try. Worst case scenario? It doesn’t work and I continue to procrastinate. At least, I’ve tried and there’s something to be said for trying.

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