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Procrastination – A Vicious Thief of Time

Why we procrastinate and how we can make better use of our time

Many of us are victims of the habit of dallying about with the most important tasks. There is a habit of putting off tasks and the promise to self of completing them later. Procrastinate is a term with Latin origins, ‘pro’ meaning forward or in favour of and ‘crastinus’ meaning tomorrow. Thus, the term, when used in psychology refers to the act of replacing high-priority actions with the tasks of low-priority. But more often, this trait is defined as a gap between intention and action – where we want to complete the work, but fail to actually do so.

For a spiritual seeker, procrastination is a sinful trait. In the Bhagavad Gita (Adhyay 18, Verse – 28), Lord Krishna has classified it under the Tamasic or hell-leading traits one can possess.

Why do we Procrastinate?

The most obvious mental blocks to doing a task arise from time constraint, the feeling of lack of knowledge, or just an inability to imagine actually being capable of managing the task at hand.

  1. Perfectionism: We sometimes put unrealistically high expectations or standards. Everything must go completely right. The perfectionist is long on criticism and short on praise. A perfectionist may delay in starting a project because he feels overwhelmed by the imagined problems he will encounter while attempting the work at hand.

  2. Anger: If we are unhappy with someone, we often withhold our efforts and do not give our best. This happens when we want to get even with others and so we express our anger by putting off what needs to be done.

  3. Anxiety: Circumstances overwhelm us easily; we find situations entirely intolerable and terribly unfair. Frustration is characterised by whining and complaining using phrases such as “it isn’t fair,” “this is too hard,” and “no one else has to,” etc. Feeling that way, it seems reasonable to wait until we feel better about doing the work.

  4. Self-doubt: A person who habitually questions his own ability tends to disbelieve himself even when he is successful. He will continue to say things like, it went right because of luck. In addition, he may also find it hard to accept praise and compliments for work performed. Because the person is not aware of his own skill level he will feel that no task he attempts can possibly be successful.

Though this gap between intention and effort to do a task seems large, John Searle, in his book “Rationality in Action”, says that recognising our lack of enthusiasm is the first step to overcoming it.

Winning Over Procrastination

More often than not, we find it irritating to have delayed the task once we have started to do it. Some tools that would help in disputing irrational reasons and get started with the undertaking at hand include:

  • Make the tasks look small and easy in your mind. By visualising small steps, you make the end a reality.
  • Take on small parts of the task each time. Eg. “I will glance through the books today. I will read them in detail later.”
  • 15 minute plan: Work on something for just fifteen minutes. At the end of it, switch to something else if you want. Chances are, you’ll get so involved in what you started with, you will not move to the next job until the present one is complete.
  • Advertise your plans to accomplish something, and let peer pressure push you forward.
  • Constantly remind others around you to push you to finish something.
  • Use a good friend as a positive role model.
  • Modify your environment – if you are distracted from studying at home, find a place where you can study or change your study environment at home.
  • Plan and establish priorities – some find that simply writing down reasonable starting and stopping times help them get going. Pujyashri Gurudev says, “If you fail to plan, then you are planning to fail.”
  • Expect some backsliding. Don’t expect to be perfect; occasionally your plans will not work. Accept setbacks and start again.

Facts to Consider

Various research done in past has shown that procrastination is usually a trend found amongst youth more so than in adults. Estimates indicate that 80% to 95% of college students engage in procrastination. The absolute amount of procrastination is considerable, with students reporting that it typically occupies over one third of their daily activities, often acted out through sleeping, playing, or TV watching. In addition to being endemic during college, procrastination is also widespread in the general population, chronically affecting 15% – 20% of adults.

Seekers and Procrastination

In spiritual terms, procrastination is a type of pramad, which is considered a sinful trait for a seeker and so it is of utmost importance that it be eliminated. “Human birth is an appointment made to meet with one’s own Pure Self. Use it for the experience of Oneness or lose it for many lives” is a message from Sadguru Whispers that clearly shows the necessity of its eradication. In the aura of a Sadguru, this task becomes much easier as Sadguru’s Ajna is one strong tool and abiding to it is a sure shot cure to the disease of procrastination.

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#SadguruWhispers Here is the season to work for your spiritual welfare. Do not be laid-back about it.