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The Dog Ate My Homework

By Jeremy Ireland, Psychotherapist on August 1, 2018 in Other

Sorry about that, by Kay Nine

I have to admit, I found writing for this month’s edition quite challenging. I knew the deadline was looming but I just couldn’t seem to get into gear. Having the World Cup on in the background didn’t help, but the more I tried to motivate myself the more I started to ‘wig-out’. The closer the deadline got the more agitated and stressed I became but still I couldn’t get myself to sit down and write. I’d pace the house, make a cup of tea, check the surf report – basically do anything that would distract and keep the task at bay. I started to get angry. What was wrong with me? I was reluctant to call it writer’s block. I wouldn’t call it lack of inspiration either. It felt somehow different to that.

In a last-ditch effort to avoid the embarrassing possibility of missing this month’s issue I forced myself to do something. There was no choice. By forcing myself to do something (i.e. the simple act of sitting at the computer) I slowly started to get going. By now I had my topic, soon I’d written my first line, and eventually the ideas began to take form. With the deadline date still ticking down I realised I had been fully ensnared in the net of procrastination.

Procrastination can affect different people in different ways. It could be something simple like putting off mowing the lawn or doing your tax, or perhaps something a little more serious like umming and ahing about getting a health issue dealt with. Maybe it’s some- thing more crippling like not being able to get out of bed in the morning. It should come as no surprise then that the more we procrastinate the worse we feel; indeed, a lack of productivity amplifies self-hatred resulting in further incapacitation. In layman’s terms, extreme procrastination is a ‘paralysis of the will’. In its milder form it can be seen as a minor irritation.

So why do we sometimes behave in ways that are not in our best interest when something needs
to be done? Well, fear of failure is perhaps the most common reason. This may not apply to our person mowing the lawn, but it might ap- ply to someone who’s considering a change of career. Say, for example, you’ve always fancied yourself as a writer, you’ve written the book, but you are reluctant to have anyone in the publishing world look at it. Why? Maybe it’s easier to keep your identity intact as the person you currently are rather than stick your neck out to be the person you want to be. If someone reads that book and it gets bad reviews then you deem yourself a failure. Game over. You’re back at square one.

Here’s another example, though a little less life changing, perhaps: You’ve always wanted to snow- board but you can’t manage to do that first lesson. Is it your fear of looking like a kook if you fail that stops you from starting, or some- thing else? If you have a low boiling point your tolerance for frustration will suffer. Frustration often leads to anger, even more so if you’re in the habit of comparing reality with an ideal in your head. If you lower the bar and cut yourself a bit of slack – i.e. reduce your expectation – frustration will diminish.

Self-handicapping is another popular tool for procrastinators. “The dog ate my homework” or “I set my alarm for PM not AM” are good examples of how to shield yourself from a fail or a perceived lack of ability. This self-handicapping is considered a perceived benefit that provides an excuse for potential failure. Cramming for an exam the night before or being hung-over for a driving test are behavioural examples that demonstrate how we can sabotage our performance in order to provide an excuse for failure.

“But how does this get me off the couch when I have zero motivation to do so?” I hear you ask. Well, the exact opposite is the answer. By simply doing something (the action) the inspiration will come, followed by motivation and then by more action. If your front lawn is looking like a small forest, the simple action of getting the mower will inspire you and hence motivate you to actually complete the task.

It’s easier said than done, perhaps, but remember that you don’t always have to be in the mood to get something done. The ‘do something’ approach by action first will get you started and the rest will follow. That said, if you truly feel immobile to the point where you are apathetic, anxious and generally overwhelmed, please seek help from your GP, counsellor or mental health professional.