When I was small and faced with a plate piled with the over-boiled cabbage I detested, my grandmother always told me to eat it first… get rid of it… so I could enjoy the rest of the meal… and to save my favourite bits till last. Like many of the things she told me, I never forgot that advice. She was right too; doing it that way means there is always something left to look forward to… even when life gives you cabbage.
When there is something we really don’t want to do there are, on the whole, two ways of handling it… other than simply getting on with it! We either dive in head first or put it off as long as we can. I prefer to dive in. It isn’t always pleasant but it has its moments and at least the worst is out of the way.
But sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I put things off, whether through distaste for the job in hand or fear of the possible unfolding of a train of events I cannot predict… or through the fear that I can foresee all too well the consequences of initiating action. Yet the consequences of action are seldom half as bad as our imaginings, and even the worst task will eventually be over, leaving, hopefully, a sense of satisfaction as we stand back and regard our handiwork.
The trouble is that procrastination of this kind can be contagious, spreading, once begun, like a virus to other areas of our lives. Speaking for myself I know this happens sometimes. I avoid one action, finding, to begin with, perfectly legitimate reasons why I ‘can’t deal with it right now’. There is a letter I have to write, another job to prioritise… I’ll do it later… tomorrow perhaps… And maybe I will. Or maybe I will find yet another reason for ‘later’, reasons that quickly degenerate into excuses. And that is bad enough, but next I may find that my avoidance of the main task has spilled over into a kind of lethargy that infects the rest of the day, or I may manage to remain hugely busy, or so it seems, and yet still achieve nothing of what I know I need to do. I doubt I am alone in that. I hope not anyway…
When I realise what I am doing, I have to stop and think. I need to know why I am allowing the situation to continue without dealing with it. I may simply be feeling lazy or tired and that is okay. But there are a number of other things that can cause us to avoid a task.
What is it that can make us put things off when we know that getting them done and out of the way will lighten the load and make life easier? The longer we delay these things that worry us, the more they snowball, adding pressure to whatever it is that is making us avoid them in the first place, setting up a vicious circle that eventually harries us into anxiety.
Sometimes there are valid reasons; pain, depression, illness, fatigue to name but a few. But often it is simply our imagination that holds us back. We paint a mental picture of the horrors of the job ahead, whether it is cleaning the oven or making that awkward phone call, and then add to it multiple scenarios of what might go wrong or what the possible consequences might be and then fear comes into play, freezing us like rabbits in its headlights of our own imaginings, even if we choose not to call it by that name.
We can, however, use that same faculty to break the stasis and get moving. By imagining the clean oven, for example, quietly sparkling away while we put our feet up… or the relief of having made that phone call we’ve been worrying about that is no longer hanging over us like the fabled sword of Damocles. By doing so we acknowledge the presence of whatever is holding us back, and quietly take the control from its grasp.
With every step we take in our lives, we have the opportunity for growth and change. Change will happen whether we take conscious control, or are blown like a feather on the breeze. How we embrace those changes is always within our control. These days, I am rather fond of cabbage. I think of my grandmother and smile… I still eat the cabbage first, but only so it won’t go cold…