A while ago, I wrote my first post on this blog, titled: My Story So Far. The post was about my story as a writer—my successes, my failures, my hopes and my dreams. But there’s another story, one I’ve yet to tell. It’s a story of struggle; a story of despair; a story of hope. It’s a deeply personal story, one that isn’t related only to writing.
I’m sharing that story with you now.
I’m sharing it so that anyone who struggles as I once did might find, here, the strength or inspiration to overcome their struggle.
I used to dream of someday telling this story.
It was a fantasy, a pipedream I would occasionally lose myself in. That there would come a time—somehow, there would come a time—when I would find the strength to openly talk about my struggles to the word.
In every one of those daydreams, I pictured myself starting with the same words:
I am a chronic procrastinator.
But in all those years, all those times I allowed myself to close my eyes and dream, I never once imagined telling this story and saying something different. I could never have hoped to be so fortunate, so blessed, that there would come a day when these words would be true:
I used to be a chronic procrastinator.
I should probably start at the beginning.
A couple of years ago, I read an article that resonated with me. The article was about the difference between a procrastinator and a goal-driven person. It alleged that a goal-driven person will never put off what he or she can do today for tomorrow, while a procrastinator will never do today what can be done tomorrow—because tomorrow he/she may not have to do it anymore.
I remember that I chuckled. I felt it described me exactly.
Back then, of course, I was only beginning to understand what it meant to be a procrastinator. I thought—like so many do—that it’s nothing more than laziness. I just needed a good kick of motivation and I would shake it off.
Then time passed, and I learned. Learned what it’s like to watch, almost as an observer, as your life wastes away before your eyes. What it feels like to have dreams and ambitions and see them, again and again and again, slip away, unfulfilled. I learned the impossible frustration of sitting powerless in a chair, knowing that you have goals, wanting to fulfill those goals, but unable to summon within you the strength to even try.
You may wonder, at this point, what the big deal is. Everyone procrastinates. The difference, though, is that those “everybody’s” stop procrastinating, too.
For a chronic procrastinator, it never ends.
It took over my life. I was always late to work, always late to submit my college assignments. I felt like I was limping through life, only doing the bare minimum needed of me at the last possible moment.
The worst part, though, wasn’t the procrastination itself. The worst part was not understanding why. The solution seemed so simple: just sit forward and do something--anything. It wasn’t like I enjoyed it—sitting alone, constantly distracting my mind with games and movies because I knew, if I paused for just a moment to reflect, I would scream. I had no medical conditions; I was a perfectly capable, intelligent young man. But I felt powerless, frozen within my own body, unable to defeat this immense, bewildering monster that was suffocating my life.
I later read a more clinical definition of procrastination—one that I feel describes it far better. I’m paraphrasing a little, but it’s basically: Procrastination is putting off goals for no reason, even though no benefit is derived from it. Whenever someone talks to me about procrastination, I tell them that definition—tell them to take a moment to think about it. If no benefit is gained from it, then why would a seemingly intelligent person procrastinate, over and over and over again?
A procrastinator likely doesn’t know.
Eventually, I came to a realization—a realization that humbled me to my very core. I had always believed myself capable of handling anything thrown at me; that day, I realized I was wrong. This was bigger than me. I realized I was no longer the master of my own self. If I tried to fight this alone, I would lose.
I needed help.
So I went to therapy.
The Fight Back
Therapy helped. My therapist helped me become less critical of myself; showed me that I was really accomplishing more than I was willing to admit. When I finally conceded that I was not the worthless mess I had convinced myself I was, we began discussing tactics. He showed me that, interestingly enough, my fight wasn’t with procrastination at all. Instead, it was with what happens before I begin to procrastinate. He showed me that, when I’m faced with a new task, I immediately freaked out, telling myself that there was no way I could accomplish it. As a coping mechanism, I distracted myself from that anxiety by procrastinating.
The trick wasn’t to fight the urge to procrastinate, he explained. Instead, I needed to challenge that initial reaction by being logical. When I freaked out, telling myself that I couldn’t do it, I needed to question that. Was I really not capable? Had I not succeeded at all the similar tasks I had set myself?
I wasn’t particularly convinced that this approach would work. I argued that, if I could not summon the will to do the task, I likewise wouldn’t be able to find the strength to start arguing with myself. My therapist shrugged and told me that it was very possible that I was right. But there would be times, at least, when I would succeed.
I could not, he continued, hope to cease procrastinating. That was simply not practical. My goals had to be to procrastinate less.
Like I said, it helped. I actually did procrastinate less, and I was able to be less harsh on myself when I did procrastinate.
A few months later, I was on a date with my then-to-be wife. I was intensely nervous; I had decided that this was the day I would open up and tell her—admit to a non-relative, for the first time in my life, the struggles I faced; that I was in therapy trying to fix them. She listened patiently and thanked me for telling her; she said that she could tell that this was something that meant a lot to me.
And she told me that everyone has their issues, and she doesn’t care.
That was the day I decided that I would marry her.
Then, one day, something fascinating happened. It was several months into our marriage; I made a remark to my wife, something that referenced my procrastination. She frowned and told me that she’d actually been meaning to talk to me about that. That she understands that I say I struggle and that she’s fully willing to support me . . .
But she’s been married to me for months now and cannot remember the last time she saw me procrastinate.
It stopped me cold. I thought back over the months and realized that she was right. Somehow, sometime over the past few months, I had just ceased procrastinating. That urge, that destructive drive that had controlled my life for so long, was gone.
I’m still not sure what changed. I have my theories. Psychology teaches that every part of our personality is interconnected and, when one changes, the rest changes with it. Those past few months were happier than any I’d ever lived. I believe that that happiness lent me the strength to overcome—with ease—a battle I’d been losing my entire life.
I write this story because I wish someone had written it for me. I wish there had been someone who could have told me that they had struggled as I had done, that they had suffered as I had done.
And that, with time, it will get better.
That there was an end to the pain.
I can’t promise you that your story will turn out like mine. But what I will say—over and over again with every fiber of my being—is that if you’re struggling with procrastination, it’s OK. It’s not a cause for shame. It doesn’t mean you’re lazy or not motivated; it’s a legitimate struggle. And you should know that you’re not alone. That others suffer, too. You should know that there are tactics that will help you deal with it.
And you should know that you should never give up. No matter how many times you lose, no matter how much you feel that there’s no point anymore, that you can’t bear to get knocked down one more time . . .
Don’t give up.
As a final thought, I want to share an anecdote a friend told me once. Those who know me well know that I’m not a particular fan of anecdotes—and that I have maybe three anecdotes that I tell, over and over again. I tell those three because they resonate deeply with me; because I have discovered in my own life, time and time again, that they are true.
This is one of them.
A man is by a zoo, watching the elephant pen. Looking at them, he sees that the only thing holding them in place is a chain, hammered into the ground with a large metal stake. (I don’t know if this is really the way it works at zoos, but this is how the story goes.) Seeing this, he heads over to the zookeeper, confused. How can it be, he asks, that such a powerful animal is held down by a mere metal stake?
The zookeeper replies that he’s right—the elephants are really far more powerful than the stake. The trick is to get them when they’re young. They chain them to the stake, and they, naturally, try to escape. But at that age, they lack the strength to pull the stake out the ground. They keep trying, over and over again, and they keep failing. Eventually, they realize that the stake is stronger than them, and they stop trying. Even when they’ve grown into huge, powerful elephants, so strong that if they would just walk the stake would fall out of the ground` and trail along with them, they don’t try.
Never give up.
Eli Landes is one of those weird writers who just can't get enough. A marketing writer by day and a fiction writer whenever he can squeeze in the time, he spends his spare time working on his novel, writing short fiction, or daydreaming (I mean, researching). His main genre is Jewish fiction, but he's been known to dabble in the weird, the absurd, and the truly dark.