אם לא אכשיו אימתי
Essays 2019 / Personal Growth
You experience a nagging feeling, guilt gnawing away at you. You know what you should be doing, you know what you have to be doing, yet you don’t do it.
You know that you should change. When logically thought through, the conclusion reached is that it is completely irrational to push off and evade your responsibilities until it is no longer possible to do so, and the deadline of the aforementioned obligation is looming before you, frighteningly near, too large to ignore or push to the side. Then, you are forced to deal with the consequences of your delaying; alongside the original task at hand is extreme stress as you race against time to accomplish as much as you possibly can, and quite often, disappointment, dissatisfaction and regret when the results do not measure up to the standards of which you are truly capable, and do not aptly express and illustrate your talents and abilities.
Procrastination is not merely a one-time situation, in which the person involved suffers as a result of his actions, or in this case ‘non-actions’, promptly learns his lesson, and has a completely different attitude the next time. In most cases, it is an ongoing problem, one that might come to the fore with regards to essays, projects, tests, cleaning one’s room, even, G-d Forbid, with regards to one’s Service of Hashem, such as when it comes to working on refining oneself and growing spiritually in matters of tefillah, learning, etc.
In this essay, I will first list three different, underlying causes of procrastination, and then corresponding to each one, I will bring up a way to solve this issue, according to excerpts from Tanya, Hayom Yom and other Chassidic sources.
What leads to procrastination?
- First, there is procrastination that stems from laziness. The person involved has the attitude that it is much more comfortable and a lot easier for him right now, at this point in time, to occupy himself with a pleasure-filling task, for example, reading a captivating book, playing a nice game, enjoying a pleasant conversation with a friend over WhatsApp, looking through some other form of social media, etc. This attitude shows a lack of foresight into the future. The person completely disregards any thoughts of how some time spent on accomplishing his obligations now will spare him a lot of aggravation and heartache in the future. While delaying his obligations gives him some pleasure in the moment, in the long run, it will not benefit him whatsoever, and he will be faced with a massive build-up of work, thereby resulting in stress and a hastily done task, which will not bring him nearly as much satisfaction as it would have had he started earlier and been able to leisurely work his way through the allotted task. This mode of procrastination is often accompanied by guilt, but the guilt is frequently squashed under a pile of self-made excuses and justifications.
- Next, there is a form of procrastination that stems from a lack of faith in one’s abilities, and the fear of failure. The person in question is afraid that he will mess up in some way, that he will not reach the full extent of his capabilities, that he will not succeed at whatever it is that he is to set out to accomplish. He thus believes that it is better not to try at all, rather than to try and fail, and he tries to delay what he knows he must do for as long as possible. A major issue in this is that when he finally completes the job at hand, it will most likely not reflect his true potential (, as it was done in a rush and he was forced to focus on quantity and not quality, per se,) and will not do much at all in the way of boosting his self-confidence. This forms a terrible cycle involving feelings of inadequacy and failure. These feelings of inadequacy might be partially cultivated through the practice of comparing oneself to others, whom one may view as more talented or successful.
- Lastly, there is the procrastination that stems from being overwhelmed. The person feels that there is so much that he needs to do, and it is of such a difficult nature. He is intimidated by the lengthy and/or complicated nature of the duties ahead of him. He is anxious about coping in the sea of work before him. He doesn’t know where to begin. He tries to avoid tackling, or even thinking, about the task set before him. Just the thought of the subject stresses him out. Eventually, when he is left with no other option, he struggles to suppress those swirling emotions, and jumps in. He does as much as he can, as best as he can. By this point, he often doesn’t have time to stop and think. When the task is completed, he feels tense and less than satisfied.
There are various teachings in chasidus which can greatly assist one in overcoming procrastination, which serves as a huge obstruction in many facets of many people’s lives:
- In Likkutei Amarim, chapter 26, the Alter Rebbe writes of two people wrestling. If one is and sluggish, although he might be the stronger one, he will easily be overcome, since his laziness and sluggishness prevent him from displaying his strength. When we are entrenched in laziness, our true strengths can’t shine through, and we are held back. In order to truly succeed, we have to exercise control and rise above our laziness, so that we will be strong in a revealed sense and will succeed. An important factor to be aware of is that that the mind rules over the heart. This is a very important and central concept in chassidus. We have to try work on ourselves to act upon this. Practically, we should find a few minutes during the day to think about how detrimental our laziness is to our success, and how we have to keep fighting it in order for us to truly show our strengths. And when we are faced with a task to accomplish, we have to remind ourselves of this and not allow ourselves to easily fall prey to our excuses and justifications.
- First, one has to remember his intrinsic self-worth. We each have a neshamah, a literal piece of Hashem, inside of us. Each person has to know that there is something in this world that only he can accomplish, as displayed by virtue of the fact that he is in this world, and at every moment, Hashem is choosing to recreate him. There is a saying that Hashem doesn’t give a person that which he can’t handle. We know that we have the strength to conquer every challenge we encounter in our lives and succeed at everything we face. We have power and self-worth. We also learn that each person has a unique mission in this world and thus, each person is equipped with different tools to accomplish what he has to, and we should not compare ourselves to others. At the same time, it is not positive to focus too much on oneself when faced with something one has to do. When we don’t see ourselves as the main focus, and we place our emphasis on the job, our fear of failure does not come into play. We just concentrate on getting the job done as best as possible. We have to work on shifting or focus so that our perception is different; it is not about us and our potential failures, it is about the job that needs to be done. When you start working, set about taking yourself more out of the picture.
- In order to avoid getting overwhelmed, set yourself attainable goals. Split up the task at hand into several smaller categories, ones that are attainable and less daunting. Cut the task up into bite-size pieces so that it is easier to deal with them, and begin immediately. As you finish each stage, you will feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, gearing you up for the next stage. The work will seem a lot more doable. Also work on being organised. Have a well laid-out plan, in advance. I learned in school that the Frierdiker Rebbe said that one of the reasons he was able to accomplish so much was because he was orderly. Being organised leads to accomplishing much more, in a more efficient manner, without the anxiety of whether or not one will be able to complete the task at hand. He knows that he will, it’s a part of the plan at hand.
As you work on this, remember to nurture the characteristic of zrizus, alacrity. Don’t delay, take action. Remember, the action is the most important thing.
There is a saying of the Tzemach Tzedek that says that when one has a genuine desire to do something, he will find the time for it. When we focus on what we want to accomplish and create a genuine desire within us to do so, we will find the time for it.
So in summary, in order to overcome procrastination, take time to consider the pitfalls of laziness, our self-worth and our need not to be too self-absorbed, and work on setting smaller, achievable goals and being more orderly.
With Hashem’s help, this will please G-d lead to a decrease in stress and anxiety, more productivity, feelings of fulfilment and success, reaching one’s potential, and truly shining.
Likkutei Amarim, chapter 26
Hayom Yom 15 Cheshvan
Hayom Yom 10 Teves
Hayom Yom 19 Adar Sheini
Collive, The Rebbe’s Priceless Life Advice