Carpe Diem – how procrastination is the thief of positive change

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I am procrastinating – I know I am. I am writing this article instead of doing really important stuff that I know I need to do, and that actually, I really want to do. And yet, so far this morning I have found a myriad of other things that require my attention – all the saved articles that I’ve been meaning to read in the last week or so for example; yes I do want to read them and it’s important to me that I do, but do I really need to do it this morning? The fact that I’ve turned my attention to writing this article now, rather than making a note that this would be a great topic to explore at an appropriate time is a case in point! I am avoiding the things that really require my attention, whilst trying to convince myself that I’m actually not!

The Roman poet Horace (23BC)  encouraged us to “Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero” meaning “seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the future”. Essentially, what he was saying is that since we can’t rely on the arrival of tomorrow, we should get on and do things in the present, while we still have the opportunity.

And as Edward Young said, “Procrastination is the thief of time: Year after year it steals, till all are fled ..”. The present is fleeting, and tomorrow never comes, so putting off until tomorrow what you could get on with today is an exercise in never actually getting around to doing whatever it is that you’re delaying. How many things have we all failed to do in our lives because we have put it off until tomorrow? How many opportunities lost or journeys un-embarked upon because we haven’t got around to it?

And how many of us have said the immortal words – “I’ll do it when I get around to it!”. My Aunt had a “round tuit” hanging on her kitchen wall (like the one pictured) and I remember looking at it as a child and wondering what it meant. Now I know, and I frequently find myself thinking that perhaps I should have one of my own to remind me that I’m just as guilty as the next person of not getting on with the important things in life!

But why? What makes us suddenly able to generate a list of a million other seemingly important things to do when we have pressing, and perhaps more difficult or uncomfortable matters to deal with right now? And the answer is one simple, four letter word – FEAR. I know what you’re going to say; don’t be ridiculous – it’s not that I’m afraid, I’m just really busy and I have so many things that I need to get done; I will do it, I just don’t have the time / money / energy right now; it’s not the right time! It’s okay – I’ve made all the same excuses at various times, and that’s all they are when we’re completely honest and open with ourselves – excuses!

The things that we tend to put off, inevitably are the things that require us to make some kind of change, or to face something that will require us to think or act differently. And change is BAD people – we don’t like it – it makes us uncomfortable and takes away our security blanket of certainty. It challenges what we “know” and demands that we head into uncharted territory. But if we always think that way, then best case, everything stays the same. Worst case, we stagnate, we wither and we die (metaphorically, and even physically). Whilst we may not like it when it’s happening, change is necessary for us to develop and grow and to become the people that we want to be. From the day we are born we (willingly or otherwise) submit to change simply in the act of growing physically older. Clearly, there are some changes that we simply don’t have any control over, but there are others where we absolutely have a choice about and can exercise the right to decide whether or not we engage with. It’s okay to decide that you don’t want to do something, and it’s okay to be afraid whatever choice you make. What’s not ok is to not make the choice because you’re afraid, because that’s what denies us our future and keeps us firmly stuck in the present – like Bill Murray in ‘Groundhog Day’, waking up to the same, unending tedium day after day.

And I’ll admit it – today’s procrastination is really about my fear of the future. If I do what I know I have to do, I am making changes that introduce uncertainty into my life, that make me feel anxious and that are outside of my comfort zone. And yet, I know that the only way that I can get to where I want to be is to do these things. It’s not easy to accept and it’s not always easy to act on. I’m fortunate that I have put a great deal of thought into what I’m doing, I have plans and clarity about what I want my future to look like and I have people to remind me of the ultimate rewards – who will encourage me and cajole me, and when I really need it, give me a kick up the backside! And as soon as I’m finished writing this article, I’m going to crack on with the to do list that I’ve been ignoring for over a week ( – honestly I really am!).

Not everyone is quite so clear about what the change looks like, or how to go about it, and this can make it difficult to take action. But not impossible. Coaching is a great way of borrowing someone else’s brain to help work through the stuff you can’t figure out for yourself, to help you set clear goals and targets, explore options and perhaps, challenge current thinking and throw out a different perspective that you hadn’t previously considered. Equally, sometimes we just need someone to help reinforce our chosen path and enable us to see that it is within our grasp – to bolster our self esteem and self belief and give us the courage and encouragement to take those first few steps into the unknown. Coaching can do this too. If this is what’s really stopping you from “getting around to it / getting a round tuit” then help is at hand to enable you to seize the moment.

Remember, at the end of the day, FEAR has two meanings, and you can chose which of them to apply – forget everything and run, or face everything and rise. Either choice is fine, so long as it’s a choice you make willingly. But if you’re choosing the former simply because you don’t know how to choose the latter, then perhaps you might consider giving coaching a try – perhaps it will be the “round tuit” you really need!

Kathryn Marlow is an experienced coach and counsellor, using the Human Givens approach to help people explore, understand, change and grow, and achieve a brighter future with a positive state of mind.

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