The forgotten love.
A story of procrastination
Imagine a boy who does not succeed in making his homework because there is a girl he wants to kiss and nothing else matters much to him.
Twenty years later, with no memory of the aforementioned girl, the boy has become a man. He is unmarried but is profoundly enjoying casual dating. He considers himself satisfied with his life and his job. The only thing that bothers him is his laziness with the office assignments, he always postpones. This hinders him greatly because he might miss an upcoming promotion. That is the moment he decides to consult me. I see a handsome man, well mannered, well-spoken and sympathetic. After a rather short explanation of his problems at work, we chat about life in general and in particular about women. He is a real “expert” on “the subject” and fun to listen to. I also question him about the very first experiences of procrastinating he remembers and after some pondering, he nonchalantly mentions that it may already have started at school: “Thinking about girls probably” he laughs.
Next consultation he brings an old foto album. He asks me if I remember that he told me he was dreaming about girls at school when the procrastinating started. When I confirm this, he opens the album and shows me a school-picture of his class. “Last week I remembered I was not thinking about girls but only about one specific girl.” He points at a girl in the class photo. A sudden heavy silence fills my office, he sighs and his eyes are filled with tears. He tries to regain control and with an apologetic smile, he adds “This is going on for a week, every time I think of her I start to weep. And you know I had completely forgotten how much I loved this girl.” And after some time he adds “I still love her I think” The rest of the hour we talk about her.
The third consultation is the last one. He apologises for not needing any further treatment for his procrastination because the problem seems gone: “I do all my assignments immediately, my boss is totally surprised and asked me what had happened to me. He commented jokingly that it seemed as if I had fallen in love but that this could not be, not me! But I replied that yes I had fallen in love, without revealing any details”.
Five years later I see him again. He is married and his wife is expecting their first baby. He is overjoyed, but sadly he confesses that the procrastination doom is back. We both know where to look. But this time it is more complex. It takes several consultations with waves of anger and fears surging. Admitting that the boy from long ago had spontaneous ejaculations in his sleep when he dreamed that the girl he loved said she was pregnant was far more difficult than the first time around when he only remembered his love. This time shame about his feelings, fear of being unfaithful to his pregnant wife, and confusion about the anger of his mother at the young boy he was when she discovered the smudged sheets were difficult things to deal with all at once. It took time to untangle and understand the complexity of his feelings. After several months a different man left my office.
Whenever he feels the procrastination impulse popping up he takes a few days off and spends time with his kids. “That helps”, he says, “actually I now know what my priorities are”.
Procrastination is the avoidance of doing a task that needs to be accomplished by a certain deadline. It could be further stated as a habitual or intentional delay of starting or finishing a task despite knowing it might have negative consequences. Procrastination is a very common complaint that often brings people to consult a specialist. The word comes from (etymology) the late 16th-century Latin verb procrastinare, from pro- ‘forward’ + crastinus ‘belonging to tomorrow’. Although we can admire the deadline daredevils that ultimately succeed in completing their tasks at the last second leaving everyone concerned behind with terror and amazement, in general, we have a rather gloomy idea about procrastination and its practitioners “Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today” and its analogues in various languages are heard continuously and haunts many lives. Though of course, the tail-wagging psychology now and then shines a bright light on the picture of procrastination, the so-called positive psychology suggests you might benefit from postponing things (active procrastination).
Knocking on your door.
Who else has something interesting to say about postponing? Let us listen to Hélène Grimaud. Hélène, a French pianist, explains why after recording the first piano concerto of Brahms she postponed the recording of the second piano concerto till it came “knocking on her door”. So according to Hélène something you have postponed can come knocking at your door. And, well isn’t she great in making that sound like a profound truth? We can observe how Hélène searched in herself to acknowledge the postponing and was able to live with it. Watch the video (between 4.15 and 6.20)… Hélène hints at the manifestation of the soul at distinct moments in time. This comes close to our story and will guide us to another to-do list.
Where is the problem exactly?
When we leave our sensitiveness for external criticism aside the only problem resides in the ambivalent feelings toward a postponement. Otherwise, we would not experience the “procrastination doom”. So we are left with our nagging feeling of failing. Thus there is a consensus, whether you are on the positive or negative psychological side, that it is unpleasant to undergo the procrastination experience. We want to get rid of that. So far we all agree.
I would like to add a personal view that ultimately aims also at shaking off the procrastination doom. Since procrastination is not an infectious disease, it is not something you catch, it is also not a pathological change of any organ, nor is it a neurological condition, we can change the definition of procrastination from not being able to execute or postponing tasks to a condition where the to-do list of the heart is another one than the to-do list known and apparent to everyone. There is a list in the heart asking to do something else than expected. The course to follow is to discover what is in the heart.
The invisible to-do list.
In general, I think people do exactly what they want as far as this is possible. Thus their behaviour expresses their desires, but only to the extent that it is possible to express them. And with desires, I do not mean grand projects or a bucket list or any other made-up list for that matter. I am talking about one or more desires that have managed to settle themselves on the top of our to-do list but that are invisible and unmentionable and even sometimes unconscious for the owner of that list.
And here I end my contribution. I think that speaking in a general way about any psychological affliction is always a reduction of what is happening in our lives. I think Hélène Grimaud is right. At a certain moment, something knocks on your door. But where Hélène was lucky enough to know that it was the second piano concerto of Brahms, some of us need to discover who is knocking. And so I will conclude by stating that whatever knocks on your door if you think it is procrastination an-sich, beware, procrastination is always a disguise of something or someone that has taken over your priority list even if you do not understand it (yet). And it always comes from the heart.
Disclaimer: The patient story is fiction and never happened in reality, any resemblances to actual persons, living or dead, or real events are therefore purely coincidental. The story is aimed to make the reader feel part of the therapeutic setting and as such written close to the ambience of my practice.