As I prepared to write this blog, I bumped into an "issue" that I believe many of us wrestle with: Getting Started. The decision to "Get Started" can be difficult for many reasons. The word procrastination is derived from Latin, and pretty literally translates as "putting off until tomorrow." Webster-On-Line defines it as "putting something off because we don't want to do it or because we're lazy." Whoa! There's a heavily judgmental definition!
Lazy is seldom used as a compliment in our society, and often is used to refer to someone who has a poor work ethic. "Because we don't want to" can be a legitimate reason, but is not necessarily in our best interest. I may not feel like going to the grocery store or doing the laundry, but eventually I'll be smacking into the consequences of my choice; no clean clothes or food in the house. So procrastination has gotten a bad connotation even though it really just means "putting something off."
Seemingly minor decisions can sometimes be paralyzing, not because of the decision (we know what outcome we want), but because we are simply tired of making choices. In our society today, we face almost constant decision-making. Many of these decisions are unconscious, automatic, and we don't even recognize them as "decisions." (My husband just asked what I want for breakfast.) What to eat, what to wear, which route to take to work; stop for gas now or later, do you want the carwash with that fill-up? And we're not even at work yet! So from the time we awaken to the time we fall asleep, we're making decisions.
There are many reasons we "procrastinate;" some of them resulting from psychological problems, some not. Fear of making a mistake or failing, of not "doing it perfectly" are thoughts that most of us have had at times. Certainly, it can be a wonderful thing to have choices, but everyday decisions require even more energy than a century ago. Just go to the grocery store. The recent movie "Hurt Locker" depicts a U.S. soldier, home from deployment disarming bombs in Iraq, overwhelmed by the number of choices in the bread aisle, an insignificant decision compared to what he had been through. Inaction and withdrawal can be symptoms of PTSD, as well as forms of acting out , but we don't have to be a vet with PTSD to be overwhelmed by 'too many choices'.
And then there are the bigger, life-changing decisions; school, career-path, job, finances, relationships. Decisions without an immediate result can feel like jumping off a cliff! Again, having a trusted counselor to explore these life transition questions with can help us stop procrastinating and get "unstuck."
Possibly the most common psychological cause of procrastination is depression. The insecurity of even mild depression can cause the "I just don't know" difficulties with decision-making. And, sadly, others of us are acquainted with more severe depressions where we don't want to, or can't, get out of bed. Needless to say, when this goes on for even a short period of time, it's helpful to talk to a professional therapist.