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Procrastination

Recently, there have been these theories going around about procrastination being linked to perfectionism and self-esteem. Allegedly, people who procrastinate are the types that tend to set too high standards for themselves so they are not even motivated to begin because the likelihood of falling short of perfect is high. And it’s generally demotivating to contemplate doing things under such pressure to perform perfectly. It is also linked to one’s sense of self-worth. Procrastinators, like defensive pessimists, use procrastination as a coping strategy to deal with failure. The defensive pessimist will imagine everything that can go wrong. When it doesn’t, they feel a sense of accomplishment. When it does, well, they expected this anyway. For procrastinators, the focus is slightly different, it’s on maintaining a positive sense of self-esteem. So, when putting off studying for an exam until the last minute, and then failing, the procrastinator failed not because of their lack of ability, but because they did not prepare properly. The latter is a lot easier to accept, no ego bruise will follow. You got the ability, you were just lazy. If, however, the exam turns out a success, more reason to be proud of oneself for making it even under such circumstances. Such ideas are summarized here, for example: Warning: extremely clickbait title.

So yes, these ideas seem to dominate the popular science psychology articles. I don’t know if they are equally dominant in the less popularly accessible segment of psychology. I hope they are not, because reading these explanations for procrastination was very eye-brow-raising for me.

First: don’t these people with such hypotheses consider putting off doing the dishes as a form of procrastination? If they do – and I would – then how can one possibly fit perfectionism and self-esteem into it? Perhaps an obsessive-compulsive person with a cleanliness fetish might be daunted by the thought of not getting the dishes absolutely spotless, but surely this is not the case for the average procrastinator. Maybe I miss something. These articles always talk of deadlines, essays, work-related procrastination etc., but what of cleaning the bathroom, weeding the flower beds, mowing the grass and other such activities. I would be very interested to know how does one fit “putting off going to the supermarket for milk” style of procrastination into the self-esteem and perfectionism explanation.

I do think I am missing some vital piece of information when reading such articles, because researchers cannot be so blind to ignore these forms of procrastination also happening.

Yes, I think perfectionism can be demotivating and make it hard to begin on something. But I don’t think it’s the universal key to unlock the mysteries of procrastination.

Some alternative hypotheses:

  1. Evolutionary psychology may not be my favourite branch as it is often too reductionist and dismissive of potential for change, but sometimes it can work for explaining things better than many other theories. It’s certainly very intuitive. So I’d intuitively hypothesise that evolutionally, human beings have not been accustomed to much consistent, regulated effort and the time management required of us now is very new to our brains. Rather, in humanity’s long infant stage, we did things in short intensive bursts, followed by periods of rest/doing nothing much. Most procrastinators are similar, are they not? They can get it done, they can work hard when required, but most of the time they spend in some sort of energy conservation mode. Such as: you go hunt that mammoth, then you eat it and stay put and don’t do a great deal. Maybe you pick your teeth with the bones. Even the division of the day into work and leisure time is a relatively new invention in the context of how long the human race has been around. So the short energy burst theory is one hypothesis.
  2. Second: similar difference as between extroverts and introverts when it comes to social energy. Procrastinators have less motivational energy, they prefer to conserve the little they do have and do things that are easy and undemanding most of the time and only to activate their motivational energy when it is unavoidable. I wonder if there is a concept of motivational energy in existence? I hope there is. That could also explain why people are super motivated on the first few days and lose it along the way. It just runs out. Most of us are not blessed with a lot of it so consistency in attaining one’s goals is hard for us.
  3. The negative impact of the must. Most people don’t like doing things they have to do. If phrased like that, this is demotivating. It seems almost hard-wired into a lot of people that whatever is a must is an unpleasant duty, even if it wouldn’t be in essence (like going for a run or gym). I’m definitely like this, perhaps to the extreme: make something a thing I MUST do instead of CAN do and I feel its oppressive weight descend on me and kill off all motivation.
  4. Points 2 and 3 stem from this evolutionary tendency and help to explain variation. Not everyone is a procrastinator, so the evolutionary theory cannot explain why some are classified as procrastinators and others not. Unless. One adds the component of other personality traits that can either neutralize (very high discipline and motivational energy, very high ability to accept authority) the general human tendency to do things in short intense efforts or cancel it out from manifesting.

It’s all rather vague and hardly more than a mind game, but it makes more intuitive sense to me than the perfectionism and self-esteem theories that strangely ignore aspects of procrastination where it is hard to imagine those forces being at play. I hope someone comes up with a more plausible theory.

Also, perhaps this perfectionism theory at least is yet another ‘saving of face’ strategy of the procrastinators themselves – being a perfectionist makes for a good, comfortable excuse. One can be proud of being a perfectionist. But admitting you procrastinate because you lack discipline and motivational energy is not so nice. I certainly procrastinate for those reasons.

On a personal note, I intend to carry out an experiment in mid-September and live without the internet. Since I do my work with the internet, I will get internet access during work hours, sufficient to read e-mails and do the truly necessary things, but no internet outside of work at home.

I want to see how that impacts my procrastination and whether I spend time better. I want to get something written, something that I see as my BA thesis in creative writing. But I put it off and off and off. So drastic measures are required. I get internet back when it is writ. I fear though, that I would just find other ways of wasting time instead. Such as daydreaming in bed of the alternative lives I could have or cleaning the floors (because I must write, but can clean).

Findings

I was spending Sunday morning reading up on specific psychiatric disorders and stumbled upon something like nidotherapy. This type of therapy seeks to achieve a better fit between the personality and needs of the patient and their environment.

First off, it was a pleasure to see that my own scattered ideas and leanings regarding what might potentially the most beneficial therapy had a term for it. It also seems to be quite a new approach, but I hope it fares well and will be perfected in time and lead to a change in attitude in the treatment of a lot of mood and personality disorders. Too many people receive no benefit from conventional drug treatment nor cognitive behavioural therapy. It does seem truly hard to implement, however, but my highly subjective and non-evidence-based opinion is that there is no better treatment for most personality disorders and mood disorders than this, and even scizophrenia could be made more tolerable if the environment of the person was suited to their personality and …..um, biology.

Also, The Secret Garden sounds like a manual of nidotherapy and its successful implementation.

Why seeing a psychologist may not work

1. When I decided to study psychology, I was primarily motivated by wanting to improve the manner in which therapy sessions were conducted. I wanted greater intensity, lesser patients and more commitment to the few I’d take. The way things are done here, due mostly to financial reasons and a discrepancy between demand and supply, is that a person sees their psychologist/therapist/psychiatrist once a month. In milder or chronic cases that are unlikely to worsen, even less frequently, once in three months. Waiting times can be a month as well if you want national health care service. This is not conductive to improvement. There are so many people out there who haven’t found seeing a therapist/psychiatrist helpful. People who have felt very alone with their problem. You’d need to be incredibly strong-willed, motivated and prepared to do 90% of the work yourself to obtain a result. A lot of people are not strong-willed, motivated or high in self-efficiacy. They look to the doctor or therapist to fix them, but the doctor or therapist isn’t there when needed.

I do think medicine should be more about cooperation between the doctor and the patient, rather than the patient meekly accepting whatever the doctor prescribes, and placing all responsibility for treatment success on the doctor. In a lot of conditions, there is much the patient can and should do to improve and speed up healing. Psychology and psychiatry are very different from traditional medicine, however. They treat what can be invisible and hard to measure, so the usual treatment frames do not work. It is my belief that the role of the doctor/therapist is too peripheral for some of the conditions one is dealing with. I am not referring to people who have time to spare to untangle their unhealthy life patterns, like why they are so irritatingly competitive or incapable of commitment. Such people can afford seeing their therapist once in three months. They are sufficiently healthy and capable not to require intensive care, but people with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress are very far from it. In such cases, the cooperation should be intenser and the doctor/therapist should be more available to the patient.

Distance works when dealing with treating the majority of bodily diseases. The medicines and treatment guidelines are fairly straightforward. Take this pill twice a day, avoid eating X and Y, get plenty of rest; if the condition worsens, call back. Come for a check-up in a week or a month. There is clarity and the person, unless bizarre side-effects or symptoms occur, has no need for a doctor until the check-up time. This is not so in psychology or psychiatry. The conditions a person experiences can often be surprising, bizarre, unbearable, the pills may not work, the side-effects can be more frightening than the condition. Point is, people are scared and would need constant attention, and they shouldn’t feel they are imposing when they call their therapist out of hours. Left to their own devices, the majority does not improve or it takes years. Alternatively, the condition heals on its own, which once again makes the psychiatrist/psychologist more or less useless.

Right now, the primarily role of the psychiatrist/psychologist is to diagnose and tell the person what is wrong with them. This is important too, but in the treatment phase, the person is very much on their own. I think mental health problems are things one shouldn’t be alone with, until obvious improvement has occurred. One CAN be alone with them and self-treat, or get better naturally because time is a great healer, but then we cannot speak of the psychologist (who cannot even prescribe pills) as being particularly useful or necessary.

2. The second reason, beyond the fact that a psychologist cannot give their patients as much time and attention as their conditions would require, is that mental health issues require a person who “gets you”, who would actually be capable of going on the level of the patient, seeing where they are coming from and why they are the way they are, and trying to help them from this position. It is not possible for any psychologist to understand all people and all their problems equally well, or have the motivation to do that. A professional would of course know the procedure for certain conditions and the typical symptoms of it, but this is not real understanding and the patient would feel it and be disappointed. Patients do get disappointed when they undress their soul, but get thinly veiled incomprehension or standard responses in return.

This is not the psychologist’s fault that the patients are very demanding in this particular way, but that they often are is also a fact. I’ve witnessed a number of people say that they found more help talking to people with the same problems, usually on the internet, than when seeing their therapist. I’ve also heard the opinion that one’s best friends are one’s best and real therapists.

If one leaves the hierarchical doctor-patient relationship aside for a second, it is not that common in life to find persons you click with either, but for some reason patients with mental health problems expect their therapist to be that person – someone who ‘gets them’ and gives advice that will transform their life. This is an illusion, but the patients are not to blame for their illusion. If a sick person goes to a doctor, it is natural they expect to return feeling better or having the security of pills they can take to improve. It can be very frustrating for mental health patients not to experience it.

There is a solution for this problem too, which others have come up with before me. There are trained support persons who have experience with the same condition or situation the patient undergoes and who’d hopefully provide what a psychiatrist or psychologist may not be able to. There are never guarantees, but this would alleviate the availability of support problem I wrote about in point 1 and the chances of clicking with your support person are higher too. Sadly, the bills of such a comprehensive service must be huge and most people are not aware of this option nor its possible benefits.

Unrelated, but on a similar theme:

I think that with the decline of religion in the West, a lot of us have not only lost the purpose in living, but also lost the opportunity of having someone to unburden oneself to, such as the priest or the function the confession had, or perhaps even god.

Who does one talk to if they have no close friends they can trust completely? Especially if a person has done something bad or morally dubious. If you tell that to a friend, you risk losing a friend.

I’d like to be a non-religious priest to non-religious (or religious, I don’t discriminate if they prefer me) people. Like Holden with his catching children business, I’d like this to be my job. The funny thing is that I don’t even want to be as non-judgemental, but I somehow cannot help it on an individual level. I may disapprove of a thing on the level of an idea, but when I hear a person out, I am more likely to sympathise. Sometimes I’m ashamed of myself for the people I can be made to emphatise with. But what can you do. Overdeveloped empathy, underdeveloped sympathy.

Winter passivity

I discovered a good way of feeling absolutely normal.

I took the MMPI test (MMPI=Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, which is a test used to determine the existence of psychopathologies). And there was absolutely nothing significantly wrong with me.

Then by some mysterious route, I ended up reading about attachment styles, and took a test to determine my own, which was once again, the most normal secure style.

I haven’t felt so normal in a while.

*Blows a kiss to personality tests*

 

Attachment style test here.

Being an introverted extrovert

Every personality test I’ve ever taken – and I’ve taken my fair share because I like that sort of thing – has placed me firmly in the introvert camp. Reading the descriptions of introverts and extroverts has never made me doubt I was distinctly introverted.

Until…

This spring I came upon something that turned my understanding upside down. Apparently, introverts are more prone to experiencing negative emotions, particularly neurotic introverts. Extroverted neurotics, on the other hand, experience strong ups and downs and life is more like a roller-coaster to them.

This confused the hell out of me because I could relate much more to the latter. I can be ridiculously happy about small things (and big things). None of my introverted friends seem to have that propensity to jump around because of feeling too excited and happy to sit still. They are a lot more subdued, although not necessarily less neurotic.

I began exploring. I talked it through with my introverted friends, I did a lot of comparing, kept my eyes open to the distinctions between extroverts and introverts. Eventually, I had to conclude that at the very least, I was an atypical introvert.

I live an introvert’s life and can’t imagine myself ever starting to value small talk or superficial interactions. I get bored with such talk fast and want to escape. I like to be alone much more than most people. But, unlike other introverts, I sometimes feel the urge to talk to strangers in public places (I’m too shy and polite to do it, but I want to) if their conversation and personalities appeal to me. I love people staying over. I love hosting guests. I look forward to getting my flat in decent condition so I can invite everyone I like there. What sort of typical introvert likes having a house full of guests? But I love it. I don’t, however, like being a guest at other people’s place when there are lots of people who are strangers to me. My shyness makes me uncomfortable and I generally like to get to know people individually and privately rather than talk over the room.

I don’t mind party games, provided they are not embarrassing nor force me to be the centre of attention. I don’t mind strangers coming to talk to me in public places. Usually, such encounters are at least memorable and make for good stories later. Proper introverts are likely to hate all these things.

I can also talk excessively when I’m in the mood. I’m not always in the mood, but when I am, I can be a chatterbox. I have a greater need to share than most introverts, and I can get restless and edgy when there isn’t anyone to talk to (provided I’m in a sociable mood). Talking to likeable people can energize me and make me happy, but small talk does tire and bore me. More bore than tire perhaps.

So I think I’m more shy and sensitive than introverted. I have some distinctly introverted traits, but I’m by no means 85-90% introvert like all the tests I’ve ever taken tell me. Somewhere around 60-70% seems truer. I think the reason I score so high is that although it is generally accepted that shyness and introversion are not the same thing, the tests can’t well distinguish between shyness induced behaviour and introversion induced behaviour. And if I ever get as far as writing a paper in psychology, I’d like to try creating a test that can do it. But I’m sceptical about it happening, so if any psychology researcher reads it and wants to steal my idea, feel free to do so.

It matters, it matters not

At the beginning of university, I struggled with stress management. My particular problem were presentations and essays. I could fret and worry about them weeks, months in advance.

And then magic happened and I learnt to “think about it tomorrow”. While I so rarely make leaps in self-development, that was the start of my present life philosophy. That I consider to be the most useful skill I’ve acquired during university and during adult life in general.

At first, I used to think about things tomorrow when dealing with school work. Everything came to be categorized into two groups: the immediately relevant and the not. All things in the ‘not presently relevant’ category I would deal with when I came to them, a day or two before the presentation or essay. While at first a conscious stress-management technique, it later became automatic. Rather than worry myself sick over the upcoming exam session or thesis defence, I managed to switch off, enjoy carefree walks and film evenings and have an altogether better time of it.

In time, the same tendency to categorize crept into other areas of life. I’m  overly sensitive, so there is only so much I can take into heart. I had to learn to control at least to some extent what I care about. Psychologist might call it the repressive coping style. They say it is bad for you, apparently, but I’ve only found it to be good, so perhaps my strategy is not THAT repressive? I’ve never believed in suppressing one’s emotions. I’m the sort of person who advocates letting yourself hit the bottom because only then can a full recovery follow. So, when down in the dumps, I cry in my room and don’t repress a thing. When in the heights of happiness, I dance and giggle and don’t repress a thing either.

What I do believe in controlling, however,  is the things I have an emotional reaction to. If I allowed myself to take everything to heart, life would be too emotionally overwhelming. I’ve learnt to stay calm when someone pushes past me in a queue, cheats me out of a small sum of money, snaps the very thing I want from in front of my eyes, listens to music on full volume upstairs, gives me a bad grade unjustly, and other trivialities. I always ask myself in situations like that whether it would matter on my death bed. If it does not, it’s not worthy of a strong response. Rather, a few deep breaths and maybe a curse, and life goes on.

I also do not read or watch the news very often. Major news do reach me, but I try to avoid constant exposure and commitment to following the madness that goes on in the world. I admit I felt or feel? ambivalent about that. Am I being cowardly? Hiding my head in the sand? Perhaps. Some crime reports can be very detailed and it is hard to read without having your imagination spoilt by yet another atrocity that cannot be unseen. Also, what good would MY knowledge of the worst of humanity do? I’m not in a position to help or influence. It amuses me sometimes how people are opining away on TV about what ought to be done to fight crimes against humanity or do for the poor, but then go home, drink tea and have a cuddle with their spouse. Nothing but waffling. All talk and zero action. From times immemorial, the doers and talkers are often different people.

But, to return to categorisation, to what matters and what does not. The death bed question is what I keep returning to. If I lose something that seems important, if I get hurt or angry, I always ask myself if it would matter on my death bed. If it would not, then I try to calm myself, take a few deep breaths and let it go.

I lost my job? Will it matter on my death bed? Not unless it was my dream job. If it weren’t, there will be others. There always are. Particularly in my field.

I have even learnt to categorise illnesses and dangerous situations. I ask myself: is it deadly? Will it change my quality of life? If not, then I’ll suffer through it or try to ignore it if it is chronic and nothing can be done but live with it.

Human relationships are a little trickier, but to protect myself from overdoing on the caring front, I also tend to categorize people into two basic groups: friendship material and superficial social butterflies. The former I invest myself in emotionally. Social butterflies are the kind of charming people that you can have a nice chat with once in a while but who are incapable of caring about you deeply. They have just too many other friends and acquaintances, and a different sort of personality altogether. But I want some sort of devotion, even from friends. I want to matter. If I feel I don’t matter, my heart stays locked in self-defence.

Overall, this ability to categorize may seem suspect to some, but it has helped me immensely in limiting what I get worried, hurt, angry or sad about. Very often, I can’t avoid the hurt, worry or sorrow, but thinking like this – that it doesn’t matter in the end – it helps me overcome life’s little annoyances and disappointments much faster and relatively unscathed. So there is more room for my heart to be scathed by the big things. Haha.

When does being lost end?

Being reasonably intelligent and capable has its downside if you haven’t found your one true calling.

I’ve said this a number of times that I should have been an athlete. Unfortunately, the right personality is only a small ingredient in professional sports, perhaps the decisive one, the factor that makes some win golds and others take the 6th and 10th places. But if physical ability is lagging behind, there is really no going to the Olympics. When I did sports, I had enormous dedication, which I’ve lacked in all my future exploits. Lacked, because there is no feedback, no measurable indicator of progress. It’s hard to keep going if the measuring tape does not tell you exactly where you stand.

After my dealings with sports as a teenager, I discovered literature and decided I wanted to be a poet. It was Byron and Jane Austen that first inspired me. I scribbled bad poetry like a lot of other adolescents, but I wasn’t particularly devoted to it. It soon became obvious I couldn’t write very good poetry, so I decided I might make a decent novelist. This has been my distant dream ever since.

I have never intended to make money as a writer because that would entail a totally different approach to writing. I’m too impressionable and absorbent, so if I know I want the novel to sell well, I’ll subconsciously put in stuff that might appeal to the average member of my target audience.

Now on to real-life choices. I’m working as a translator and dream of also working as a psychologist. Doing two things equally well is naturally very hard. Yet this is exactly how I’ve seen my life, being a translator-psychologist. I do not want my therapist activity to become dependant on the number of patients I take. I want to actually treat them, so I would not take more patients than I can handle, which I imagine is around five to seven. This means I’d have to continue translating to pay the bills. Translating also has the advantage that it is quite close to my pursuits in writing, so if I read grammar and style books, I will improve not only as a translator but also as a writer. And since writing is the distant glorious dream, I should prioritize things that get me closer to that goal. Maybe the digression into psychology was a mistake? A madcap idea.

Maybe I must show persistence, remove superfluous demands on my time and intellect and focus on the one goal? The writing one. Rather than try to become an expert in two areas. I really don’t know. I have an entire year to think about it at least.

Future work fantasies

It is no surprise to any one who has read more than one of my blog posts or knows me personally that I detest my studies. I love the subject, but hate the competitive, stressful atmosphere. And if ever I do pull myself through it and get myself that wretched clinical psychologist’s diploma, it is thanks to fantasies like these.

I enjoy likening myself to Sherlock Holmes in my future work.

My profession – the solving of the problems of the mind. My tools: knowledge, intuition, daring and creativity. My passion: unusual characters and understanding the very depths of human nature.

A patient enters. I tell them that if any one can fix them in our country, it is probably me. But I cannot do my work if they withhold information and deceive me to save face. And if I detect it, I shall sulk like Holmes and send them packing.

And then, on some rainy days, I shall moan about the dull problems the majority of patients have. All those marital troubles that are pretty much identical, and the hordes of anxiety suffering women. I’ll smoke my pipe and long for an exciting, unique patient. A real case! Nothing predictable and ordinary. A personality unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

If I ever become a therapist, I want to be like Holmes.

If ever I become a psychologist, I want to be like Holmes (here played by Jeremy Brett)