I’ve been meaning to write about this topic for a while but I’ve kept putting it off. One day I may seek help for my procrastination problem. To be fair, I’m not quite as bad as Goncharov’s marvellous character Oblomov who spends his day in his dressing gown surrounded by books and dust-covered papers, constantly resolving to start work. The fact is, however, that more and more of us find ourselves putting off the things we’d like to do, or even need to do, in favour of either finding distractions or just doing the same old things. It seems that it’s harder than ever to break out of the rut.
There are a number of reasons for this personal inertia. One of them is the very modern problem of the tyranny of choice. The overwhelming number of options that we have for how we spend our lives and our spare time creates anxiety. With too much choice we end up sticking with what we know. We become more and more reluctant to try new things or to broaden our horizons. We know we should try new things, fulfil our ambitions, or do what’s in our best interests, but we invariably stick to our old ways of behaving. The great Flanders and Swann song, The Sloth, sums up this self-inflicted ennui rather well. (Don’t put it off, listen to it now! http://bit.ly/1diasIV ).
Linked to this is “busy doing nothing” syndrome. We all know people who are so busy working that they have no time to stop and think. For them working is a form of procrastination, postponing the real conversation that they ought to have with themselves about what they really ought to be doing. These people are too busy to allow themselves the opportunity to discover their true needs and to follow their authentic self. In a way, this endless cycle of activity is, in effect, inactivity. As Jerome K Jerome said in his essay “On being idle”, one can only really be thoroughly idle if one has lots to do. Being busy is often little more than a method of displacement from the real issue.
The pace of today’s modern life comes littered with opportunities for distraction. The 24hr, invasive nature of the media means that few people ever delight in switching off. Many people are driven half mad by the demands placed on them by being constantly switched on and the expectations of an instant (and considered) reply. Again, this creates a superficial world and with it a sense that if you’re not tweeting with the in crowd then you’re not actually part of society. And if you don’t answer your emails on holiday or at one o’clock in the morning then you’re not totally committed to your company.
Once all distractions have been put aside one’s left with oneself. Although this can be a lonely and disconcerting place to be, it is also the start of the journey to one’s authentic self. Eventually, with focus, it is possible to learn to listen and hear what one’s true needs and ambitions are. Having established them one needs willpower to bring them to life. Willpower is a mixture of focus and discipline. Rather than self-esteem, which is an outcome, the key to happiness and fulfilment is self-control. The people who succeed are those who first find their true self and then set out to achieve their goals with purpose, determination and willpower. Goals plus willpower leads to success. No goals plus no willpower leads to the same old same old.
And as George Bernard Shaw said: “Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and, at last, you create what you will.”