Why Do We Procrastinate?
Like most teenagers, I had a big problem with procrastinating when I was growing up. I had a hard time doing things like getting homework done on time, cleaning my room, and clearing the dishwasher of clean dishes. In many ways, I've been able to get over it, but in others, there was something about certain tasks that made me want to bide my time before getting them done.
While looking up ways to beat laziness into submission, I learned something interesting about procrastinators. Sometimes we procrastinate because we're afraid of failure and the embarrassment that comes with it. We want everything we do to be perfect, but we don't always get our to-do list done right the first time. So instead of working on it so that we eventually get it right, we give up before we even try.
Thinking back, I'd be lying if I said I never noticed this. Growing up, there were some tasks that I put off doing because I didn't know how, and I'd be too nervous to ask for help. I felt like I had to have the answer for everything or else I wouldn't stand a chance. Even in college, there were times when I'd be too afraid to turn in a homework assignment for fear that my professor would think poorly of me.
There's also a question of having to do something continually. In other words, why bother doing it if we'll just have to do it again? Doing the job repeatedly doesn't often give people the satisfaction that they've done a good job in the first place. There's a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip where Calvin asks why he has to do stuff that other people do on a daily basis. He says “Why do I have to clean my room? It's just going to get messy again. Why do I have to take a bath? I'm just going to get dirty again. Why do I have to brush my teeth? I'm just going to eat again.” I used to ask my parents those same questions when I was a kid.
With that perspective in mind, how do we get anything done if there's a chance we won't get it right or if we'll just end up doing it again and again?
After thinking about it for a while, I've come up with some of my own answers:
1: It's better to try and do the best you can than to never try at all. While it's nice to reach perfection, that doesn't happen for everyone. And sometimes the effort we put into something will bring us closer to achieving what we want. For example, at school we get credit for completing our homework even if it isn't perfect. If we don't do it at all, we don't get any credit, resulting in a lower grade.
2: Continual maintenance, while repetitive and boring at times, is still much more bearable than watching life fall apart right before our eyes. We clean our rooms to keep them organized and to make them a safe place to live. If we keep letting the mess pile up, it could get to the point where we can't even walk through the room anymore. It could even make the room an unhealthy and unsafe environment.
We take baths and showers for similar reasons. While it's not usually the best idea to judge a book by its cover, the outward appearance is generally what gives people a first impression, and cleanliness proves to be a vital aide. As for clean teeth, brushing does more than make teeth look nice and white; brushing also strengthens teeth and prevents them from wearing, tearing, and falling out of our mouths. And we do homework to fortify brainpower. Homework, dull as it is, allows us to demonstrate what we learned in class and helps us exercise knowledge.
3: Trial and error is the key to success. Just because it didn't work the first time, doesn't mean it won't ever work. Failure isn't always a pleasant experience, but it is an experience nevertheless. Sometimes we have to make mistakes, not for the sake of messing up, but for the sake of learning what's acceptable and what isn't.
I'm not saying that we can't have any time to relax. The belief that “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” has a lot of truth to it. Sometimes we just need moments to ourselves so that we can sit back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of our labor. But without the labor, we can't enjoy the fruit.