Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The fruits of procrastination

           Unbelievable fruits of procrastination reaped by known acquaintances:
A procrastinator I know, once soaked tamarind in a stainless steel lota and placed it by the kitchen sink. She used a part of it and left the rest in the lota. Daily, when did the dishes, her eyes passed over this lota. But for some reason, she neither  used the tamarind nor did she throw it out and clean the lota.
As it was near the washbasin, the water did not dry up but a few drops of water splashed on the tamarind daily and the tamarind sat in the lota for months. Finally a visitor to the house took the glass to clean it and discovered that the tamarind had made a  hole in the lota ! Stainless steel which is supposedly  indestructible now had a hole in it caused by a bit of tamarind; the  stainless steel lota which would have lasted a hundred years with daily use was destroyed by this procrastinator’s delay in removing the tamarind! It would have taken but one or two seconds to remove the tamarind and one minute to wash the lota. This procrastinator’s inability to spare that single minute, lead to this lota's destruction.

Another procrastinator was one who had one son and then became pregnant again.  Neither she nor her husband wanted another child and decided to abort this pregnancy. Thanks to procrastination, she put off the visit to the hospital for various sundry excuses. Finally when she and her husband found the time to visit the clinic, the doctor told them it was too late to abort! They had to have the baby.
It was a boy. This boy's best friend, my cousin, who told me this story, was glad about this bit of procrastination!

Another friend of mine who is a phenomenal procrastinator had intermittent  bleeding and was advised by the doctor to get her uterus removed. Thanks to her procrastination, her uterus is getting bigger, the fibroids growing in it are getting bigger and (she is still procrastinating!) her doctor has warned her that when they remove the uterus, the cut on her tummy is going to be pretty big. But she is still procrastinating! 
Her uterus could have been removed through her vagina, without a major surgery if it had been done a couple of years ago when her doctor first advised her! I am wondering when she will finally get round to getting her hysterectomy!

 I have witnessed other phenomenal examples of procrastination leading to major losses... loss of tissue(to breast cancer), loss of life, loss of lakhs of rupees and so on.

One example of loss of a huge amount of money was my friend’s postponement of buying of gold. Her relative gave her a few thousand rupees (in the 80s) and wanted her to place an order for a pair of gold bangles. There were several jewellers near her college but each day my friend put off placing the order and would run home after her classes or to her friend’s house or movies. After many months, when she could no longer tolerate her benefactor’s nagging, she went to place the order for the bangles and discovered to her horror, the price of gold had gone up and she could not buy as much gold as she could have, if she had bought as soon as she was given the money.
A friend of mine paid the price for her doctor's procrastination...he procrastinated i.e. he took his own sweet time to refer her for  tests...she paid the price.
A sweet gentleman I know, a friend’s father, owns a coffee estate . He was a master procrastinator when it came to tedious jobs such as the various court cases against him by relatives who were fighting for the estate. My friend once described him as one who would rather go into the forest with a child who wants to find a bird’s nest and spend the entire day trying to find the bird’s nest for the child …..than going to court with his lawyer on the day his case is being heard in court! This man's pathological procrastination and avoidence of facing up to the tedious tasks of meeting his lawyer, doing his paper work, etc, nearly cost him his estate! Thanks to the efforts of his long-suffering wife and his persistent lawyer, the estate was saved. But knowing this man, I  think, he would not care whether his estate was  saved or lost ! This estate is his only source of income; yet,  he is so lost in his own  world. He actively avoids the important tasks and diligently follows up on the trivial! No. he is not having any major mental problem such as schizophrenia, depression, alcoholism, personality disorder, mental retardation, etc
What causes this sort of fatal procrastination?

(1) One reason I can think of : The effects of procrastination are not immediatly felt  and the procrastinator does not experience any fear about teh consequences of his procrastination. Herre is an example.
Whether I  throw  the  old meat dish sitting in the fridge either  today or tomorow does not really make a big difference. And so...I keep postponing throwing the meat to 'next time'...Though I open the fridge, a few times daily, I dont feel alarmed about possibility of mould on the meat dish.
 Putting off doing something for one day, is by itself harmless, and ergo...the procrastinator makes it a habit of doing it daily! Maybe procrastinators, get into a pattern of behaviour and are unable to get out of it.

(2) Is procrastination a type of inability of the brain to take the task(the task one is delaying) seriously? 
When an outsider warns the procrastinator to stop delaying, the procrastinator's brain cannot appreciate the seriousness of the warning or even of the situation. 
 I have experienced this myself...I have not studied for an exam; time is running out; I know I am going to fail if I dont study....yet, I find tasks to do instead of study the subject; my brain tells me to study but I simply cannot sit with that set of books! I do feel exam-anxiety, sometimes intense, sometimes mild, but neither the high nor the low anxiety is effective in motivating me to study! There seems to be a kind of inertia, when I have to do something unplesant and this inertia leads to procrastination!
 Analyzing my own procrastination and of others I know, I think these are some more reasons causing or maintaining procrastination.
1)Avoidance of unpleasant, boring, tedious tasks. Avoidance of what one perceives as non-rewarding, uninteresting, unthrilling tasks. Avoidance of doing something because one anticipates failure.
2) Laziness
3) Tiredness, lack of time, poor motivation for what needs to be done.(anemia, low energy levels?
4) Is it possible that procrastinators cannot understand time-sensitveness of the work they are delaying? I know for example that I have only till tomorrow to book an appointment with the doctor...I know how important it is that I see the doctor before his time gets filled up by other clients.  Yet, this awareness does not translate into action! The thought of booking an appointment is sitting in my brain but there is an  inertia  or paralysis-sort-of-thing which prevents me from booking!

5)I have managed to avoid procrastination, when I have people pushing me to complete my tasks. I have seen this in other people too. So, I am wondering if 'some'  procrastinators or procrastinators 'sometimes' need an 'external push'. Procrastinators may lack the inner locus of control and need external aid to prompt them to do things on time. Of course, external promptors do not work for some procrastinators; external promptors may not be effective sometimes.
6) I have seen a whole lot of procrastinators who are quick to do tasks for others such as friends and relatives and even strangers. But for some unfathomable reason, they put off doing what is vital and urgent for themselves or their families (i.e.their own wife or children). I have watched with bitterness a parent put his own kids needs on hold and run around fulfilling the same needs of other kids…who also have parents to take care of them. There is absolutely no excuse for this father to neglect his kids and run after the other kids needs. I am now coming to the realization that there are several men(hardly any women) who will do any errands or chores for their friends but will neglect the same  chores, with the same degree of urgency in their own households! Their long-suffering wives and kids have commented that their father probably hates them and this is his way of showing it!
What causes this  self-destructive delay of completing one's own tasks ? And what the hell prompts this extraordinary altruism and  promptness with other people's work?
  Is it the  great sense of fulfilment when one does chores for others? Maybe the procrastinator craves for the gratitudewhich  the friend shows.
 Maybe the procrastinator's love  for his wife and kids has waned with the years.
 does he get some perverse pleasure through this passive aggressive way of procrastinating  about  urgent  tasks for his own or his own family's interests ?
7) No sense of priorities: Could this be an explanation for procrastination?
 I am not convinced about this reason for procrastination but I am noting it here for what it’s worth.  One grim example of a lack of a sense of priorities is of a person who wanted to do some totally unimportant work when  his daughter was about to deliver a baby.(Daughter's husband was not around at the time) He did not want to go to the hospital with her but run after this less than trivial errand of his! What is the motive behind this wilful neglect? Anger towards the delivering new mother? Absolute disregard for what is important ? This is another example of men who neglect family and run around doing chores for other people.

This has nothing to do with procrastination but I am writing this here anyway. I would like to discuss about a category of men I have seen in Indian culture ....these are men who have terrible relationship with their wives and  they are extremely disrespectful, dominent and abusive towards their wives; they do not have affairs or mistresses; they treat all other women such as thier daughters, mothers, sisters, friends wives, etc with respect but do not accord the same decent treatment towards their wives. They are very popular and liked by everyone (except their wives) and labelled as  "good decent men"; they are honest, hard working, etc. They run around doing endless chores for their friends; loaning money to their friends, relatives and even strangers but will never do the same for thier wives! They truloy believe they are decent men and what they are doing is right. They are simply unable to see how abusive they are towards their wives! They honestly believe they are treating their wives fairly! I keep wondering if videotaping their behaviour towards their wife and others and showing the two tapes will help them discover how different their behaviour is with wife and others. But I doubt it.
This is one major mystery for which I cannot think of an explanation. This absolute blindness and lack of insight about their behaviour towards their wives. I have seen this not in one family or a few but several. I am sure it is some kind of a diseased behaviour caused by the male dominence in Indian 'culture' and society. These men who are utterly decent in all ways, except towards their wives. Most or all of these wives, are very sweet women who do not deserve (I am not implying that if the women were not sweet they deserve!) to be treated thus.
But most or none of these women(at least my mother's generation and many of my generation) ever get a divorce but put up with this obnoxious behaviour...for various reasons.
 I am getting so worked up…as I write this! I am stopping here before I lose all clarity of thinking! I will be adding all the other incidents of procrastination I have seen or heard  of ....along with my theories of procrastination.
Just to let you all know...I have written this essay without referring to any studies or texts or whatever. So none of this is based on research. It is based entirely on my own experience.

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