If Not Now, When?

Our PM was referring to the opening up of the country after our latest lockdown when he said those words. I’ve lost count whether it’s the third lockdown or the end of one continuous lockdown but, for once, Boris Johnson’s words made sense to me.

If not now, when? A powerful question. A question that has no good answer. 

Clearly, we all have our own views about lockdown. When there was no chance and it looked as though the Sage team were advocating a perpetual lockdown we all seemed pretty annoyed. Now, we seem to be pretty annoyed the other way. “What? Make up our own minds? Choose to self-isolate or go out? Mix with more than one person? Socialise? Noooooo!”

Choices, choices. And no sure answer. If we go out, so we’re told, numbers will surge. If we stay in, surely our resistance to other more “normal” illnesses such as flu or colds will diminish? If we’re not exposed to them, will we become less immune to the bugs we can usually resist? The absolute opposite of Covid, of course, except that most of us are trusting that our vaccinations will protect us to at least some extent.

So, a decision has to be made and it has, even though it’s not quite the final decision we were told we could expect. It looks like our PM may be procrastinating again. Still, in his shoes, who wouldn’t?

But I procrastinate. The purpose of this post is not about lockdown, it is about procrastination. It wasn’t my intention to link the latest lockdown decision with procrastination but it would be foolish not to take an opportunity so graciously given.

If not now, when?

A few quick questions. Have you finally written that novel you’ve been planning for years? Have you thrown out all your unused/unwanted wardrobe items now you’ve had a bit of time on your hands? And what about that diet and all the exercise you were planning to do when you could just spare the time?

No? If not, why not? The amazing playwright Jack Rosenthal said he would do anything and everything before he sat down to work including cleaning the house from top to bottom and reading the telephone directory. Deadline-itus is something many people can recognise, not just writers. They will put off doing whatever it is that needs to be done until the last possible moment.

But why? Surely, it’s better to prepare for the task, complete it, enjoy the satisfaction of finishing it (Gestalt) and then moving on to the next one. That would seem a good way of working.

It would seem so but, while many of us know this in our heads, we still manage to block ourselves. It’s such a rich source of curiosity that there’s a fair amount of research on it.

One reason for procrastination may be boredom – the subject matter does not interest you. Or there may be a lack of incentive – is there a benefit if you complete the assignment? Will somebody read it, will you be praised, will you be rewarded? Or does nobody care?

Perhaps you are not confident about the work in hand. You may not know where to begin, let alone where to end. So, by doing nothing, while you may not be succeeding you are most definitely not failing. Nor will you be found out, providing the assignment you’re not working on was not given to your boss, in that case, h/she may expect a response.

The fear of failure comes into play from the emotional part of your brain: the amygdala that controls the fight, flight or freeze response. It’s very useful as an instinctive protector of your wellbeing – for example, watching out for you while you’re crossing the road and reading your smart phone – but you need to be careful not to allow it to override your reasonability.

If you only work with your instinct and forget about both your learned experience and your ability to make your own judgment call, you would never do anything. Procrastination would have won.

As I write this, I am aware that procrastination may not be a “dirty” word to everyone. If so, apologies and please continue you as you are. If not, here are some thoughts.

Researchers in one study talk about the necessity of locomotion in order to get the better of procrastination. In other words, the need for a driver or motivation that will overcome your inertia. Find yours. Ask yourself what is stopping you from taking on the task that most probably came from you in the first place. Is it fear, is it inertia, is it lack of confidence in your ability or lack of knowledge in how to go about it – where to start?

Identifying the answer to the initial question can begin the process of unlocking. If you don’t have the motivation, then it’s highly unlikely that you’ll complete the task. But, if you find that is the case, get rid of the idea, move on. Don’t allow it to linger in the back of your mind where you always promised yourself one day you would … it’s gone, finished, goodbye.

But if, after that soul-searching part, you decide you do want to continue, make a start and envisage each step along the way. If we’re talking about the novel, imagine writing the first chapter; if we’re talking about emptying cupboards, imagine clearing one space at a time. Imagine how good that will look and how pleased you will feel.

That, in the end, is the whole point of it. Procrastination can gnaw at you, sapping your energy and leaving you with a faintly uncomfortable nagging feeling that you should be doing something but you’re not. Imagine moving past that stage, getting on with what you have chosen to do and imagine the satisfaction and relief you’ll feel after you’ve completed that task.

Go for it. If not now, when?

By Lulu Sinclair


Photo 1 by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Photo 2 by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Photo 3 by Sarah Kilian on Unsplash