Investigating procrastination

Monday, September 27, 2010

4:45 AM. Raining, this early morning. Fresh from Robert Parker and Rex Stout, not to mention Dashiell Hammett, here we are, ready for business.

Yesterday at intervals I listened to my three-hour recording of the workshop on reprogramming robots, and found it interesting enough. Interesting particularly when listening to people in debriefing, seeing how quickly – on listening for the second time – what they were intending to say, and where they were coming from, came clear, as opposed to how long it sometimes took to read clues originally. One woman wasn’t doing the actual sitting in the feeling, but was more analyzing the feeling, and on re-hearing it I could hear very clearly how her words were making that plain statement – but at first neither I nor, I think, her fellow participants, heard that. What we think of as clear communication is more a series of grunts and gestures. If we weren’t all psychic, language would work even less well than it does. And if we were all trained to listen, it would tell much more, to ourselves as well as to others.

If you don’t have something else in mind, could we go into the nature of the various strands that comprise our consciousness?

Well, you’ve now gotten into the place where your lack of review has cost you the familiarity you need if this is to proceed. You haven’t made notes. You haven’t accumulated questions. You haven’t reviewed the material.

You have done great work in retrieving the information from the universe, so to speak, and far too little in analyzing or even categorizing it. Yet this must be done, or the operation cannot proceed.

Understand this. We aren’t angry and we haven’t had our feelings hurt. We’re not out to show you, and we don’t want or need control. But the work requires certain preparation as we go along. The work itself does, in the way that no one reads without first learning the alphabet. No one does higher math without first learning numbers. Etc. – you see.

To use your new favorite analogy, you must find a way of putting various files into RAM simultaneously if you are going to process them together – in relation to each other – rather than separately. We are giving you the data in pieces and you’re accumulating files. But if those files are never processed, they obviously remain in the form they were in when received, perhaps slightly changed as a result of internal processing at the time. They haven’t yet been processed in the light of a temporary joint consciousness – which is how your RAM could be conceptualized – and so they remain only loosely connected. Mechanically connected, one might say, rather than really integrated, with innumerable relationships being illustrated (or, for that matter, functioning whether illustrated were not).

Well, every time you tell me, I do see it, and resolve to put the time in to get the work done, but I see that it doesn’t happen. A robot at work?

Yes, and no. Yes in that procrastination has been a huge factor in your life, and no in that in some ways is just as well (if more difficult for you) that you didn’t put things together too soon. You did a lot of work to assemble the earlier material, remember, but it is only in this year that so much of it has come to be illuminated by interconnection and by living.

About procrastination, I had the sense you could tell me something about that if I wanted to hear. I do.

Procrastination could be defined as a strategy for keeping something in mind while resolutely not doing it. You don’t forget about it, you don’t do it, you hold it in suspense. Now why is that?

You know that the mechanism of forgetting something isn’t as simple as an inability to remember, though it does look that simple. The Freudians aren’t wrong in assuming that everything means something; on the other hand, sometimes a cigar is only a cigar that reminds you of something that isn’t very important or isn’t very present-time. That is, although there may not be anything disconnected from anything else, the reason why a leaf falls on this side of the path instead of on the other side really may not matter. In that sense, it fell “at random.” So, if you forget to turn off the burner on your stovetop, that may have serious consequences or, if it doesn’t, it may serve to heighten your awareness that you need to keep closer watch, or, if it doesn’t, it may be just one of those things, like dropping a piece of silverware while washing dishes.

Although anything might be examined to find its cause in the sense that nothing happens at random, such examination isn’t always worthwhile. The universe consists of trivial causes quite as much as significant ones. Perhaps more to the point, it consists of long-distance indirect effects quite as much as of traceable effects. The important thing in life (once you know that nothing happens by chance to you as innocent bystander) is not to analyze per se but to live.

So, to procrastinate means to hold a thing in consciousness – to not forget it, even if it would be more comfortable to forget it – while refusing to do whatever would be required to fulfill and release it.

That’s an interesting way to look at it. I think most people would say that it’s just putting something off – I think we’d say, too, that we don’t forget it only because “outside forces” don’t let us. It must be done, we just can’t stand doing it.

Nice last-minute save, there, putting “outside forces” into quotes. Given that outside forces may be looked at as manifestations of internal forces, what does that tell you?

Not sure. A tax-filing deadline looks pretty definite, to me.

So should an auto inspection deadline that is pasted on your windshield, but you’ve missed them for months at a time, more than once. Why? How? They involve potential fines; it isn’t as though they had no potential consequences. Yet you forget them as you do not forget tax deadlines. Why is that, and how does that mechanism operate?

I don’t know. I’m just the humble scribe, here.

You have a deadline; you hold off on meeting it, but you are careful not to let the deadline fall from consciousness.

Putting it that way, it sounds like I’m preventing it from becoming only a file awaiting processing. I’m holding it in RAM.

You certainly are. You neither file it nor process it. Where’s the payoff for you?

I can only see it this way – I don’t want to forget it, for whatever reason, and I don’t want to address it either. It’s in a suspense file.

Yes – but what’s the payoff to you?

Tempted to say, I congratulate myself on not letting myself forget it.

And you don’t have to do it as long as you remind yourself it has to be done sooner or later. But – is that the payoff?

I’m struggling, here.

Struggle. It’s the kind of work you are doing enough of. What’s the payoff?

I put off preparing my robots workshop notes, the same way as I’m putting off reworking this material. It was like only the passage of time could force me to do it. But I wanted to do it.

And you didn’t, too. Look at that.

I can see using time – a deadline – as the “outside force” to compel me (us) to do it. That’s one thing that procrastination is, isn’t it? I’m making time into an outside force to break a deadlock.

That’s it. Pursue.

Deadlock means contradictory forces. So some of my person-group do and some don’t want me to do a thing that has to be done. Why?

Why isn’t quite relevant to the overview-analysis, because the why and the groups will change according to the specific issue.

I see that. So there are some who do want to do something and others who don’t because they weren’t consulted, or feel it is a waste of effort, or disapprove, or whatever. And if it is important enough I can use external pressure to break the deadlock.

Not quite, but that’s one scenario. Keep looking.

Well – I suppose there are some tasks that are imposed on us – filing taxes, keeping track of automobile registrations – that we do to stay out of trouble, but resent or at least don’t consider to be important in themselves to us. That’s one category. And there are chores toward something we want that are in themselves uncongenial. I want to do this book but don’t want to do the work involved. No, that isn’t quite right either, is it?

Look at your workshop notes experience.

I can’t see it. I did put it off all month, while thinking about it off and on. It jelled when it jelled, but I don’t know that anything particularly illuminating had happened in the week before I sat down to put the thoughts together. It’s just, it hadn’t become necessary yet.

So what did the deadline do? How did the change manifest?

I can only say, it came to the top of the stack.

But it could have come to the top at any time. It could have come up the day after you completed your previous workshop, but didn’t – and as you know, never would. So –?

I suppose the process isn’t something I enjoy or prefer. I’d rather do other things than analyze except in dealing with people, one on one. Doing it in cold blood with concentration aforethought (so to speak) isn’t fun in itself. It is a chore, at least in prospect, except when I get fascinated by some

Oh —

Oh. Of course. When I get a firm view of an end-result, trivial or important, I not only don’t mind doing the analysis, I enjoy it, because it is somehow changed by the context of the purpose. So I’ll devise an Excel spreadsheet to analyze my Free Cell performance, and I’m lucky I didn’t have a computer in 1958 or so, or I’d probably have a list of every book I’ve ever read (which would be pretty neat to have, as a matter of fact). And yet, there was the workshop, announced and threateningly on the horizon. What I knew, I knew as well at the beginning of the month as at the end. The end-result was as clear early as late.

That’s why you didn’t forget it. But the prospect of mobilizing the energy needed to begin the process of analysis deterred you until the deadline provided the counter pressure. If you hadn’t had a deadline, you wouldn’t have passed that tipping point. Agreeing to do the workshop, and setting the date, was you putting together an outside force to assure that you wouldn’t put it off forever.

And so the question is, why do I want to be dependent upon outside forces – even if I have to create them myself – rather than just doing it?

That’s the question. Yoda said there is no try, there is do or not-do. We’ll say, there is no outside force, there is do and not-do and pretend-to-not-do. So where’s the payoff?

You guys are pretty persistent this morning.

Yes, we’ve noticed that. So what’s the payoff?

It feels like pushing back against pressure. Outside forces determine my life, and although I can’t ultimately resist them, I can at least push back, delay.

And this comes from where?

School years, of course. I knew it intellectually but didn’t connect it.

Now you have done so.

Yes. And I feel like I’ve done a day’s work, too. Thank you.

Don’t stop quite yet. How would you reframe it? No point in storing the file unaltered.

Just as I pay bills as soon as I get them, so that I spend no time thinking about them, so I want to do accumulating chores as soon as I am aware of them – or consciously schedule them to be done at a given time – or decide to not do them at all.

That will do it.

Thank you, my friends. And I’ll send this to my new robot workers list as well as to the Papa list.

Of course. And give our regards to Rex Stout & Co.

I’ll do that. Till next time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.