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Monday, June 12, 2017

Procrastination as Askesis

Another interpretation:

By procrastinating, you are depriving yourself of the pleasure and satisfaction of getting something accomplished. It could be a small pleasure, like that of having a clean stove top, or a very significant one, like publishing an article.

So procrastination is a way of punishing yourself. You do not deserve such satisfactions, in your mind.

The pleasures of dolce far niente are also real ones, but can they be fully enjoyed when tinged with the askesis of procrastination?


19 comments:

profacero said...

This is one of the standard analyses.

I still say that what one needs is access to self. With this, anything is possible, and without it, very little is.

profacero said...

Ah -- and also -- one needs to feel one has the right to concentrate, and to the time that is goes into struggle with material. I find that all the emphasis on "productivity" is misplaced, and attention to pleasure of work is more important.

Jonathan said...

I didn't know it was a standard idea. It hit me today as though it were my original thought. When I do stop procrastinating it feels good, but why do I prefer being bored and anxious to this simple pleasure? It is like a separation from the self, what the self knows would make it feel satisfied.

profacero said...

Oh, yes, I have ideas on this, but not time to write them down at this moment.

Also, another thought (for me) on this: people just don't approve of my writing process. I can explain that, too, later

profacero said...

OK, I am now back. Let me see. I have thought about this so much over the years, because of saying yes to things I want to say no to, and finding myself blocked, and calling that procrastination, and trying to solve it with what looks like sensible advice.

So: it is a standard idea, and perhaps the overarching standard idea. But everyone, when they first understand it, thinks it is original to them, because getting it is so different from just saying it. To get it, you have to be in a position not to just see it but to make the leap.

Part of why I know about this has to do with talking to students SO much about study habits, and part of it has to do with things that don't have to do with school. There are cases where this is exactly true, what you say: it's some form of mistreatment of self.

I think it has to do with self but can be different things. I had a student who would fall asleep over books and her counselor revealed it was not narcolepsy or ADD or something but a kind of withdrawal, due to not believing she was a person who could do this task.

It can also be a rebellion against virtue, a destructive attempt to assert the self (it always has to do with a problematic relationship to self). I notice that I want to procrastinate if I feel I must repress my ideas, but if I feel the work is mine, that I own it in some way, I do not.

But generally speaking, I think the pain of "procrastination" is accepted because one thinks one is avoiding worse pain: not the pain of work, which isn't necessarily even pain, but the pain of what one may transfer onto it, or will transfer onto it. Therein lies the rub.

There is much more to say. I am not one of those who fear change but many are. I think many students procrastinate because they know that to do the work will change them.

Jonathan said...

The standard view I've always heard is that procrastination stems from "perfectionism." I'm sure this is how many people understand it, but I have my doubts. I've always thought that if you were a perfectionist, you start early and do things right. You would be self-critical, but you would do the work. You might be reluctant to release the final version, but you would have done the preliminary work. My reaction to people who claim to be perfectionists is to think their mediocronists, wanting to be comfortable with themselves.

profacero said...

OK, I commented but the comment was too long. I put it on my blog where it got yet longer. It's here https://profacero.wordpress.com/2017/06/13/a-rough-draft/ and I think it's coherent, or has interesting things in it. I got a couple of insights from writing it.

It doesn't talk about my possible procrastination over career change. This is something I would like to think about at some time. Career change was always a duty I had because my father wanted it: he thought it was uncool, and I wanted to be cool. I may not have taken a path leading to academia, anyway, had I studied what I wanted to, but my parents had also really wanted me in humanities if I wouldn't or couldn't go into arts, and the humanities led to academia. I also liked it, so didn't actually want to change, but still had it as a cuenta pendiente. When I found I actually did want to was when I realized I hadn't caught the brass ring which would have been a job at a state flagship with PhD programs in the 3 things I cared about (all 3). Other academic jobs were so unlike that that I felt I might as well be just anything, I had gotten so far away from my original goal. I wanted a job with certain characteristics of a good academic job, but it didn't have to be an academic job -- just have those characteristics. And I still do not decide, partly because of money (you can't just go back to school now the way you could in the past, and the things I really want would involve school) but also partly because I do not see my own wishes entirely clearly, or stand on my own nature securely enough.

profacero said...

*typo above: he thought *academia was uncool

profacero said...

And/but the interesting text on this is the one on my blog and you should read it. Check out the last line:

"So I came out with my ideas, did not procrastinate, because I thought that the best way to avoid failure or death. But in many other instances, I procrastinate because I wish to avoid death."

profacero said...

And also, and this is key (for me): me feeling I do not deserve the satisfaction of finishing work has to do with me not standing up to abuse / manipulation.

I just had this huge blowout fight with someone at work. That I disagree with. Him very upset that I disagreed and got kind of mean. I realized that right though this person may sometimes be, my putting up with him and therefore being a person who was putting up with a dick would be destructive to others and even to the university. So I went cold turkey on trusting him and decided he was not a friend. It is amazing how, after this, work in general seemed so much easier and a document I was afraid to write, would get all this mental fog when trying to write, suddenly came clear.

So for me at least, you have to actually address matters. I *know* most people say everything is just self discipline and habit and attitude but I think this is just very American, and Protestant, and superficial. I *totally* know how to force things but I think this isn't the point, and would say that "procrastination" is something that happens when you are looking for some other reason to do things and other method: what about not forcing it, what about reasons to do things other than getting ahead, what about a feeling of accomplishment that is internal and isn't just about not getting fired or getting a raise or something? Like everything, "procrastination" has to do with self and meaning and is *especially* not about not knowing how to do work.

Jonathan said...

You have good insights into this. Busting through procrastination shouldn't feel forced, and that is a very Protestant idea, one that I often find myself echoing despite myself.

I'm going to be taking a bog vacation starting now, going to Chicago for Julia's graduation and then to Buenos Aires, so I won't be responding to comments or posting until late July. I hope you have a good summer.

profacero said...

Felices viajes! I am about to take 6 weeks off and travel, too -- maybe I should take a blog vacation.

One final realization on this:

You have to consider that the unconscious is working on your behalf, not against you.
Behaviorist theories, the idea that you must create good habits and eradicate bad ones, do not consider the possibility that unconscious motivations, although sometimes inscrutable, may be positive.

profacero said...

Last-last brilliant idea:

Going public with your ideas, and standing on them, was in my childhood the way to cause a very great family fight with extreme violence and possible annihilation.

So, am willing to play with ideas, privately: have conversations, muse on blogs, write drafts, give conference papers, and so on. But an idea I go public with has to be something I do on behalf of others. I can be *very* valiant fighting for others or for the collective, but standing up before more serious authority for my own ideas is not something I consider worthwhile, since it means death.

When I get over this, I'll be able to commit. I'll stop having so many different projects at once, and move ahead more rationally. (Note that in a way, I do this with "relationships" too! -- although not friends or the kids.)

(I think the structure of academia encourages this as well: you may not get a job, you may not be able to stay here or there, you have no control and very little choice. You have to learn very tricky moves about commitment: commit in an *extreme* way to a topic and in almost *no* way to anything else. But this is a different story.)

profacero said...

STILL more: I never used to procrastinate, about school or work anyway, because there would have been no payoff: why not finish, why suffer, and why nor give yourself those satisfactions? I did, however, procrastinate on some other things, and it always had to do with fear of violence.

I became a procrastinator much later and part of it had to do with that capitalist concept, time management. I don't even need it, I am a good time manager, except: a/ if I am in a situation I do not like at all and do not want any of it or any of its likely rewards and b/ in a situation of unrealistic overwork.

I also became, at about 35, a procrastinator on schoolwork due to fear of violence. Results of procrastination were not good, but feared results of NOT procrastinating were worse. Desire was to leave situation entirely, to get to safety; means to this were not evident; therefore it seemed best to sit as quietly as possible and CERTAINLY not say anything. The gestalt of this seemed to be, if one could choose one's own form of death, rather than the one that would be prepared if one achieved too much, one could at least die in less pain.

Later my fear was of the emotional violence I would start in on with myself if work started to go well. I would only be mildly cruel if things were not going well, but if they were, I would be cruel enough to disable myself: I would become non-functional, not be able to get groceries, not be able to do anything. I did not know how to stop the cruelty so I did not want to start to do truly work, because that would bring it on. But if I didn't truly work, but only partly worked, I could control the cruelty and therefore remain more functional.

Now I am better at stopping the cruelty, can actually stop it. I am still not accustomed to this. I also find, when one has a pattern that is now old, that part of the reason one holds onto it is that if one does not, one will then have to solve whatever problem the persistence of the current problem masks or blocks from view. Not thinking one will be equal to the next challenge can be a reason for staying in the current one. But it is also at that point that whatever the current challenge seems unnecessary. What once protected is now holding one back. *This* is a true cliché that I first discovered when I was about 26, and that seemed startlingly brilliant then.

profacero said...

...and I *keep* having more ideas on this.

Why do people like to be in this not-quite-working, not-quite-playing state? Perhaps it is because that is the amount of self they have available at the time. They are not present enough either to really work or really play. It is in a way like doing light reading, not reading a complex literary text or heavy theory all the time. When we have more work than can be done, and more things to do that aren't one's job-work but are work that needs to be done than can be done, and all actual recreation available is big-effort recreation, it is hard to find ways to relax. In my own case, this state can be a destructive state, not daring to work, but also a germinating one, in which I am opening access to self ... that I would do, in another place, by walking down through an anonymous crowd to a bookstore, or to skip stones on a river, or something refreshing like that. So in that instance it's actually a way of replenishing, and not depleting the self, when better ways aren't really available.

But in my case, more seriously, when I caught the disease it was about becoming serious. One could work well as long as the work was not so good that it made one serious. One must remain an amateur. *This* is most fundamentally why really working is forbidden: because if you do that, you are not limiting yourself, and as the feminists and some others say, in patriarchy, capitalism, etc., one is required to limit oneself. This is the most fundamental thing I still need to learn, actually: you do not have to limit yourself. It is why I am so opposed to the time management model of things: that is all about constraints, budgeting, limits, counting, forcing, restraining. NO LIMITS should be my mantra.

I just looked up one of my languishing novel manuscripts. This one would need a lot of work to get good, but has potential. There is a character who addresses this matter. She says:

"In any case my issues have to do with gender and freedom, my famously masculine style, and the way adherence to tradition and liberation from it coincide in my case but not quite. Did Sazsa refuse to speak during that era because she was refusing ventriloquism, or because she was refusing to claim her own voice? It could be either, or both. And she succeeded at the one, perhaps, but not at the other.

"We could say a great deal, we could write books on this matter, but one does not know, and Didion is right about nerves. She says women fail to complete powerful acts even when it is quite necessary because we know that in doing so we risk the death penalty, risk it every time."

(I am putting comments here and also on my own blog, that I have linked this post to, basically for purposes of dividing them up somehow -- if there were anyone else in this thread I would apologize for hogging it, but. *Anyway* this has been quite interesting to think about!)

profacero said...

*and* I keep having more revelations and I am too amazed to sleep. This never happens to me.

Block (I don't call it procrastination, that's just not starting; my experience is inability to progress while working, writing in circles due to mental fog):

Negative reason for it: what you say, rejection of self.
Positive reason for it (positive impulse even if negatively enacted): not being satisfied with reasons for the enterprise; not being satisfied with shape of enterprise; not being satisfied with the way we approach the enterprise, with the way our relationship to work is formed in the entrepreneurial university ... and not having a way to think these things through, trying to repress the questions via sensible homilies about discipline or writers' hours or abstract value of work or rewards one might possibly reap, when really the question is what is my interest in what I am doing now, what is my relationship to work now, how is that related to the actual conditions in which we work now? (naming the actual conditions is very helpful and almost nobody can do it, because we want to think certain conditions are the ones we have and the university wants us to think it too; realizing more realistically where you are, a la Chris Newfield, is very liberating because it frees you from cognitive dissonance)

profacero said...

Oh, and here's a title for the essay that could come out of all of this: "The Mystery of Bartleby, the Scrivener." One would have to look up all the writing on Bartleby, of course.

There is also smart research in my obscurely published essay on acedia. Which is what happens when you are trying to do askesis, the meditation of ascetics, and you lose concentration. According to Aquinas acedia is a flight from the divine and its antidote is charity, or love.

profacero said...

I am still working on The Theory.

Of course, I look at "procrastination" as anxiety and block; I find that if I procrastinate on work (as opposed to other things, like house painting, that I simply find dull or distasteful and would rather someone else did for me), it is because I fear the experience of anxiety, that leads to frozenness, which is block. So, knowing how to combat *those* means work is not scary, so I can start. I think this may be key for some people.

The other thought I had was psychoanalytical, about hysterical paralysis. Freud apparently has a story of a boy who is asked to sign a document that he both does and does not want to sign. So his hand paralyzes, and he cannot sign. But he has not decided not to, and he can still try to sign (and fail), and feel conflicted, and continue in his loyalty both to those who wish him to sign and those who do not wish him to. AND paralysis is painful so he is also punished for doing what he really wants (not signing).

I read about that the other day and thought my God! This is just about exactly what happened to me with my Vallejo book, an incomprehensible paralysis. It took me years to accept that it was some not-understood psychological problem and not a question of not knowing how to work, organize, make good use of time, and so on. There are still things about this, psychoanalytic-type things, I have not fully understood and that I suspect it would be very freeing to understand. I am actually motivated to seek an analyst, thinking about this.

Leslie said...

Later: here is kind of an interesting piece on this, although again it assumes writing, dislike of writing, is the problem.

http://www.chronicle.com/article/Aiding-the-Writing-Stalled/240737/

I'm more interested in the comments than in the article. But it's yet one more salvo on writing as problem.

I have decided mine is reading. I feel so guilty about reading and doing research, because at work I keep being told that all that time taken is selfish and I am to teach and serve now, the dream is over. I have a hard time reading when I am in town, whether for research or teaching, and need to get out of town to feel safe enough to do it. In town, I am too much on the alert/watching my back, cannot concentrate because I am waiting for gunshots or something.