Do you recognize any of these excuses?
- If I take a nap now, I’ll have more focus later.
- If I eat this cake now, that’ll be my cheat for the month, and I’ll have more willpower.
- If I send a few Tweets now, my fingers will be used to typing sentences, which will make the email easier to write.
- If I watch a movie now, I’ll feel relaxed and more likely to call the doctor’s office tomorrow morning.
If you answered yes to any of these questions, the good news is you are not alone. According to an article in the Atlantic titled “the procrastination doom loop and how to fix it,” the author, Derek Thompson, discusses the latest thinking that procrastination is not necessarily a function of poor time management or delayed gratification but rather one of mood. He quotes Professor Joseph Ferrari “To tell the chronic procrastinator to just do it would be like saying to a clinically depressed person, cheer up.” How is the issue one of mood? Our first step toward procrastination is convincing ourselves that we are not in the right mood to complete the project properly. The second step is thinking that delay tactics will put us in the right mindset — “if only I watch a couple of youtube videos, my mind will be clear and ready to get back to the project.” Unfortunately, our delay tactics don’t put us in a better mood but instead make us feel guilty or anxious and in a worse mood to work on the project. Guess what tends to happen next? That’s right, more delay tactics….
I saw an interesting idea connected to this week’s Parsha in the name of Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun, who has a fascinating insight into the episode of the meraglim (spies). If you look at the simple reading of the pesukim, the spies seem to have been set up for failure. Moshe Rabbenu asks them to spy on the land to see if the cities are fortified and if the land is good or bad etc. Seemingly the spies returned with their report responding to the questions they were asked to relay, what was their grave sin that resulted in their forty-year sojourning in the wilderness?
Like many times in the Torah, the text’s cursory reading is insufficient to understand the message the Torah wants to convey. To fully understand the story, one needs to have all the background details related in the Torah in different places to get a clearer picture. In Moshe Rabbenu’s final recounting of the episode of the meraglim in the first chapter of Devarim (1:21), he says that he told Bnei Yisrael that they should enter Eretz Yisrael right away אל תירא ואל תחת – “Do not fear and do not lose resolve.” To which they responded that they wanted to send meraglim first. Meaning that the request for meraglim was a delay tactic, and as such, Middah k’neged Middah – measure for a measure they got what they asked for in the form of forty-year procrastination.
What is interesting is that Derek Thompson, in his article, doesn’t try to defeat procrastination by eliminating the root cause. For some, that is too difficult a feat. Instead, he suggests several strategies to “hack” procrastination, such as starting a project after the time that one should have started and using the pressure of the deadline to make one work more efficiently. Sometimes we have to recognize that we aren’t going to be in the mood to do everything that we need to do, and instead of falling into the procrastination loop, we should create external motivators to push us forward.
Rabbi Shlomo Gabay