Monday, November 28, 2011

Procrastination & Forgiveness

I have a Midwest work ethic. I've never liked taking more than two weeks off from work. It makes me anxious. I should be doing something. Something constructive. Something to take care of business. But that's really difficult to do when our bodies don't cooperate. And it's hard to override those feelings. For me, I struggle daily with feelings of guilt over what I'm not doing but should be doing. To my heart, it doesn't matter that that my body is kaput. I still want to do these things. The wanting hurts. So I've had to learn to slow down.

As Jenny Pettit puts it,
"With chronic illnesses (and pain and fatigue) comes plenty of chronic guilt. We may voice the legitimacy of our limits for the rest of the world...but inside our own heads we hear so much doubt. Do I really need a 4 hour nap? Can't I stay up late and get this task done? Why should I get to claim "brain fog" when other people wouldn't need to stop? (And yes, "brain fog" sounds pretty silly to us, too, even though we live the debilitating effects.)

"Yes, we do. Yes, we need to nap - our bodies are fighting 24-7 battles against themselves. No, we can't stay up late - what little functionality we have is strongly correlated to our ability to adhere to a schedule. We 'get to claim brain fog' - our work is no good when it comes from a low-hanging cloud. We need to forgive ourselves.

"We need to BELIEVE it's ok to live within these limits. We need to allow ourselves compromises with ourselves. We need to accept we aren't going to be able to build the tower of Babel on a 4 day weekend just because "it has to get done somehow", and love ourselves anyway. We need to ask ourselves for forgiveness and give it wholeheartedly and without delay."
(Forgiving Myself - UII - Understanding Invisible Illnesses)

It's not that I won't reach success. It's just that it's going to take me a lot longer to get there. Yes, the laundry will be hung up eventually. Yes, I will be able to finish that blog post. Yes, that task is impossible for me right now. But it may be possible later. I can do things in small, manageable steps. I don't need to complete everything at once. I can accept my limits. I believe I've used this analogy before, but it bears repeating. I like to think of it like driving on the highway. There's a big difference between acceptance and approval. I may not approve or like that the car in front of me has come to a sudden stop, but I accept the fact that it has happened, and slam on my breaks so I don't cause an accident.

There are all sorts of things that can happen to put walls in my way. I need not beat myself up about it in the meantime. In fact, science shows that the act of forgiving ourselves for doing poorly can actually help use do better the next time, as it helps us change our behavior for the better. Beating ourselves up about it makes for poorer performance, as does using forgiveness as a "free pass" to continue the bad behavior. If we're focused on success as our goal, it's better to forgive than punish. This was shown in a recent study of college students and their reaction to procrastinating studying for an exam. If the student did poorly the first time, forgiveness was the key to improve performance.

"Forgiveness allows the individual to move past their maladaptive behavior and focus on the upcoming examination without the burden of past acts to hinder studying. By realizing that procrastination was a transgression against the self and letting go of negative affect associated with the transgression via self-forgiveness, the student is able to constructively approach studying for the next exam."
Timothy A. Pychyl from Psychology Today's Don't Delay

Also, just because there's a wall there now doesn't mean there will always be a wall there. I may have an inspiration and discover a door through the wall, instead of banging my head against it. I may find a way around the wall. The wall may come crumbling down. Sometimes, however, we find a way over, where we're able to use the walls like springboards to success. One of the most inspiring stories I have heard lately is that of Amy Purdy, a woman who lost her legs below the knee and now is a professional snowboarder.

Now, while I may not end up a professional snowboarder (that's not really my thing) I can, and have, used my disability to further my work as a writer. My audience has changed and the pay is lousy (e.g., non-existent...). But I'm still contributing to society in a positive and constructive way. That's why I made this blog. Helping others with problems similar to mine helps me help myself. So it's okay it I have to do it in bits and pieces. I can forgive myself my procrastination and do more when I'm feeling better. The point is I'm eventually able to get it done and delivered. I may not be at the rate it was when I was well, but I still do it. I can accept my shortcomings, manage them best as possible, and forgive myself the rest.

"Perfection is the enemy of good enough." -Russian Proverb

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