Tuesday, July 7, 2009

How I May Have Helped a Client Control His Procrastination

At the end of his first career counseling session, an 18-year-old client said that for homework, he'd visit a firehouse and ask what it's really like to be a firefighter.

He returned for his second session not having done it. After probing, we discovered the core reason: At the moment he's deciding whether to do a task, he feels anxiety and gets quickest relief by deciding, "I'll do it some other time." A few more of my questions and he came up with his own cure: "At that moment, I have to stop thinking and just make myself get started on the task."

But he then said, "I think I'll do better when summer's over. Summer is the season for play, not work." I said something like, "Key to my feeling good about my life is that I seek rather than avoid work--because while I enjoy playing with my dog, watching movies and so on, play does nothing for the world. In contrast, by doing work I'm good at and thus kind of enjoy (although not as much as playing with my dog), I feel proud of myself and never feel guilt for frittering away time. A key to avoiding procrastination is to
seek work rather than avoid it." He agreed and said he'd really think about that. I'm not sure whether he was shining me on or not.

He then said, "I'm afraid though of imposing on the firefighter or sounding stupid." I told him how my father, to buy the merchandise he'd sell in his clothing store, he had to go to tiny wholesalers, in person, each Sunday. He would take me with him. Often, he'd use this strategy: He'd keep asking for a lower price until the wholesaler said something like, "That's my lowest price." My father would thank him and walk out. If the wholesaler didn't come after him, my dad knew he had gotten the best price and would--if the price was in fact acceptable--return and say, "Okay, I'll take it." I asked my dad, "Don't you feel embarrassed to go back in there?" My father said something like, "Martin, it's worth a moment of embarrassment to make sure I get a good price so I can make a decent living and take care of you, your sister, and your mother." Moral of the story: A survivable measure of uncomfortability is worth it if the larger benefit is worth it. As long as it's ethical, ask for what you want--go and ask that firefighter what it's really like to be one.

I don't know whether any of the above will actually help my client control his procrastination but we're both cautiously optimistic and so I thought I'd share that anecdote with you.


Anonymous said...

My experience with procrastination is that imagining the discomfort in doing the task at hand is usually far worse than the task itself. Getting started is the hardest part.

Anonymous said...

Your Dad was absolutely right both on the momentary nature of the embarrassment and the priority of his efforts. He set an example as well.

You pass along and teach the lesson to readers like me and I'm not too old to learn it.


blogger templates | Make Money Online