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COLUMN: The Paradox Of Pressing Pause

Heights Columnist

Published: Sunday, January 26, 2014

Updated: Sunday, January 26, 2014 23:01

Recently, I was asked how it is that I don’t run out of ideas to write about. I thought about it for a second. “It’s not like I don’t run out of ideas.” I was asked again, and so I replied that it’s probably a combination of two things: I love to talk (which is a good thing in this case!) and, secondly, there are literally so many things to talk about, ranging from the completely serious to the completely fun and irreverent. But today, I want to start a little dialogue on something that, like life, lies somewhere in between these two extremes. It is an activity that everyone partakes in but no one admits to—a habit so taboo that the shame associated with its discovery causes a panic and so every measure is taken to ensure that no one finds out the truth. Committed at the most clandestine hours of the night with only the individual and his or her computer as witnesses, you know those who have done it and you’re probably one of them, too—let’s talk about procrastination.

Procrastination is a little difficult to talk about, not only because of how personally it affects people, but also because of how much of a paradox it is. I mean, it’s an activity marked by inactivity, and after a long period of nothing there’s a great rush to do something—anything really—to finish whatever you’ve been putting off. Even successful procrastination is inextricably tied with its exact opposite, since failure to cram is of course not desirable, but success feels similar to failure, hollow and always mingled with a measure of regret, because, no matter how well you do or how much praise you earn, you will always feel that you could have done better. So why do we do it? Are we just a bunch of masochistic hamsters, running frantically in circles expecting to get somewhere new? First, I put humanity on a slightly higher pedestal than hamsters, and I think that part of the problem is habit, but part of it is also because of the pros of procrastination.

Sometimes delaying something can give you an opportunity to think of what to write or how to solve an equation. It can also increase the quality of your creation by giving a little breathing space for reflection and ultimately allow inspiration to come in. Personally, I like to feel somewhat inspired whenever I do something, especially if it’s for a class that I really enjoy, but it can be a little difficult to feel excited and creative if you have to write a 20 page paper that is worth 35 percent of your grade while studying for two other exams and solving problem sets in the same week. So, a little time for reflection is welcome. That being said, let’s get really real, everyone. Procrastination is not reflection or some spectacular meditative experience used to summon inspiration. Procrastination is just pressing pause, saying you’ll get back to it, and actually not getting back to it until the last minute when you cram your brains out and pray to a higher power that somehow you’ll make it through.

The reason that I would advise against blurring the lines between inspiration and procrastination is of course due to personal experience. Like so many others, I have struggled with procrastination, and I will admit to cramming for a few exams and papers, but what really made me restructure my study habits was what happened after my procrastination had some unexpected results. During spring finals last year, I delayed writing a term paper because I really wanted to write something worthwhile and “inspired,” so I delayed writing the paper until inspiration struck, and the paper was written just in the nick of time … Unfortunately, although I had made the deadline for my paper, I neglected to study for my final the following day. I remember walking into the final, having not slept the night before, and sitting nervously in my seat where I promptly began praying/silently crying to God to please “just let me get through this one test” and saying that “I promise I’ll never do it again!” Despite the fact that I had not properly prepared for that final, I received an A in the course and what I felt was a second chance for my academic life. However, that lucky break was not what stopped my procrastination. What really stopped it was when I began listing the things that I had to do for the week, and I found myself thinking “Oh, I don’t have to do that paper now … I could write like a page an hour and be done with it, so I’ll do it the day before. It’s only 6 pages!” That feeling of absolute complacency and unabashed bravado in my ability to cram woke me up and made me remember how just a few months before, I was pleading to have the chance to do things the right way and the opportunity to honor the education I have been fortunate to receive.

I have not procrastinated since then, and I wish that I could have drawn the distinction between procrastination and inspiration earlier, because what I have come to believe is that procrastination is not something to admire, take lightly, or beat yourself up over. Procrastination is simply the easiest way for us not to tap into true inspiration. After all, how is it that miraculously right before showtime, we’re “in the zone?” Probably, we spend so much time overthinking that only when faced with absolute failure do we actually turn to our true source of creativity and be in “spirit.” In my case, my great-grandmother and mother are my sources, for although they could not have the higher education they craved (my Abuela because of her gender and my mother because of a stroke), their love of learning never left, and they did everything to ensure that I had the chance to pursue my dreams.

It’s not always easy and, although sometimes just sitting down and not delaying an endeavor is at once thrilling and absolutely terrifying, it feels a lot better than the paradox of pressing pause.

Editor’s Note: The views presented in this column are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of The Heights

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