One of my clients brought up the topic of procrastination in our session last week. It is something we have discussed before, and he was lamenting how it has been a life-long problematic pattern for him. He also struggles with, at times, debilitating anxiety, and is starting to see the connection between his emotional well-being and neglecting to follow through with addressing situations and making decisions. There are good reasons for why he has defaulted to this propensity (i.e., unattuned parents, lack of support and nurturing in his childhood, and the trauma of being bullied), but he is tired of it and gradually considering change.
I looked up the word “procrastinate” in the on-line Oxford Dictionary, and it is defined as “Delay or postpone action; put off doing something.” The objective meaning of the word, at least the first part of the definition, is neutral. There are times it is appropriate to wait and not act. It is the pattern of repeatedly delaying again and again or “putting off” that ends up stagnating and interrupting the flow of our life.
What About Bob? is a comedy that came out in 1991. It stars Richard Dreyfuss, who plays an egotistical psychiatrist, Dr. Leo Marvin, and Bill Murray, who portraits his neurotic patient named Bob. In the movie, Dr. Marvin has written a book called Baby Steps and leaves Bob with a copy while he takes a month long vacation from work. The book Baby Steps is, of course, a parody on self-help literature. The message in this fictitious bestseller is to take one step at a time, setting small, reachable goals. I latched on to its absurdity after watching the movie years ago, as many a truth is spoken in jest. My ex was in school at the time getting her degree in counseling and we started teasing each other, using the phrase “baby steps” as a supportive and playful code to acknowledge that one, or both, of us needed to act on something instead of dragging our feet.
My client’s struggle is causing me to examine my own tendency to procrastinate. The challenge, as the dictionary definition posits, is to know when you are delaying because you really do need more information or time to adjust to a decision and when you are avoiding and/or lacking the courage to follow through. I am at such a juncture, a crossroads. I have some big decisions ahead of me. I need wisdom as well as commitment. I don’t want to let fear paralyze me and keep me from facing necessary transitions and change.
I am comforted by the levity in the idea of baby steps, a reminder that I can break an overwhelming task down into little, mindful and meaningful movements towards living my best life.