But I Don’t Want To!

The wail sounds often and wordlessly in my head. “But I don’t want to call the HMO/ get up in the cold pre-dawn to go for a walk/ write my blog/ etc!” Usually, the presented alternative is not even some other useful thing, but to take it easy, to relax, to take whatever “reward” or indulgence I tell myself I’ve earned.

I suppose this is normal or even nearly universal. The problem is giving in to it too often; the frustration comes from reflecting on how many people have overcome it. If they can, why can’t I? No reason at all, so the question becomes, why won’t I?

For the last few months I’ve been locked in an endlessly revolving struggle with this: seeing something that should be done, not doing it, arguing and insisting that it should be done while countering with all the reasons it is impossible to do just at the moment, finally becoming so exhausted that the thing (so I tell myself) legitimately can’t be done, and so granting a reprieve, which usually lasts far longer than it was supposed to, sparking the cycle again.

After a while, it becomes obvious how much energy would be saved if the thing were done in the beginning and all this were skipped. How much more would get done! How satisfying! But of course, the cycle exists because I won’t do that. And around we go again. “Just do it” must be the most deceptively simple advice in the world (if closely followed by “Just relax and be yourself!”).

There absolutely must be a way of sidestepping this.

What was it Einstein said? “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result”? Aha!

Fighting over failure never works. (Remember the Sylvan Learning commercials? Parents fighting with and punishing unhappy teenagers for bad grades before finally seeing the light and getting them help?) And now that you mention it, haven’t studies shown that better results come from saying, “I’d like you to do this, please,” instead of “You must not do that”?

If I “must not” procrastinate, then what would I like myself to do? What is this progress I would like to make?

I made a list. Just writing it out, I felt a surge of inspiration. Yes, if I could hold on to that, it would be much more effective than nagging and trying to force myself to do things I don’t want to do. I’m reminded of an excellent article I have quoted before about how to effect change:

Doctors had been trying to motivate patients mainly with the fear of death, he says, and that simply wasn’t working. For a few weeks after a heart attack, patients were scared enough to do whatever their doctors said. But death was just too frightening to think about, so their denial would return, and they’d go back to their old ways….So instead of trying to motivate them with the “fear of dying,” Ornish reframes the issue. He inspires a new vision of the “joy of living” — convincing them they can feel better, not just live longer. That means enjoying the things that make daily life pleasurable, like making love or even taking long walks without the pain caused by their disease.

Calling a phone tree to do battle with a careless bureaucracy is enough to bring out the procrastinator in anyone. But thinking of it as taking care of an outstanding bill to remove one more source of stress, or taking steps to find out how to resolve a nagging health issue, makes it a bit more alluring.

(Of course, this also taps into the old wisdom about the power of specific goals and defined steps for getting there; “Relax and be yourself” may be useless as advice, but makes a decent goal, which “take three deep breaths and tell yourself a joke” might actually help you to reach.)

Next time I start to complain, “But I don’t want to!” I’ll find a way to turn it into, “Yes, but I do want to…” and I’ll let you know how it goes.

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