To Change Your Thinking, Change Your Words
By Philip Hoy
A very large part of preparing for college and career is learning how to manage your time—and Advanced Placement classes definitely force you to do that. They should; after all, they are college level courses, which is why passing an AP test earns you college credit. You may have already discovered that if you fall behind in your studies—even a little—you can quickly fall behind in a class…and it’s not easy to catch up again because the homework just never seems to stop coming.
And you’re probably not only an AP student, are you? Maybe you are in a sport, or band, or drama, or dance, or a career academy, or ASB, or a club…or multiple clubs. You probably do some form of community service or volunteer work…maybe you even have a part-time job. And chances are you’re someone’s son or daughter, someone’s brother or sister; you have family responsibilities. You might even have friends, possibly more than a few…you might even be someone’s best friend.
Sometimes it may seem that everyone and everything is demanding a piece of you. It’s a wonder you find time to sleep…or do you?
Well, I’m here to help you lighten that load a little; but to do so, I’m going to need you to get rid of just one thing—no, not your best friend—something small, something you’re better off without, just a word…procrastination.
Procrastination: to put off, postpone, stall, or defer, to delay doing something until a later time.
We often hear people complain that they suffer from procrastination, or guiltily admit they are members of the Procrastination Club, as if there was actually a support group for procrastinators. “Hi, my name is Philip, and I put things off.” But mostly, we treat procrastination as a kind of virus, a temporary illness, something going around (especially at school), or maybe it feels like a non life-threatening disease that flares up or goes into remission, but is never fully curable.
On our better days, when we feel the symptoms of procrastination coming on, we fight back. We attack our inertia with action, hoping that our bodies in motion will remain in motion. Maybe we reach out to other human beings, if not physically, or over the phone, then with Facebook, at least. Or we might grab the game remote for a quick adrenaline surge from that life and death struggle played out again and again on the screen. Perhaps we take our skateboard and step into the fray where only practice and skill will save our bruise-able, breakable bodies from the cold, hard justice of the mean cement streets. Or maybe we become completely desperate and begin to pick up all the clothes from the floor of our room, get the vacuum out and start spring-cleaning in November—anything, to avoid homework!
On our worst days, on those days when we might have five things to do (although it feels like five hundred), and we just don’t know where to begin—procrastination sets in, amplifying those symptoms of avoidance and hopelessness. Instead of accomplishing at least three or four of those five things…we accomplish nothing. Procrastination weighs on us like an invisible cloud, a soft white elephant sitting on our chest, slowly suffocating us with inaction, pinning us to the couch, or chair, or floor, or wherever we find ourselves with barely the strength to lift our smartphone, slide a finger over the face of our iPad, nudge a computer mouse, or thumb the channel on the TV remote. There we remain, paralyzed with self-disappointment.
Sadly, there is no cure for procrastination…because procrastination is not a disease; it is a state of mind.
Earlier, I asked you to give up procrastination. But I didn’t say to give up procrastinating, as in stop doing it. It needs to be more than that. I want you to stop using it. Stop using the word: procrastination. I’d like you to stop saying it, and writing it, and thinking it…and here is why:
Language, the use of words, our ability to communicate ideas and emotions—spoken or written—must be the greatest tool we have. As much as it empowers us though, language also has a way of limiting us, confining and controlling the way we think. We express our thoughts with words because we use words to think. But what if our words are limiting our thoughts? It makes sense then that if we change our words we can sometimes change the way we think.
Procrastination, as we define it, is choosing not to choose…which is still a choice, of course, only it’s a very passive, even cowardly one. Start taking responsibility for your choices. Stop being victimized by the word procrastination. Drop it from your vocabulary and replace it with a new word: prioritization.
When you prioritize you place an order of importance on your responsibilities. You choose which tasks need immediate attention and which tasks can be completed at a later time. When you prioritize you assess your obligations, evaluate the urgency of each, create a plan, and take action.
Procrastination says play now, do your homework later. Prioritization says I will do my homework now and reward myself with a game later. But even if you do choose to play video games instead of completing your reading assignment for English, you are still prioritizing. You are making a conscious decision to give gaming more importance than homework…it might not be a wise decision, but it’s your choice, and you can take responsibility for making it instead of blaming someone or something else.
When we prioritize, we never put things off; we arrange the order in which we can afford to get them done. We are not helpless, not victims of a sickness or a debilitating condition. We are always in control because we are always the ones making the choices.
Of course we are never in complete control of what happens in our lives, but we are in control of how we react to it. Sometimes we have to make the tough decision of choosing homework over spending time with friends…but sometimes our friends, or our families, need us in unexpected ways. Sometimes we must make the just-as-difficult decision to place them at the top of our list of priorities and deal with our other obligations at a later time.
Yes, life happens. Sometimes there is never enough time…due dates arrive, tests are collected, and deadlines pass. When this happens, procrastinators blame anything and everyone for their failures, although rarely themselves. Prioritizors don’t blame anyone; they haven’t got time for guilt or regret because they are already picking themselves up, reassessing their priorities, and beginning a new plan of action. Procrastinators, by definition, are always one step behind. Prioritizors, are always one step ahead.
Making your own choices and taking responsibility for them is part of growing up. This is something very necessary if you ever want to gain your adult independence and find happiness, success, and fulfillment in this world.
Hope this helps.