Many people struggle with procrastination. No matter how hard they try, they can’t seem to get started on whatever it is they’re supposed to be doing. There always seems to be something more interesting competing for their attention, like the latest episode of the Kardashians or Beyonce’s Instagram feed.
For much of my life, I’ve joked that I’m incapable of procrastination. In university, friends often envied my inability to skip class or pull all-nighters or hand in late projects. They would ask me why. Why can’t I procrastinate, and how might I inject them with some of this anti-procrastination vaccine? Well, I haven’t quite figured out the vaccination question, but I did figure out the why. The reason I don’t procrastinate is because procrastinating makes me so anxious that it’s simply not worth doing. For me, procrastination just isn’t enjoyable.
Or so I thought.
It ends up that I’ve been lying to myself for years. Because guess what? I do procrastinate. In a major way.
I procrastinate pleasure.
In other words, I’d rather do work – any type of work – than give myself permission to experience pleasure. For example, let’s say I have a book that I really want to read. I’ll prioritize any number of miscellaneous “productive” tasks above reading that book. I’ll decide that I need to water my plants, or re-organize my bookshelf, or empty my inbox, or cut my nails. I’ll do task after task after task until lo and behold, I no longer have time to read my book. But my apartment is spotless and my inbox is clean and I appear to be a highly functioning member of society.
Although it might sound strange, I believe that my particular form of procrastination is far more common than you might imagine.
Many of us have prioritized productivity for so long that we’ve become incapable of experiencing pleasure, to the point that pursuing pleasurable activities actually makes us anxious. And the kicker is that the procrastination of pleasure is so deeply entrenched in modern society that no one gets on our case about it. (And we might not even notice we’re doing it).
No one shows up at my apartment to berate me for not reading my book. Quite the opposite. People praise me for my achievements and my work ethic and how I seem to “have it all together.”
This is seriously f*cked up!
Because I believe that my procrastination of pleasure is a serious problem. And no one ever calls me on it.
We’ve prioritized productivity to the point that it has become pathological. @BethanyButzer (Click to Tweet!)
How many of you are trying so hard to ‘have it all’ that your health and well-being are suffering? Many Americans don’t even bother taking all of their vacation days. Take, for example, Amy Westervelt, who recently wrote an article on how Having It All Kinda Sucks. Amy took one day off to have her baby. One day. Then she basically hid her child from her clients because she didn’t want them to worry she would flake out on potential jobs.
Society not just endorses, but subtly and insidiously encourages this sh*t.
In Pursuit of Lost Pleasure
In an effort to combat this problem, I’ve spent the past few years in pursuit of pleasure over productivity. It’s an extremely slow and difficult journey for me, but I refuse to give up. I started by committing to taking evenings and weekends off – with very few exceptions. I don’t check my work email after 6pm during the week, or on Saturday or Sunday. I stuck to this principle when I worked in the corporate world, I continued it at Harvard, and I still do it today. I also go on retreats pretty regularly and devote periods of time to doing nothing. I even took two months off to live in the woods and then revamped my lifestyle so that I could live in Europe. And recently I took a complete time out from all social media and blogging.
While I’ve been good at “giving” my evenings and weekends back to myself, I haven’t been so great at prioritizing pleasure during these times. Instead, I often take this time to run errands or catch up on personal email. However, my recent move to Prague has brought me face-to-face with a European culture that, in many cases, prioritizes pleasure over productivity. This is extremely frustrating when you’re a client who needs to get something done on a Friday afternoon. But it’s liberating when you make a spontaneous decision to meet a friend at a cafe at 2pm on a Tuesday and realize you can barely get a seat because so many other people are doing the same thing. I’m eating more sweets, drinking more beer, and indulging in more pleasurable activities than I have in a long time. And it feels fantastic.
Recently, as I was enjoying a leisurely walk in the park on a Thursday afternoon (which was difficult to convince myself to do), it occurred to me that pleasure can be productive. Giving my brain a chance to rest, enjoying the beauty of the world around me, and nurturing my social relationships can actually contribute to me being more effective at work. How? Because when I approach my work with a well-rested, happy, healthy brain, my output can’t help but be good.
Lately I’ve been committing to not only seeing pleasure as a spiritual practice, but also to trusting that pleasure is actually productive.
It might not look like the productivity that’s commonly encouraged by modern society, but it is productive, in its own sweet way, nonetheless. It is productive in maintaining my health, my well-being, and my sanity. It is productive in re-connecting me to my Soul. I’m not pursuing a completely reckless, hedonistic lifestyle, or using pleasure as an avoidance tactic (I need to do at least some work, after all…don’t I? Or do I? Perhaps this is a topic for future blogs :)).
In the end I think that, despite my pursuit of pleasure, I’ll continue to be just as productive as I have in the past.
What about you? Do you have trouble pursuing pleasure? Do you think pleasure can be productive? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, researcher, and yoga teacher who helps people create a life they love. Check out her book, The Antidepressant Antidote, follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and join her whole-self health revolution.
If you’d like tips on how to create a life you love, plus some personal instruction from Bethany, check out her online course, Creating A Life You Love: Find Your Passion, Live Your Purpose and Create Financial Freedom.
Image courtesy of Adrianna Calvo.