What lies in our power to do, lies in our power not to do. – Aristotle
Andrea left a wonderful comment yesterday on Create, Connect, and Consume, and her point is something I’ve been meaning to write about for a long time. The irony is that it’s about the problem of continual deferment.
To make it easier to follow the thread, I’ll quote her comment:
Charlie, would you say more about this?
“There’s no productivity system or bunch of creative tricks or tips that will help you with the continual deferring problem.”
Is it in fact that you believe existing support systems #fail outright at creating progress when procrastination or deferral is present?
Is it that you feel no viable system or tricks/tips exists? In which case I’m curious about your definitions. I ask because I teach on the power of environments to support exactly this, moving away from doing things through willpower or discipline – such an exhausting way to live.
For example, if a business owner constantly defers writing or some other aspect of ”˜creating’ there are weekly coaching calls as accountability, online platforms which encourage the creation of new writing habit chains, even self-tricks such as ”˜If you write 3 times this week you get to buy that cool thing you saw.”
Clearly these and other examples work and don’t work from case to case. The best case scenario is that a sustainable new habit is formed and the formerly ”˜often deferred thing’ becomes an effortless part of life. Thank goodness for me, I found a way to no longer defer doing my books and paying my taxes, you know what I mean? I owe that to a logic-based system (online tool for money management), a person (a great bookkeeper and accountant) and soft-system (reward for tax completion ahead of schedule.) Not to mention non-punishment in the form of frowning hubby or pissed off government that tries to bury me under reminder letters. (Tax penalty-by-papercut, perhaps?)
I’m wondering if by ”˜help’ you mean ”˜fix permanently’ or something like that…
Andrea and I are largely in agreement here. Environments, chunking down, and rewards make doing things a lot easier, but at the root of all of it is a choice.
Sometimes we choose not to do something because it’s a frog – we know what we need to do, we know why we need to do it, but we just don’t want to do it. Other times, we don’t know what we need to do. Still other times we’re just emotionally Stuck on it, which is different than it being something we simply don’t want to do.
There are ways to work through these things. We can focus on catching frogs before they get too large. We can harness different environments to help us figure out the path ahead. Or we can do some emotion mapping to see what’s really keeping us from doing it.
However, no external system can get you to do anything. You can ignore reminders you send yourself. You can skip coaching calls or choose not to tell your coach about certain things. You can defer acting on the help that others are giving. You can hide from your emotions.
So, when I said “there’s no productivity system or bunch of creative tricks or tips that will help you with the continual deferring problem,” I simply meant that if you choose to continually defer acting on something, there’s no external system that can override your choices.
When I mentioned “you’ll have to have the discipline or fortitude to either stick with doing those things when they’re hard to do or to quit them and take them out of your deck,” I meant that at a certain point, you have to make a choice to do something about the things you’re continually deferring, and that choice itself may be uncomfortable. I’ll also note that my views on meaningful action have changed since the time I wrote that post a little over a year ago; I’ll be sharing more about the shift in the future.
The only thing that can override your conscious choices is developing good habits and patterns that operate at a subconscious level – which is very close to what Andrea said – but you still have to choose to develop those habits and patterns. In the end, it all comes back to you choosing to fix, remove, or address the problem rather than choosing alternatives that let it persist.
I’ll end this by dove-tailing with the quote from Aristotle that I started the post with: choosing not to act is itself a choice – it’s a choice to act in a different way. Continual deferment is nothing but continually choosing an action that stalls progress on something over an action that promotes momentum on that thing.
So, what are you deferring? What choices can you make that helps you get some momentum going?
(Thanks, Andrea, for asking me to talk a little more about what I meant. It was just the prompt I needed to make a different choice. ;p)