Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Case of the Slothful Procrastinator

Even Polly understands that the letter writer who dubs herself Sloth is not as lazy as she says she is. True enough, Sloth is a procrastinator. She does everything at the last minute. She insists that this bad habit—even Polly understands that it’s a bad habit—has not cost her anything up to now, but she wants to get over it.

Sloth has recently gotten married, has a good career, always got good grades… and always followed her bliss. She did what she wanted when she wanted… regardless. If she suspects that her good fortune is not going to last forever, she is correct. If she is afraid that she will face an eventual reckoning, she is also correct.

Before reading her plaintive wail and Polly’s fairly good response, I point out one salient detail. Sloth does not mention it. Polly is too polite to mention it. So I will. Since Sloth has just gotten married, surely the question of motherhood has popped into her mind. If not her mind, then perhaps the minds of everyone around her.

Perhaps it has crossed her mind that her habitual procrastinating, leave it all for the last minute approach, will not work very well when she becomes a mother. Surely, she wants to be a great mother, not just a good enough mother. If so, she will need to be disciplined, organized and punctual. Until now she has gotten away with whatever she has wanted to get away with. What will happen if she has a child and the child suffers for her bad habits?

As I see it, that is the issue. Since neither she nor Polly seems to want to address the issue, I raise it, so that it does not get completely lost.

As for the letter, here it is:

Why am I so lazy? As long as I can remember, I’ve always done as little as possible to still get the job done, to still get the A, to get the extra credit and be the teacher’s pet. I have always procrastinated everything from homework, cleaning, and even my job, which I’m doing at this very moment by writing you.

At one point, I reveled in my extreme procrastination abilities. Why spend all week working on a paper that I could write the morning of and still get a 3.5? Sure, I would fret over the hard assignments and easily could have avoided the stress that comes with waiting, but there was TV I wanted to watch. I’ve generally excelled at school and my selected extracurriculars. When I finally do get down to business, I consider myself to be fairly hardworking, if only for the shortest amount of time possible.

I was always comfortable with my messy room or apartment. Stepping over piles of laundry or suitcases I’ve yet to unpack. Cleaning was just time I could have spent on reading, or TV, or living life in more enjoyable ways. I’ve even joked at my status as being one emotional travesty away from going “full hoarder.” I keep everything, and everything is in its place; that place might just be the second pile under the chair next to my dresser. To be clear, this does not extend to the kitchen and bathroom; the counters might be cluttered, but the Clorex wipes are heavily used.

All of this is to say, I’m a procrastinating, type B, introverted pack rat who would rather sit on my couch all day than do the things I don’t want to do but know I really should.

And then I married a type A extrovert who loves being proactive, putting things away, and getting things done. In many cases, this is great. He’s on top of dishes and the leaves in the yard. But mostly he’s a constant reminder that I’m a lazy bum pretending to adult and “sort of” getting away with it. To his credit, he spends his days silently suffering his new life living with the sloth that I am, but I know this can’t go on forever. The honeymoon period will end, and my inability to come home from work and finally write our thank-you cards will catch up with me.

I want to change. To be the “adult” my life suggests. I have all the good intentions of a child making breakfast for their parents, but I just can’t follow through.

If it matters, I’m a happy, healthy, and well-adjusted young woman from a loving family, with no childhood trauma, and newly married to a wonderful man. I’m realistically positive, and while times are tight, I don’t want for much, except a dog.

Why am I lazy? Why do I put off everything I don’t want to do? And why can’t I flip a switch and just be a goddamn adult?

A Sloth

I will mention, because you have probably thought of it already, that Sloth is not much of a wife either. We grant her credit for having married a man who is happy to assume most housewife duties, but she might be afraid that he will awaken one day and ask himself why she is acting like the lady of the manor while he is working away, like her servant.

And now, a few words from Polly:

Doing the bare minimum at the last minute isn’t lazy. It’s simply a choice, devoid of moral weight. It’s a strategy that’s mostly worked for you, up until this point. You’re smart and focused, so you can pull it off. Have you missed major deadlines? Have you flunked out? Have you had a panic attack while finishing a paper a few hours before it was due? No. You’ve sallied forth in life, somewhat messily, sometimes finishing things at the last minute, without experiencing any major failures or traumas due to your particular behaviors and habits.

But I do want you to notice how deeply and profoundly you’ve made messiness and procrastination part of your identity. You want to write the thank-you notes for your wedding, but you also really don’t want to write them, ever, and your excuse is that this is Just Who You Are. You want to clean up after yourself, but you also don’t want to clean up, and some small stubborn part of you thinks, “Why can’t I just do what I do the way I do it? This is ME!” And in spite of the fact that you always do exactly enough work to get the good grade, stay solvent, and avoid bad outcomes, you still call your methods “lazy,” as if there’s some very slow, hesitant, lackluster person at the center of your being who would rather never work hard at anything.

Polly is correct, though one does wonder where Sloth discovered that she should simply follow her bliss and do as she pleased. And Polly is also correct to see that people who act this way believe that it is who they are and that they ought never to do anything but what they really want to do. As it happens, these ideas are foisted on people by our very own therapy culture. Thus, when Polly recommends, as she always does, that Sloth find a therapist, she is slightly off the mark.

Anyway, Polly is skeptical about whether or not these bad habits have really worked as well as Sloth says they did. I agree with her. It could be that Sloth is selling herself this principle because she cannot whatever this has cost her.

As long as you’re deeply conflicted about your choices and the ways you’ve chosen to identify yourself, you have a problem. Maybe your habits used to work for you and now they don’t. Or maybe they never really worked, and you just liked the idea that you were someone who Never Worked Too Hard. Either way, if you say to people, “Yes, I’m a lazy, procrastinating mess” and there’s an edge of defensiveness in your voice, then you’re choosing both habits and an outward presentation that you feel insecure and unsettled about. This is what works, sure, but it’s also something that embarrasses you. This is how you are, for now anyway, but you spend your days telling yourself that you shouldn’t be this way.

And also:

Outwardly, you describe everything and everyone as wonderful. Inwardly, you’re preemptively disappointed to the point of wanting to avoid most people and situations. So you’ve chosen to hide. You will go to great lengths never to disappoint yourself, by clearing the lowest hurdles possible. You’re choosing a lifestyle of avoidance and low expectations.

Here again, I agree. If Sloth wants to rationalize her bad behavior and her weak character she will naturally lower her expectations and be happy with whatever she gets. I would emphasize, as Polly goes not, that Sloth does suffer from weak character. She is incapable of assuming responsibilities and she knows it.

So, Polly has some advice. It is not all bad, but it is not all good. I like her recommendation that Sloth try out different behaviors, and attempt to change her habits. As you know, I do not think that Sloth should feel her feelings. Her problem is that she feels her feelings too much and grants them the power to direct her actions:

Locate your fears. Face them. Get a therapist. Experiment with schedules. Try on different behaviors for size. Get very organized (without piles of things on the floor). Try making new friends. Try vigorous exercise. Try leaving the house more. Try not leaving. Try writing your feelings down. Check in with your body when you do things that stress you out. Notice your feelings. Express your feelings. Be honest, be honest, be honest. Take notes.


Sam L. said...

The guy married Sloth, so I'm guessing he KNEW how she was. (He KNEW the job was dangerous when he took it.) It is my understanding that usually the wife tries to improve her husband, and not the reverse.

whitney said...

Oh the horror of living with a slob. I just couldn't do it. It's a big deal in relationships. There will be a reckoning

Trishapatk said...

I think she deserves some credit for sincerely asking for help - and suggestions for what might help. She recognizes that it is not good and she is genuinely confused as to how to overcome it.
It is common for people with adult ADD to have a hard time getting started and wait until deadlines and adrenaline to kick in and force action. It is also common for them to have a hard time organizing their belongings and making decisions as to what to keep or get rid of. There are many strategies that can be tried and medication is often remarkably effective.
It is also common for ADD caused struggles to be seen as character flaws. One of the books on it is entitled
"You Mean I'm not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?!"
The woman is sincerely asking for help with something she recognizes as problematic. She knows its adversely affecting her husband, that doesn't mean that she doesn't care or isn't trying in some way. She used a good analogy when she mentioned that she has all the good intentions of a child making her parents breakfast. Tasks that seem simple to most adults can be genuinely confusing and difficult for certain people.
I hope that she'll find people who are understanding, who give her the benefit of the doubt and who can steer her in a good direction to get some help to overcome it.