She's a close friend. We have lunch almost every week. So I hear her pain when she talks about her second son--he who graduated from college in May, is currently living home and earning his spending money by delivering pizza. It isn't the pizza that bothers her so much as his seeming inertia about applying for career-type jobs. For all she knows, he is sending out his resume and just refuses to discuss it with either her or his father. But she sees little action and wonders if kicking him out of the house would force him to take job-hunting action. The dad has talked to his son about job hunting but has learned little more about what the son is up to than the mom. He suspects his son is stuck in a procrastination bind, that he just can't seem to get going.
I thought of my friends and their son when Carl Pickhardt's newsletter on adolescence and procrastination arrived in my email queue. Pickhardt talks about how adolescents tend to make it a practice to put off tasks they don't want to do, but that the objectives of such procrastination shift from stage to stage of growing up. So what does it mean when they graduate from adolescence into "emerging adulthood" (ages 18-23)?
Procrastination, Pickhardt suggests, may be used to avoid encountering the challenges that come with growing older. For some young people, he writes, it becomes a game of sorts: “How long can I put it off before I manage to pull it off?” That is, it can "scare up an emergency effort by waiting until it feels too late to delay any longer, or else."
It isn't, of course, just teenagers or young adults who put off doing things. We all procrastinate sometimes, but 20 percent of people chronically avoid difficult tasks and deliberately look for distractions--as do 70 percent of college students, according to psychologists and researchers Timothy Pychyl and Joseph Ferrari. "Procrastination in large part reflects our perennial struggle with self-control as well as our inability to accurately predict how we'll feel tomorrow, or the next day," Pychyl writes on Psychology Today's Web page. "Procrastinators may say they perform better under pressure, but more often than not that's their way of justifying putting things off."
Pychyl suggests that some procrastinators attempt to avoid the anxiety or worry aroused by a tough task with activities aimed at repairing their mood, such as checking Facebook or taking a nap. Unfortunately, the pattern of "giving in to feel good" ends up making them feel worse--especially when a deadline is missed.
All of which dovetails with observed behavior of my friend's son (who just missed a deadline for a grad school application)--and many emerging adults.
Pickhardt's approach of encouraging a young adult to timely action is to point out, "Promptness proves a surer path to freedom than procrastination." Pychyl advises the way to move forward is to "just get started, and make the threshold for getting started quite low."
Charles Dickens had some advice as well. Wilkins Micawber (in “David Copperfield”) exhorts those who would delay this way: “My advice is, never do tomorrow what you can do today. Procrastination is the thief of time. Collar him!”
Just don't try to do it on Facebook.