Muffin tins, rationalization, and procrastination


Washing dishes is often a philosophical experience for me.

This morning, for instance, I was cleaning up from a big batch of baking yesterday–muffins for the school track and field concession. I had opted not to use paper liners. I know them to be a time saver, but it seemed like a waste and just more litter to be cleaned up at the end of the day. Plus, I have really good non-stick pans.

But no matter how good your pans, there’s still some residue left that has to be scrubbed out. I got to thinking, which was worse: bits of paper or extra hot water going into cleaning up?

I’ll leave that argument for the experts, but it does give me pause to think of all the little ways I make choices on a day-to-day basis. How to clean house. How to spend the grocery money. How to organize my time. Often, there’s very little thinking involved. Many of us do things simply because it’s habit, without noticing the whys or hows or implications. And just as often, we make conscious choices based on the information at hand, past experience, and current needs.

We’re pretty good at explaining our thinking on any given decision too. It was right for us to do x because y. This is not a flaw. Most of the time. The trouble is, our thinking is usually not terribly objective. We don’t gather enough information, and rely pretty heavily on the voice of our emotions and moods. I think this is where the use of rational thinking crosses over into that differently nuanced word, rationalization, which is closely related to the idea of justification: instead of thinking through want we want to do and then doing it, we come up with reasons after the fact to explain our own behaviour.

This is most obvious to me in my life as a writer. “I needed that half hour on Facebook to answer a few messages and focus my thoughts before I get started.” Uh huh. And the video of the dog stealing chicken nuggets out of the toaster helped in what way?

A particularly dangerous trap is that of comparing myself to others: “She’s already got her book out because all her kids are in school all day. Mine aren’t.” The best excuses are the ones with some truth, right?

Or the famous ‘higher priority’ trap: “I’ve just got to get the laundry going and make a couple of phone calls; then I’ll sit down to write. Oh, I’d better get those new plants in the ground too…”

Of course life has to be attended to, and we’ve got to operate within the circumstances we each have. But all these rationalizations do smack a whole lot of putting things off. Procrastination central over here.

You’ve probably heard that procrastination is the enemy of time. One too many games of Solitaire when I should have been starting dinner are a testament to that. Thomas S. Monson helped deepen my understanding though when he said, “Actually, procrastination is much more. It is the thief of our self-respect. It nags at us and spoils our fun. It deprives us of the fullest realization of our ambitions and hopes.”

It’s true. No matter how logical my choices seem at the time, when I choose against writing I always wind up feeling frustrated and despondent. So why do I keep walking the same rut?

I’ve come to understand, after practising it for so long, that one of the fundamental causes of procrastination is fear.

Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of responsibility, expectations, change…

It’s a complicated emotion. Part of it, for me, boils down to this: It’s easier to say, “I’m working on a book,” than to say “I finished a book that no publisher wanted to buy.”

Even this blog, when I decided to start it, sounded like procrastination to my husband. “Won’t that keep you from focusing on real writing?” he asked. I do consider blogging real writing, of course, but his point was valid: is this a side project that will keep you from giving your time and energy to the project in your heart?

What about the hours I spent earlier this week doing a pro bono article, in the name of mentorship and ‘exposure’?

Am I getting so good at procrastinating my writing that I even procrastinate by writing?

Things to think about. But right now I need to quit and put 500 words into my book.

Just going to start some laundry and make lunch first.

One response to “Muffin tins, rationalization, and procrastination”

  1. […] this angst results in paralyzing fits of self-doubt that look a whole lot like cleaning my house, baking muffins, and/or reading long […]

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