“BE PREPARED!” It is more than just the Boy Scouts’ motto. It is advice that can mean, quite literally, the difference between surviving and dying in an emergency. To quote Benjamin Franklin: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
We may laugh at the antics of a character in a sitcom frantically trying to read the directions on a fire extinguisher while flames dance on the furniture, but have you read those instructions? Some things are only funny if they are happening to the “other guy.” Could it be that, in an emergency, you may actually be the “other guy”?
For example, as a reader of ASG, you probably know what items should be in your personal disaster-preparedness kit. You probably know what food supplies you should have stored in your pantry and what needs to be in your first aid kit. You know you should have a family practice fire drill. You know that you should have fresh batteries available. Yes, you probably do know all the ways to be prepared. The real question is: Are you actually doing what needs to be done?
The lack of preparedness, all too often, is not due to the lack of knowledge or information. No, the lack of preparedness is often for a very different reason. Procrastination is usually the culprit. People delay, they postpone, they make excuses. They find other things to do instead of what they know they should be doing. Are you guilty of procrastinating?
NOTHING MORE THAN FEELINGS
Ask yourself why you are procrastinating. If you’re being totally truthful, you might admit that you just don’t feel like doing it. You can’t dispute your feelings; you feel what you feel. But the problem is that feelings are not the best way to determine your actions. In fact, they are often the worst way.
Survival is often about self-sufficiency. To be self-sufficient, you need to take responsibility and take control. This means doing what needs to be done, whether you feel like it or not. If you are delaying action until you feel like preparing, you may never do so. Part of the survival mindset means having the mental toughness to do what you must, whether you feel like it or not.
Survival is about being proactive and taking action. It is not about what you feel like doing. Remind yourself: This is what I need to do regardless if I feel like it.
ALL IN YOUR HEAD
If you want to change any behavior, you first need to change your thinking. Our thoughts determine what we do as well as what we don’t do. To stop procrastinating about a task, you must first change your thinking about that task. In order to change your thinking, you need to identify what it is you are telling yourself. Our self-talk refers to our thoughts and the messages we give ourselves. Some self-talk is productive; some is self-defeating. We sometimes listen to the self-defeating comments more than to the productive ones. Unfortunately, we sometimes do not even recognize that we are giving ourselves self-defeating messages.
Let’s identify and debunk some of the self-defeating messages that lead to procrastination. Let’s replace those messages with more productive and constructive ones. Let’s begin with a common belief that leads to procrastination: the thought that it is easier to avoid than to take action.
LAW OF PHYSICS
A law of physics tells us that a body at rest tends to stay at rest unless acted upon by an outside force. For many, procrastination is due to our natural tendency to want to stay at rest. We become victims of inertia. It is just easier to do nothing than to take action, or so it seems. The truth is that it does take effort to get moving. That is the price you must pay. The truth also is that lack of effort comes with a higher price. Short-term avoidance of effort can lead to long-term problems that can’t be avoided.
Every time you surrender to inertia you are psychologically conditioning yourself to give up. The more you give up, the more likely that you will continue to give up. And, in crisis situations, giving up can prove fatal.
Have you ever had to push a car? It does take considerable effort to get the car moving. But once the car is rolling another law of physics kicks in. A body in motion tends to stay in motion. It is much easier to keep the car moving once you have overcome the initial inertia. So, too, in overcoming procrastination. Once you get yourself in gear, it is easier to keep going. So, when thinking about how much effort is required for a task, remind yourself that it does and will get easier.
IS IT WORTH IT?
When faced with a task, we might wonder, “Is it really worth it?” The real question you might want to be asking is, “Am I really worth it?” People often procrastinate due to the unrecognized belief that they do not feel deserving. Yes, it will take effort to get things done, but aren’t you worth the effort? When people procrastinate and thwart themselves from reaching their professed goal, the question raised is whether they feel worthy of the goal.
If you do not really believe you deserve to succeed, you will not succeed. Instead, you will find ways to sabotage yourself. Procrastination is often a means of self-sabotage. If you believe you really deserve to reach your goal, you will reach it. Your belief will push you to overcome inertia and external obstacles. Your self-talk will be “Yes, it is a lot of work, but I am worth it.”
PERILS OF PERFECTIONISM
It is surprising to discover that another common reason for procrastination is perfectionism. Perfectionism is often a hidden barrier to getting things done. There are “closet perfectionists” who do not even recognize how their unrealistic expectations for themselves can get in their way. They unconsciously fear not being able to do a “perfect” enough job. They fear criticism from themselves or from others, so they procrastinate. Rather than not meet the standard they demand of themselves, they put off doing things. They would rather hide behind the excuse of procrastinating rather than accept doing a job that is not “perfect.”
Here, too, the solution lies in changing the thinking. Focusing on doing a “good” or “adequate” job is likely to overcome procrastination more than expecting a “perfect” job would. Survival, whether for an individual, a family or a nation, depends on preparedness. Crises by definition are unexpected. You cannot wait for the crisis to prepare for it. Procrastinating on preparedness can prove disastrous. Remember: “Now” spelled backwards is “won.” To win, you must prepare now.
- Have a clear goal. Know exactly what you need to do and why you need to do it.
- Make short- and long-range goals. Remember that the journey of 1,000 miles begins with the first step. Don’t try to do too much at once. Smaller, realistic goals speed progress to the final destination.
- Write it down. Research proves that people are more likely to achieve a goal if they put it in writing rather than just thinking about it.
About the author: Thomas J. Nardi, Ph.D., is the director of the counseling programs at Long Island University Hudson Graduate Centers in Orangeburg, N.Y., and West Point, N.Y. He is also a psychologist in private practice and the creator of Eclectic Cognitive Behavior Therapy.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the June 2014 print issue of American Survival Guide.