How Long?

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Dr. Earl R. Smith II

(Read More From My Blog)

How often has that question occurred to you? And what did it mean when it did? Occasionally perhaps it appeared as “how long is this going to go on?” A variation could have been “how long do I have to endure this?” Although there are plenty of other meanings that might occur, that’s the one that I intend to focus on but perhaps not in the way you might expect.

For the most part, responses to this query tend to focus on external events. You might find yourself put upon by a particularly boorish companion and, because of the situation, you are forced to endure this person for what seems like an eternity. Or maybe you find yourself waiting for someone and, in the face of rising irritation, start to wonder “how long?” We have all had similar experiences. Maybe it was the time in the dentist’s chair that brought this wonderment to mind. Or perhaps it was the waiting for a phone call or the results of an decision. Every human experience is replete with such happenings.

In the midst of rising frustration we ask ourselves “why is this taking so long” or, perhaps “why is this happening to me”. In a fundamental way, we style ourselves as victims of circumstance. We feel out of control and wish that we were able to resolve this conundrum – this “why”. Our vision of release from such recurring circumstances most often involves the elimination of the need to ask “why”.

But there’s another, quite different, set of circumstances that brings the same conflict with insistent reality – although the reality is virtual. It doesn’t involve what the world does to us but what we do, and continue doing, to ourselves. In the external world these “whys” tend to come and go. Sooner or later events move on, the waiting is over and we move on with our lives. Then the frustrations fade in the memory and, until the next time, we feel free and in control.

The matter of internal conflicts is much more complicated. Since we are the actor which conspires against our own ability to live a fulfilling life free of such frustration as well as our own victim, the tragic dance can go on for years and sometimes even decades. Sometimes it never ceases. We become masters of what is called procrastination.

The thing about procrastination is that it’s self-ratifying. When you procrastinate about something, you generally also procrastinate about ceasing to procrastinate. To paraphrase one of Newton’s laws of motion, procrastination in motion tends to remain procrastination.

Now we all procrastinate. The human tendency towards inertia is one of the characteristics which allows us to exist in an organized world. Procrastination keeps change from overtaking our lives. It provides stability. But that’s the external world. My focus here is the corrosive effects of procrastination in the face of behaviors that are blocking the way forward to the life that should be led.

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