I’m an accomplished procrastinator, and yesterday I did a fair bit of fretting as well, and I’ve come to an important realisation about what these two traits of mine have in common, with some big implications for how to deal with them: both procrastination and fretting ultimately involve wasting time being anxious about a problem rather than dealing with a problem.
Firstly, some definitions:
- Procrastination is when you know you’re supposed to be doing something, but it just seems too much like hard work, so you put it off and waste time doing something less important that you’d rather be doing instead.
- Fretting is when you’re anxiously thinking about a situation and all the ways in which it might go wrong and all the problems that might arise and what about this and what about that and… agh, make it stop!
I’ve written before that the root of so much of my procrastination is uncertainty – for example why I never seem to be able to bring myself to wash up my parents’ teapot when I go to visit:
“The reason I always left the teapot is that I never quite knew what to do with it – it clearly needed some kind of cleaning action applied to it and yet it was so grimy and dirty inside and I didn’t really want my future cups of tea to taste of washing up liquid and I don’t really know what I’m supposed to do with it and – Agh! Uncertainty. My brain gets scared and shuts down and prefers to leave it rather than figure it out and deal with it.”
For me, procrastination is a fear of what would actually be involved in solving the problem I’m avoiding. It’s running scared instead of embracing the problem and getting on with it.
And I’ve realised that fretting is exactly the same. When facing a potentially stressful situation, there are two possibilities:
- The situation is entirely outside of my control, and no amount of fretting is going to prevent the situation going wrong. In this situation I just need to pray and entrust it to God, knowing that he is good and that he loves me and that if things go wrong it’s only because he permitted it.
- Or maybe there is something I could do to address the situation, maybe being prepared for some of the ways it could go wrong, maybe asking some sensible questions of the people who know the situation better than I do, anything at all to actually get on with addressing the source of the anxiety. In this situation, I should probably just get on and deal with things.
But in neither situation is anything achieved by sitting there and fretting! Just like procrastination, fretting is running scared instead of embracing the problem and getting on with it.
Being anxious isn’t just a personality quirk – I firmly believe that it is an expression of my sinfulness. It’s a failure to trust God for the future, and to get on and do what I can to serve him in the present. Realising this fact has been a helpful step towards growing less anxious, by his grace – even if there is still an awful long way to go!