Is Putting It Off A Good Idea?

Living in the here and now is enlivening. But what about when we have to put off dealing with what’s happening in the here and now? Do we simply have to live impoverished lives?

Living in the here and now is enlivening. When we are attentive to what is going on around us and within us, our lives have a quality that is nourishing.

In my experience, this is true even when our experience at the time isn’t pleasant. Having the space to grieve is important even though the grieving feels unbelievably awful.

When we stop being attentive to experience our liveliness tends to diminish. Living a life of distraction can be stressful. Does this mean we should never put things off?

I’m not sure that it is realistic to think we could never put anything off. We have lives where we have more than one demand on us. And we usually have more than one priority. Perhaps this is the purpose of priorities — to choose what to put off.

If a child is playing with ice on my floor and they break a glass, I pick the child up out of the glass-infested mess and then worry about the mess on the floor. I may also fret about the mess I have to clean up — which I have put off. If it was an expensive Persian rug I may even be quite upset (and wonder why I was so silly to put it at risk in this way).

If someone close to me is in danger, or if they have a traumatic experience, then I may put off most things to attend to them. I may well on put on hold most of the domestic day to day chores that I would normally do.

It seems to me that in these instances putting off is quite healthy and normal.

So is there a problem with putting things off? I think there can be.

  • When we put something off it may still be there. It can distract us and occupy our energy. In some ways the more things we put off the less energy we have. These are the kinds of things that we find our minds returning to in idle moments.
  • It depends on how important what we put off is. A damp patch on the floor will dry — not a big deal for me. If we keep putting off calling a friend then the friendship may end. This may be a bigger deal.
  • It depends on whether we can get back to it. We may well be able to ring our friend tomorrow. Putting water in the car’s radiator may not be something we can put off.
  • I think it depends on how we do it. Ignoring a need we have, or what is important to us, will likely lead to more stress, not less. This could be a major thing, like having that mole that seems to have changed colour checked by a doctor (a good friend of mine, if they had put this off for six months would probably have died — melanoma is not the most common form of skin cancer but it is aggressive and dangerous). Or it could be a little thing: just taking a five minute break can make a difference to the rest of our day. If we keep putting off the same need (e.g., time for ourselves, touch, affirmation), then our lives will likely be the poorer.

When we have enough time and space then we usually find that our priorities arise easily and fluidly. When this is not the case I think it is worth keeping an eye on what we put off. How could we do this?

  • Set aside a few minutes to think about what our needs are and if they are being met — then asking ourselves whether we have put this off. If so are we happy about this or do we want to change what we have been doing?
  • Ask a friend who knows you well.
  • Imagine your perfect holiday. Then ask yourself if this shows a need you that you have put off meeting.

How much is putting things off a part of your life? If it’s a big part, do you think this helps or does it make life more stressful for you? Please let me know your experience in the comments.

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