When stuck in my own vicious cycle of procrastination for a long time, sometimes I get so habituated into the comfort of delay and using rationalizations automatically that they do not seem unreasonable or give off any warning signals. I find that in these cases, watching others, and their various manifestations of procrastination can then help give reflection on what I do myself in other contexts.
When seeing another person put off doing something for the wrong reasons, and diluting life in the process, we obviously are aware how counterproductive these behaviours can be. Maybe this can stir within us the action to change these very same behaviours that we display ourselves but have chosen to ignore for so long.
I was talking with a diligent student about her portfolio assignment. Her first set of entries are due later this week and we were discussing ideas about how to present it creatively, emotionally, symbolically, and in a way that shows evidence of work and experience, as well as progression of improvement and reflection on what the student learned from her experiences.
Throughout our discussions, the student was very animated and showed emotion and depth when telling stories from her childhood that she thought worthwhile to include in the beginning part of her portfolio to show how they influenced her thinking of today. We then thought together about possibilities on how to present it on the pages. Various images, drawings, and photograph suggestions came up, and the student was enthused about the creative potential and how meaningful this project is.
However, her tone changed when talk started focusing on the specific deadline and answering some of the required questions given by the teacher. She decided to give up on themes of presentation and style, and creative story telling, and instead decided to give short answers to answer directly, or maybe just do a traditional essay format. I encouraged her to try combine some of her previous ideas of pictures and symbols along with the traditional writing method, but she was reluctant.
Her reasons knocked me back a bit, but also woke me up to some of the fears that people have. She admitted that the teacher encouraged creative thinking and use of other material to supplement answers for the portfolio project. The student, from our previous discussions, obviously enjoyed creative work and finding, and interpreting meaning from stories and using pictures as symbols and metaphors. Despite all this, she reasoned that “I can’t put in extra pictures and other materials for this first entry. If I do, then the teacher will expect that I will always put in extra, and what if I can’t in the future? I better just do it safe and directly, and just get it done.”
Suddenly I realized, if this student is saying something like this, then in classrooms all over the world, many students are thinking similar thoughts and a lot of potential is being stifled. The grip of fear and worry can be so strong that a student may avoid producing something that is meaningful by focusing on the future expectations of others. Attention is taken away from current content to hypothetical implications. Furthermore, maybe even more tragic, is that many of us see high expectations as negative and something to fear. If a teacher expects to see creative thought and critical thinking in unique forms, then that can push the student to keep pushing her thinking in future projects.
Unfortunately, for those who struggle with anxiety that may lead to procrastination and putting off tasks, we seek out safety to avoid expectations. While there is a feeling of danger in others’ expecations, and our own, they are also places and new heights that we can reach within that are not possible without expectations.