I used an expression with my therapist the other day, ‘high on the hog’ and he wasn’t sure what I meant.
I thought it was a common enough saying implying luxurious or affluent, but, as therapists do, he wanted to know more. “Why that phrase? What did it mean for me?” As I sat down to write about how and why we procrastinate I remembered this exchange. It suddenly became vital for me to know the etymology of ‘high on the hog’ and within moments Google had provided the answer. One interesting fact led to another and before I knew it more than 40 minutes had elapsed and my first window to sit down and write had closed. I was, quite obviously, procrastinating – putting one trivial task before the more important or pressing one.
We all do it, and in the age of social media we all probably do it more. It is so much easier to send a text, post something on Facebook or Instagram (it’s not called that for nothing), send someone an email about a cat carrying a dog home to safety than tackle the excel spreadsheet, essay writing, ironing, board review, accounts or any of the other countless activities that make up the necessities of working and home life. Our need to procrastinate is prompted by different triggers but perhaps the two main groups of habitual or pathological procrastinators can be identified as those seeking instant gratification and those who like to have their pleasure deferred. Either way an element of insecurity prevails. Some people have to experience the feeling of having achieved something, anything – cleaning their glasses, emptying a sock drawer - without hardship before they feel equipped to master a more complex activity requiring real effort. Other procrastinators get categorised as lazy, selfish and not team players. The family member, friend or colleague who cannot keep their mind on one subject for longer than it takes to say con-cen-trate and who never seems to complete a task or meet a deadline.Intensely irritating but to nobody more than themselves.
They are frequently masochists unable to finish a thought or a deed without putting themselves (and usually those around them) through some sort of agony. This type of procrastinator needs to self-flagellate, pile on the guilt, in pursuit of a goal. Students who instead of studying all term pull an all-nighter before an exam, the office worker who comes in at the weekend to complete their work, those who sit down to fill in tax returns only as the seconds tick by before (or after) a fine is imposed. To these people, no deed feels quite real unless the anguish of mounting pressure has been experienced, witnessed and then, finally, relieved. All procrastinators fly under the banner of a transposed Benjamin Franklin epithet: “Don’t do today what you can put off until tomorrow”. Which, sadly, doesn’t always mean things end as well as they might.