Hesitation, in Each Moment

I’ve always had a tendency towards procrastination – to put off something challenging that I want or need to do, in favor of something I’m more immediately excited about. But I’ve just discovered a new form at work in my life; I’m calling it “micro-procrastination”. It’s that moment of hesitation, before doing anything that feels remotely uncomfortable.

I discovered it the other day, doing pushups. (I’m following the excellent hundred pushups protocol, a great way to bring some rewarding weight training into my life without any equipment.) I get up out of my chair, I’m ready to do my next set of pushups, and I hesitate. I don’t want to get on the ground and begin. I know it’s going to be uncomfortable. It’s hard work. I’m afraid I might not make the goal I set. So I pace back and forth across my office, swing my arms around. And eventually I begin.

Same thing with my morning meditation. I meditate for half an hour a day – most days. But I don’t feel quite “ready” when I get up first thing. I want to let my body awaken, have a little bit of coffee, come to some level of wakefulness. I want a little connection with the world, so I look online. A little breakfast. Half an hour passes; an hour. Right now it’s nearly 2 hours since I got up, and I haven’t meditated yet. Sometimes this hesitation goes on all day – “I’ll get to it soon, just want to do this one more thing.”

This same hesitation occurs with writing. It occurs with getting up off the couch. It happens with anything I do that has any degree of resistance. It even happens when going to take a shower – I love showers, they feel great and I like being clean, but there’s that first moment of getting wet that I don’t like. And so I hesitate.

So having seen this, I’m working with it as a microcosm of my whole life. “How you do anything is how you do everything.” And it’s an opportunity for an awareness-based practice, with the four steps I apply to any awareness-based change in my life habits.

  1. First, I practice noticing the habit. “Ah, hesitation. Here it is again.” (Usually I start out noticing it in retrospect, then gradually I notice it immediately as it occurs.)
  2. Second, I examine the habit in the moment it occurs. What is happening here? Why am I choosing to hesitate? What are my feelings? Do I feel unsafe? What would happen if I didn’t hesitate? Is there anything about the experience of doing my set of pushups that will be different 30 seconds from now?
  3. Third, I choose to actively counter the pattern. For a 30-day trial period, I decide to do the opposite thing whenever the habit arises. In this case, if anything feels remotely like hesitation, move forward immediately. Set an alarm for my next round of pushups, and drop right into them the moment it sounds. Head straight to my meditation cushion from bed, start the timer while I’m still blinking and yawning. Step right into the shower, don’t even let it warm up. Go overboard in non-hesitation, just to stretch in that direction.
  4. Examine the results. Be present with my feelings. Notice what does and does not work about non-hesitation, as well as hesitation.

My hope is that by shifting this micro-procrastination, making this subtle shift in my approach to a (momentarily unwelcome) change, I’ll also begin to shift the larger patterns of hesitation in my life. Essentially this is an excellent training ground for developing the ability to move decisively into something rewarding but uncomfortable. And that’s an ability I want for myself. It will make me a more powerful and more reliable man. Aho!

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