Why Do We Put Things Off?
I was reading in the news this morning that Switzerland has decided not to extradite Roman Polanski. He has waited almost a year to get the news that his life on the run can continue. Polanski has had a guilty conviction hanging over his head for more than 30 years.
As I read the article I couldn’t help but think that if he hadn’t run, if he had stayed and gone to jail all of this could have been over years, maybe decades ago. But he ran, what a dumb choice I thought, until I realized that I do exactly the same thing.
Hoping it will go away
Granted, I’ve never run from the law, but I do try to put things off far longer than is wise or healthy. Just last week I had to admit to myself that the sound my car was making was getting worse. It had started out as a squeal. “The tires must be wet,” I told myself. “Maybe it needs a oil change” I bargained when the sound got worse. “Maybe it will just go away,” I hoped and to my delight, it did! But it turned out that silence, in this case could have been deadly.
After about a week of blissfully squeal-free driving a new sound began. At first it sounded like water pouring through a pipe. I told myself if must be someone else’s car. Finally I couldn’t ignore that the sound happened a lot, every time I hit the brakes to be precise. Last Friday as I was driving in to work I had a sudden realization – the sound didn’t sound like water anymore. It sounded like metal on metal. Every time I hit the brakes.
In a moment of clarity I went straight to the mechanic only to learn it was much worse than I thought. The squeal I had dismissed was the warning strip they put in brake pads to let you know when they’re almost worn out. It went away, not because things improved but because I drove past the safety barrier. By the time I got to the mechanic my brakes were almost completely gone.
It was a costly mistake, but I shudder to think what might have happened if there had been an accident. In talking to the mechanic I told him about the noise and my hope that it would go away. I could tell it’s something he hears a lot. Sagely he responded, “those noises rarely fix themselves.”
I wasn’t expecting a life lesson, just a little help with my car, but there is so much truth in those words. How often do we hope that a situation will resolve with no effort on our part? How often do we try to fix a relationship by not dealing with it at all? To improve finances by ignoring them? To live a healthy life by changing none of our habits?
Why do we try to avoid consequences when delay only makes it worse? I think it’s part of our human nature, a combination of a desire to avoid pain and a cocky belief that we can get away with it. We see in political leaders and businessmen, we sit it in our kids and in ourselves if we take the time to look. So what can we do about it?
- Don’t avoid the warning lights. The squeal strip that I thought was an inconvenience was there for my protection. It would have helped if I let it. I need to pay attention to the warning in my own life and in the lives of the people I love.
- Doing nothing is a choice too. It can be tempting to think that by doing nothing we are not choosing, we’re avoiding the situation. But the truth is that doing nothing is as much of a choice as taking action.
- Learn from your mistakes. I know what squealing brakes sound like now. I dearly hope I remember that the next time I hear that noise. Learn to recognize the warning in your own life.
What do you put off? Are there warning lights in your life that you need to pay attention too?
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