Avoiding Wishful Thinking

Have you ever left work, knowing that there are still things to be done for the next day, and left “wishful thinking” to run its course? You know, it's that little voice in the back of your head that quietly tells you that somehow you'll get it all done. Guess what? It rarely gets done and your pile of work gets even more intimidating as the day goes on. The “tyranny of wishful thinking” does several things to us.

First, it puts silent strands of stress on our minds, especially from the time we entertain a wishful thought all the way until that task should actually get done. Teachers know exactly what I mean if they have one final class to prepare for but put it off until “the last minute.” All of the minutes (or hours!) until that last one are filled with hidden sources of stress and feelings of procrastination, which is the second result of wishful thinking.

Essentially what procrastination does is nothing but bring down our sense of virtue. Virtue says that I must exercise prudence (wisdom) in my work. I remember that last time I put off that phone call and I missed the opportunity to speak with that key person. I remember when I procrastinated last time…I was stressed out all night just thinking about it. In an effort to “put things off,” we actually bring upon ourselves more tension and anxiety.

Third, wishful thinking puts others at arm's length. I can glide through this project since I know that in the end it will all work out. The catch is that, especially in ministry, the journey is half of the deal and we are not about mere end results. If I alienate a parent or catechist or key leader in the process, my “bottom line” isn't half as effective as it could have been.

Let's now consider three responses to these troubling consequences to wishful thinking. So as to avoid the silent strands of stress put upon us by avoiding the issues we must face, connect with a system which is easy to use and trustworthy. Some find a pen and pad doable. Others feel that a PDA (personal digital assistant) works wonders for their follow up of key tasks and appointments. A third group might find comfort in the traditional day planner. Whatever your system, use it, trust it and periodically evaluate it.

Procrastination: An Act Against Virtue

So as to decrease the amount of procrastination in our lives and work, seriously consider that each act of “putting things off” is an act against virtue. Remember that we don't live or work just for ourselves. Rather, we operate on a level that is fundamentally for others. If you think about your work this way, each small thing to be done becomes an act of service for others and to the Lord. Each action step, each meeting, each class preparation can become a means to grow in virtue. Let self-control and wisdom be your guides and pray for the grace to grow into these cardinal virtues if you have yet to do so.

In response to the temptation to put others at arm's length through wishful thinking, make a commitment today to be profoundly open to the insights and perspectives of others. Someone on my team may have the gift or talent that I lack. Rather than see this person as a potential competitor who might “take my power,” why not invite the person into your horizon. You'll get a heck of a lot more work done and you might even like the guy! Through competent and responsible work, you will welcome the gifts of others and they will respect your eagerness to be a true team player.

In closing, think quickly and carefully the next time you are tempted to employ wishful thinking. Using a mindset that is of service, an openness to others and dedication to virtue, you will not only wow your colleagues but you'll feel great in the process!

Michael K. St. Pierre is a teacher of theology and campus minister at Oratory Preparatory School in Summit, NJ. He is an MA candidate in systematic theology at Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University and is the co-founder of Catholic Ventures. Michael lives with his wife and daughter in western New Jersey.

This article courtesy of Catholic Ventures.

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