Korean master Seon (Zen) Venerable Pomnyun Sunim (Buddhist monk) wears many hats: Buddhist monk, teacher, author, environmentalist and social activist, to name a few. As a highly respected Dharma teacher and tireless socially engaged activist in his native South Korea, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim has founded many Dharma-based organizations, initiatives and projects that are active across the world. Among them, the Jungto Society, a community of volunteers based on Buddhist teachings and expressing equality, simple living and sustainability, is dedicated to solving modern social problems that lead to suffering, including the degradation of the environment, poverty and conflict.
The following article shared by the Jungto Society is part of a series of highlights from Ven. Pomnyun Sunim's writings, teachings, and regular live Dharma question-and-answer sessions, which are accessible worldwide.
Q. I developed a problem with procrastination during graduate school, and the problem is getting worse. If I'm under a lot of stress, for example if I have several assignments due on a certain day, I only start doing them on the very last day before the deadline. I graduated and I will start working. My job is in research, so I'm very worried about continuing this bad habit of procrastination in my job. Do you have any suggestions?
Fri. Pomnyun Sunim: In fact, you maintain the habit because you really don't want to get rid of it. For example, when trying to wake up in the morning. . . let's say you usually wake up at 6 a.m. You decide to start waking up at 5 a.m. to pray, but you are unable to wake up at 5 a.m. The next day, you can't wake up at 5 a.m. either. So here's what you say to yourself: “I want to get up at five in the morning, but my body isn't cooperating. But this is not true. You go to bed, then the alarm clock rings at 5 a.m. You say to yourself, “I need to wake up, I need to wake up, I need to wake up. . .”
Let's say you tell yourself this 10 times. What can you discover here? Does that mean you want to get up or you don't want to get up? It means you don't want to get up. That's why you don't get up. If you analyze it, your thoughts or your conscious knows that you have to get up, but your heart or your subconscious – because it has become accustomed to waking up at 6 am – refuses to wake up. This is why there is conflict between your conscious and your subconscious. Who wins this battle? Your subconscious usually wins. So your subconscious is much more powerful than your conscious mind. There is a saying in Korea: “When you decide to do something, the resolution lasts only three days. When you decide to start a new habit or start a new activity, you can rarely keep doing it for more than three days. That's why you have to change your subconscious. Changing a habit is not just a matter of choice or decision.
First of all, you have to admit that when you are to do something, it means you don't want to do it. Let's go back to when you wanted to get up. You should just get up at 5 a.m., so there's no need for that tension of wanting to get up but not being able to. You make the decision to want to get up only when you don't want to get up.
All thoughts are distractions. To stop being distracted when the alarm goes off, get up right away, instead of thought that you have to get up. Instead of deciding not to procrastinate anymore, do it. Instead of thought about going, go. Instead of thought about giving something, just give it. Your action must come before your words. Only then can you change your karma.
However, it is true that it is extremely difficult to change one's karma. When you don't change your ways, it means you can still bear living with your karma. Although you procrastinated, you still managed to graduate, didn't you? When you start working, you will continue to procrastinate, but you will be fine. So you can just live as you are without worrying too much about your procrastination.
Of course, there are consequences to procrastinating. But if you don't want those consequences, you have to change. So instead of thought to do something, do it. Then you will change. However, it's extremely difficult, so I'm not sure you can change.