During my first year of college, I discovered many things about myself. One of those discoveries was that I had a time-management problem. That problem was procrastination. I managed to overcome the problem, and more than I bargained for, using a powerful mental trick.

Years later, I meet my deadlines whenever I can, and I usually can. I show up on time as often as possible, and I work to ensure that possibility. If I ever did have a problem with time management, I have kicked its ass by now!

But that’s the problem. I’ll try to explain.

If you look for life advice, as I did in college, you’re might hear about an “inner drill sergeant.” (“Sergeant” is a funny-looking word isn’t it? Staring at it for a moment, it seems to me to be a word for someone who makes things surge. That would be fitting, but in reality it comes from the Latin for “servant.” I’m getting ahead of myself.)

It’s a bit of common advice that you should imagine that there’s a drill sergeant inside your head. The drill sergeant barks orders at you. The orders are to fulfill your true goals, instead of whatever you happen to be doing otherwise. This imaginary voice you’re encouraged to hear, it shares your interests, the urgent ones anyway. Urgency is the key feature here. The sergeant always yells: “QUIT YER LOLLY-GAGGING YOU WIMP AND GET BACK TO WORK!” An inner drill sergeant might say, “FAILURE IS NOT ACCEPTABLE AND IF YOU FAIL THEN YOU ARE NOT ACCEPTABLE!”

For me, (it seemed like suitable advice)[https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/my-inner-drill-sergent-andy-whisney]. I have an active imagination. I could construct a voice in my head that would take no bullshit. It would not be late. It would ensure that shit gets done, correctly, and as necessary. It took a while but I managed to internalize such a voice until it became a habit. Then I became, in a word, productive.

I was “getting things done” and in this culture, that gets rewarded. I thought, so what! There’s an imaginary asshole inside your head and he wasn’t there before? Well, you’re more successful now! Everybody knows that assholes and success go hand-in-hand. Count your blessings. At least you are not an asshole. So what if your first waking thought is something like GET OUT OF BED LOSER! So what if every fifteen minutes you think to yourself DO MORE or GO FASTER or GET THESE SLOW POKE LOSERS OUT OF YOUR WAY NOW. So what if FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION.

Of course there are times when failure is not an option. Those are not every time, though. Sometimes, failure is not an option; it’s an inevitability. Rarely, failure is even desirable.

When the inevitable failures do occur, what do you do with the inner drill sergeant? It depends on the failure. If it is truly catastrophic, it might help to have some encouragement. GET BACK ON YOUR FEET. TRY HARDER NEXT TIME. NEXT TIME IS NOW.

(I should note that I’ve never been in the military. I don’t know anything about real drill instructors. I only know what I’ve seen from popular culture. What I’ve imagined, I’ve exaggerated. That’s my point. I continued to exaggerate.)

Over the course of several years, my inner drill sergeant began to over-achieve. My active imagination gave the sergeant a little… more. More life than required, more volume, a little more frequency, a little more currency. And, since it’s an inner voice, a lot more profanity. For a long time, I never noticed the evolution. Small foibles felt like failure. Every failure felt like a catastrophe. Catastrophe felt more frequent. I began losing my patience with everyone and everything around me. I began to wonder: how long have I wasted how many thoughts on screaming at myself? Have I become stubborn, intolerant, demanding, impatient, and rude with those me!

It became time to order the inner drill sergeant to stand down.

That’s my New Year’s Resolution. What’s next? I’m confident that I’ll figure it out, quietly.