procrastination, writing every damn day, just do it
Photo: Lisa Monseglio/The Fern Feather

 

A year ago I subscribed to a 30-day creative writing challenge.

On day two, the writing prompt was a dialogue between our inner critic and our artist self.

I happen to not really have such a big inner critic, thank God, but I am a great procrastinator, so I gave my procrastination (P) a voice instead.

This is what I wrote:

Waking up at 5.15am, after a good nights’ sleep ( I went to bed at 8pm and slept through the whole night), the first thing P says is:

“Great! Only 5.15am, loads of time…what shall we do: a game of Scrabble, some reading…anything else we can do here in bed? Meditating? It is soooooo comfy in here, and there’s no money-making work waiting for us today anyway.”

Me: “Oh come on P, we talked about this last night! We were going to get out of bed as soon as we would wake up. No delays! Remember? And you know very well that meditating in bed turns into hours of random trains of thought.”

P: “OK, I forgot about that promise…but are you sure you don’t want to stay in bed a little longer, I mean, all those healthy routines you are going to be doing next, do you never get tired of all that?”

Me: “Tired? Are you crazy? It’s what makes me tick all day! It’s what keeps me healthy, and balanced and motivated!

If it weren’t for you I would be doing that every day of my life. Why do you have to try and talk me out of it every single day? Do you never get tired of THAT? Jeez! It’s thanks to you that I gave up running already, while it used to make me feel really good.”

P: “Well, I have been hired for it, haven’t I, to keep you from doing stuff? And what’s this writing thing, are you going to add that to the whole routine-machine as well? 

There’s going to be no end to all those things that you will want to do every day. You’re making it harder and harder for yourself to do it all. It must be quite overwhelming for you every day…(I can hear the sarcastic snicker in her voice)…I bet you cannot keep it up even for those 30 days, let alone for the rest of your life…”

Me: “I know you want me to think that I can’t do it, because that’s your job. Well, let’s bet your job over this: If I succeed to write 30 days in a row, you will lose your job for good. If I don’t finish these 30 days, you can hang around some more and get another chance in defeating my efforts (“but I will keep trying anyway”, I whisper under my voice). Is that a deal?”

P: “Sure. I betcha you can’t finish it!”

Me: “I betcha you will be without a job in 30 days!”

So almost a month after I wrote this dialogue, I fired my procrastination from its job, since I had fulfilled the 30-day challenge. I had written every damn day for 30 days. I felt more alive than ever, and was gung-ho about starting my blog and book. I was going to do it!

I was so motivated, that I overcame all my fears for the digital world (I used to call myself a proper digital dinosaur), and even figured out how to make this website on my own (I became quite intimate with some of the help-desk staff of my web-provider). It took me two months, but I did it. And it looks pretty good, doesn’t it?.

In December I was ready to start blogging, and I kept it up till the end of May. I didn’t aim too high, so I only posted every 10 days or so, thinking it would be easier to crank up the frequency and boost my confidence than having to slow down, feeling defeated.

But.

Living the secluded life I live, I have reduced my social circle to the bare minimum. I am one of those people that is very happy on her own. Now that turned out to be my major handicap. I was writing loads of inspired and fun stories, with interesting takeaways, but had barely a handful of people reading them.

It reminded me of that famous Koan: “When a tree falls in the forest, but there’s no-one around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

I started to lose momentum, leaving bigger gaps between posts every time.

I wasn’t ready to give up, but I knew I needed a readership if I wanted to stay motivated. The only way to do that, was getting my ass out of my cocoon and venture out into the world to connect with people and invite them to read my words.

I was not happy about that prospect. That is hard work, and it involves social media. I have a certain disdain for social media, apart from the fact that they scare the shit out of me (link). I don’t like to be in the spotlight, and find it very hard to be in groups. Getting my words out there was going to be a major personal challenge in multiple ways.

Then I saw the ad for Elephant Academy, an apprenticeship promising me to learn everything about social media, journalism ethics, writing and (self-)editing. That sounded like the perfect medicine for my ailing writer-self.

I signed up and got very busy with it. I got more than a dozen articles published in Elephant Journal.

I took the busyness of the apprenticeship as a proper excuse to completely withdraw from my blog. I didn’t look at it for 3 months straight, and didn’t even feel guilty about it. I needed a break from it, obviously, and then recoup.

Now the apprenticeship is over. I learned a lot, feel much better equipped, and I have received a lot of validation for my writing over the last three months, so I know I should continue. Basically, there is no excuse to not pick up my blogging again, and get my words out there through social media.

So what’s keeping me, you ask?

Procrastination.

That stinky bitch—kicked her out a year ago, but she snuck back in through the backdoor. Now I have to find a way to get rid of her again.

I  have several stories going, but none of them want to evolve into an interesting, fun article with a good takeaway for the readers, so I walk away from them quickly.

I am starting to fail my writer-self big time, spending days without seriously sitting down to write creatively. I’m working half-heartedly on my social media network, but could definitely do much more there too.

I am back to procrastinating, big time. But I don’t like it, and don’t want it.

Then my friend and writer Lindsay Lock posted these words on Facebook:

“Have you noticed…how moving toward a great dream summons from life’s jungles the fiercest lions, the scariest tigers, the grizzliest bears…who eventually turn out to be the noblest teachers, the bravest guides, and the dearest friends? You’re on your way. ”

My comment was: “It’s funny when we get the courage to look fear straight in the face, its face changes immediately!”

And then it struck me: I was saying it right there, but not doing it. Walk your talk, Leontien, and face your fears, your major blocks!

So I decided literally to get back to writing and working on my social media network by looking procrastination straight in the face, investigating it, learn everything about it, and write about it. I will be looking into all the fears that lie hidden beneath it, and look each one of them in the eye, to see what they can turn into. It’s going to be fun. I’ll be breaking through procrastination in no time.

One of the quotes that came to my mind in this process, was this one:

“A journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step.” – Lao Tzu.

To break free from the prison of our own procrastination we only have to take one step. 

This blog post is the first step. The next one will tell you everything about procrastination in general and mine in particular. I bet we can all learn something from it.

See you all in a few days!

 

(a major case of procrastination)

healthy habits - procrastinationYou may wonder about the picture featuring a bag of Diatomaceous Earth (DE), a brush and a lemon press? Well, the DE became today’s prompt for me to write this post. That bag, no kidding, has been sitting on my counter top in that exact spot for about 2 months now, without ever having been opened. Looking at it this morning it all of a sudden became a very obvious symbol of my personal procrastination…..and that called for some honest writing.

Before I moved it to the counter top, this same bag had been sitting on a shelf for another 4 months at least, again, without being opened. And it isn’t just your ordinary bag of diatomaceous earth (a natural food supplement) that I bought around the corner in the nearest health food store (because there is no such thing as a health food store within a few hundred miles from here). No, this is a Very Special Bag of Diatomaceous Earth because it has been flown in from Canada on my request, and is most likely The Only Bag of Diatomaceous Earth on the whole of Little Corn Island or maybe even in Nicaragua (well, I may have a few healthy friends here and there that might have their own very special bag of DE). 

Why have this stuff brought to me from so far? Because for months I had been regularly reading about all the health benefits and healing properties of it, and how I should take it on a regular basis (see below for relevant links). As if I didn’t have enough healthy habits yet, I felt the need to add the daily ritual of a glass of juice or water with DE to the long list. It was going to change my life for the better. I was going to be even healthier! Yeah, right.

I have literally drank one (1!) glass of it since I got that stuff 6 or 7 months ago, when I prepared it for my cat Pumpkins, to help him with his intestinal parasites (yes, good for pets too!). He had been bloating like a blimp, and the stuff actually helped. But I never took it again.

So how does that work then, creating a new healthy habit? 

Not by just buying the necessary ingredients or equipment (running shoes is another good example) and putting them on your shelf. Even putting them smack in your own face in the middle of the kitchen counter doesn’t seem to do the job. That much is very obvious.

So why does it not work, then?

Because there is more to it. There is a mind you have to deal with. A very resisting mind. Let’s call it ego. Ego doesn’t like change (hmm, where did I hear that before?). So first we have to convince Ego that this new habit is really going to make us feel better. In our argumentation we may have to dwell extensively on all the discomforts that we experience due to NOT having the new healthy habit yet (bloating, digestive issues, etc.). Really convince ego that you’d like to put an end to all that ‘suffering’. Get the main motivation in place. Well, that’s probably where it went wrong for me, because I didn’t feel that bad. So I didn’t have a lot of convincing arguments to win my case against ego and motivate myself. 

healthy habitsOn top of that, I (or was it lazy ego?) managed to come up with a bunch of reasons that made it even more viable not to start that habit of taking DE on a daily basis. For example: I don’t drink milk or factory made fruit juice, so I would have to mix it with water or tea which doesn’t taste too good, or make my own juice. Making my own juice is not only a lot of work, it also would involve electricity, which we don’t have until 1pm, so there was another lovely procrastination argument, because I only take fresh fruits in the morning, before I eat any other foods. So I would have to change a decades-old habit to create this new habit…..ahh, that resistance is taking on unknown dimensions by now……Also, the price of fresh fruits on this little tropical island is ridiculously high because they have to come from far, so taking a glass of fresh juice with DE would become quite an expensive daily habit. And because I have only a small fridge, I would have to go to the village more often and lug all that heavy fruit home several times a week, instead of my regular 1 trip. Whoa, taking DE as a daily supplement had grown into an insurmountable obstacle of hardships, physical and monetary discomfort and a major investment of time (which I could otherwise spend in my hammock, or on the beach). Ego won the case…..I think. I can sit back and relax and not feel guilty.

Well, actually, no. Because there is a very simple solution to wipe all these very strong arguments against the habit off the table in one swipe: just drink it with some water. The taste isn’t that appalling, just a little chalky, something I’m not used to (resistance to change, right?). I bet if I drink it a few days in a row, I won’t even notice it anymore. And hey, by drinking it with water I am saving myself tons of money and time…that’s a win:-)

What it really melts down to is this: how much importance do I want to give to all the arguments against my new healthy habit, and how much am I willing to admit that it is just another example of that infamous resistance to change, fear of something new, having to come just half an inch outside of my comfort zone….(recognize any of this?)

Now let’s look at the actual implementation of this healthy habit-intention. The most important part is remembering to do it every day (our resisting ego is very good in forgetting stuff!). The trick is to use another routine that you already have firmly in place as your daily cue. You just tack the new habit to the existing one. I chose this one:  Every day I take some supplements with some water around lunch time….now it will be: take some supplements with some DE-water around lunch time. The difference between procrastination and starting a new healthy habit can be as small as two capitals and healthy habits - procrastinationa hyphen. Sometimes it’s that simple. I’ll report back to you in a week from now…

 
The other two items in the picture at the top have gone through identical periods of sitting unused on shelves for months…but I am proud to tell you that for at least a year now I have the healthy (and very pleasant) habit of dry-brushing every morning and drinking a glass of lemon water right after I get up and have cleaned my mouth and teeth. I believe there is still hope for my Diatomaceous Earth!

So what could be your procrastination symbol? Take a picture of it, and post it in the comments or maybe just on your own social media as a confession and a commitment at the same time!

 

 

PS: A week after writing this…..I have dropped out of this midday habit, because I don’t want to drink a whole glass of water right before or after lunch. Now I’ve changed the habit to the morning. My first cup of tea has become the victim: I pour it before yoga class and let it sit on the counter getting cold. I put a tea spoon across the cup to remind myself to add the DE before drinking it. By the time I come out of class, I am thirsty, ready to drink a hole cup of lukewarm tea, with its DE! 

So with some trial and error I have found the best way to integrate this habit into my life, finding the way of the least resistance. It is all about taking away the obstacles that we like to blow up to enormous proportions in our imagination, but are actually quite manageable in reality. Go for it! Just do it!

Learn more about Diatomaceous Earth here.

Learn more about dry brushing and its health benefits here.

Learn more about the impact of drinking lemon water every morning here.

 

 

The Karma Shack blogGratitude is a much used word these days. In this new age of spiritual change that seems to spread slowly but steadily, you hear people talk about gratitude left, right and centre. Every third quote on Facebook seems to be about gratitude. Gratitude is being quoted as the secret to happiness. If you just start being grateful, happiness will find you easily. Is it really that easy? Or is everybody just talking after each other, without really knowing what they are saying? How many of them practice gratitude on a daily basis? Is gratitude becoming a platitude? I’d like to explore that idea here…..

Those of you who have ever been to one of my yoga classes in the Karma Shack know that I always end the session with a little gratitude contemplation. I express amongst other things how extremely grateful I am for everything that the Karma Shack has brought into my life: growth, depth, joy and fulfilment, and the fact that I can share all that with others in my classes and treatments. The first time I said this out loud in class, it was a spontaneous act. As if the thoughts had been put in my head and my mouth just worded them, without much conscious input from yours truly. I had goose bumps and tears in my eyes. Because it sounded so totally true. I felt that gratitude deep inside, in every cell of my body, and it made me very happy. It was real.
I realised that by saying it out loud every day I confirmed that happiness over and over again, and I started adding this little gratitude prayer to the end of each yoga session. Every day it feels true. I am thankful for the Karma Shack in so many ways, and I even believe that that little building keeps handing me more good stuff because I thank it out loud in front of everybody every day.

 

Apart from that daily public expression of gratitude, I do another little private round in the evening, the moment I lay my head on my pillow. I run quietly through my day and name all the things, events and people that I feel grateful for: an inspired yoga session, a pile of clean laundry, a super-satisfied massage client, a hummingbird visiting the Karma Shack garden while I am at work there, a visit with a friend where one cup of tea leads to another and to a very intimate conversation, my cat Pumpkins joining us in a Karma Shack yoga session or sitting on my lap all afternoon while I am writing, a beautiful meal with veggies and herbs from my own garden, the fact that I can go to bed at eight without feeling that I am missing out on anything. Then I fall asleep with a peaceful mind in less than 5 minutes, usually. 

 

For all you people who have aspirations to meditate, or who are already doing it for some time and still find it impossible to tame that monkey mind, I have some good news and some bad news. 

Let’s start with the bad news: after years of meditating, mostly on a daily basis, and often for at least 30 minutes or more, yours truly still has a VERY LOUD MONKEY MIND. Well, I must admit it isn’t too bad in my case, because I do not have a very stressful life, plus I don’t have a partner and a family, which always cause a million worried, stressed or anxious thoughts a minute. My monkey mind does keep going endlessly though, but it is mostly story telling that goes on during my meditation or just a lot of remembering. It is mildly entertaining, so I often just get totally lost in thought. But in all these years of regular practice the moments of true stillness are hardly ever longer than 30 seconds, and few and far between. It took me a while to stop seeing that as a personal failure, and it took me even longer to stop finding it frustrating and unfulfilling. But that monkey does never put a lid on its chatter, EVER. So far the bad news. (Did I just crush all your hopes or motivation to even try and start meditating? Sorry for that, but keep reading…the good news will perk you up).

The good news is that I found a way of working with that monkey mind, and tame it in a different way. I’m happy to share it here. 

I am not a fan of one particular type of meditation, so I switch around between techniques now and then, and one of the things I regularly do is a combination of deep breathing with mantras (not out loud, just in my head) or positive affirmations. When I start such a meditation, I think I got the right phrases ready, but then when I get into it, I keep fiddling with the words for a bit, trying to find the perfect mantra for myself. One day it seemed that no phrase was the right one, so I kept fiddling for quite a while (what do you mean monkey mind in disguise?).

 

palm tree fireworksWho didn’t ever make a New Years’ resolution to start running, eat healthier, stop smoking or drinking, cut back on sugar and wheat, meditate, or even just regularly floss your teeth? Right? And how many of us actually kept that resolution and made it into a proper habit for a lifetime? Right, count me in on that failure, more than once!

 

Healthy habits….you hear these words so often, and usually they produce a little pang of guilt in us……We know we should create a few more of them, or we have tried them on and then dropped out of the habit before it stuck.

I will talk about how to start new habits in another post. Here we are just going to look into how we can motivate ourselves to even start and then keep that motivation. The very first steps……

First of all ask yourself how motivated you are to take on this challenge of creating a new habit (yes we are making a big deal of it, because it often seems to be so difficult for people to just do it, so let’s get to the bottom of all its aspects). Your motivation is what it all starts with. 

You do not want to try and create a healthy habit just because everybody else is raving about it (fads blow over, people drop out, and then who is going to motivate you?), because your mom has always said that you should eat your vegetables (your mom probably doesn’t live with you anymore to kick your butt every day) or because Oprah talked about it. These are some of the worst motivators you can come up with, because they are factors outside of yourself. 

You can only create a new habit when you and only you are completely convinced that it is going to make you feel better, physically and mentally. 

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Without that motivation, it is going to be very hard to create a new habit. So make sure that you know everything about it that there is to know: what exactly will it do to and for your body? Is that what your body really needs? How often do you have to do it for the optimal results? Do you have that much time? How soon will you notice a difference? What possible side-effects or difficulties might you encounter? Are there any contra-indications? How much money will it cost you? Do you need special equipment? Are there certain brands that are better than others? And once you have all these facts clear, there is a couple more questions that you have to ask yourself: 

 

 

How difficult will I find it to start this and do this every day/every week? 

And why? 

 

First and for all you have to win the argument with your lazy ego, that rather stays at home watching tv. Ego doesn’t want to give up its spot in the centre of your comfort zone. Lend your resisting ego a willing ear for a moment, and notice all the arguments against your plan that it comes up with (there will be many!). Maybe you can write the long list on a piece of paper, stare them down for a while in silent battle and then just burn the paper. Or take some time to think about all these arguments, and then give reason a chance to come up not only with a whole bunch of strong counter-arguments in favour of your new habit but also a bunch of simple solutions for all of ego’s major problems with it. Ego’s resistance is just based on a fear of change. And wasn’t it change that you were looking for in the first place? If you still have the feeling that you will fail at starting and keeping up your new habit, you will. The power of thought is so strong, that whatever you think will become a belief that will grow an attitude that produces a behaviour which will be the not-doing of your new habit. So make sure that you change your ego’s mind, convincing it that you will be successful. Then you will.

watch-your-thoughts-lao-tzu-quotes

Now you finally have your motivation in place: you know exactly why you want to create this healthy habit, what you need to implement it, and are convinced that you want to do it and will do it for the rest of your life. It is meant to improve your physical and/or mental well-being. Let us look at that mental and emotional aspect a little closer. What does actually happen to you, when you start to make one small healthy change in your life? 

First of all, there is a boost of confidence and feeling achieved, because hey, you’re keeping a promise to yourself, and you’re keeping up this healthy habit! 

A for effort! 

You may not really notice any physical changes yet, but pat yourself on the shoulder anyway for showing up every day! You worked through the phase of fear and resistance and are doing it! Again: the power of thought!

If you happen to be stuck in a rut in your life, in whichever way, taking this first little step of creating a new habit that is good for you and keeping it up could well become the seed of change for some of the bigger stuff like changing jobs or ending a suffocating relationship. 

Apart from this confidence boost that can get you kickstarted into creating more change, there is a much more subtle, but sometimes even more important emotional effect to keeping up a healthy habit: the message that you are sending to your body, and to your self: ‘I am making time for you and taking care of you, I love you enough to do something that will make you feel better, and I will do this for you every day’. 

Basically you are saying to yourself: ‘I am worthy of love. I LOVE MYSELF’. 

Wow. That is quite the powerful message. I bet there are plenty of you out there that do not really say that to themselves very often. And by becoming aware of this gesture of self-love that you are making every day, your practice gets exponentially more powerful! Loving yourself is where happiness begins.

Once you get into the swing of a healthy habit, the mental impact is just as powerful for your general well-being as the actual lowered blood pressure or the better digestion. That’s what I would call a great motivator! Put that one at the top of your list: “I want to create this healthy habit because I love myself”. Now go make your New Year’s resolution(s), and make them happen. Happy New Year!

 

PS: if you write your New year’s resolutions in the comments below, it will give you some extra accountability-support! (I promised on Facebook that I was going to make this website and start a blog, and I definitely felt more motivated to keep my promise once I had made it public!)