Prcocrastination

Last month, I was a writer on fire.

Every time I sat down to write, a great story with a good take-away came out of my keyboard almost without effort.

It was the last month of Elephant Academy—writing month. Super inspiring. Every week, I submitted two or three stories to Elephant Journal, and they were all published.

I received a lot of positive feedback from fellow apprentices who loved and shared my articles on the Facebook pages they were managing.

They cheered me on and told me I was on fire.

I felt like I had wings. I was inspired and 100 percent motivated all the time.

And then it all came to a screeching halt.

The apprenticeship ended. We were gently removed from our Facebook pages to make room for the new group of apprentices coming behind us.

We were told: “The training wheels are off; you can do it by yourselves now.” The group camaraderie changed into more individual contacts with those people I had connected with most in the last three months. Things slowed down quite a bit.

Maybe I should say: I slowed down quite a bit.

It was as if I had gone cold turkey. Without the structure of weekly meetings and writing prompts, I now failed to inspire and motivate myself. Without the whole group cheering me on, I found it hard to generate the enthusiasm to write and keep writing until I had a catchy story with an interesting takeaway for the reader.

My inspiration and motivation were gone. I had lapsed into an acute bout of intense procrastination.

I let myself procrastinate for a while. I had been working hard for three months straight, and I felt I deserved a break.

That was a pretty dumb decision. I allowed myself to lose the invaluable momentum that the apprenticeship had helped me gain.

Procrastination has a strange self-reinforcing mechanism: when we postpone something once, the next day it’s already a little easier not to do it, the third day even more. It doesn’t take long to just forget completely why we wanted to do something at all.

But I had been writing every damn day for more than a month. I knew I was capable of it.

So my question to myself was: why am I procrastinating again? Why am I all of a sudden not able to sit down and write every day, as I would like to?

I decided to dig into the strange phenomenon of procrastination itself.

“Procrastination, in psychological terms, is what happens when the value of doing something else outweighs the value of working now.” ~ Elliot T. Berkman, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon

Almost all of us procrastinate in some way, and none of us are very proud of it.

Basically, we procrastinate out of fear. Fear of having to work hard, fear of failure, fear for not getting a reward, fear for the discomfort that is inherent in making meaningful changes in our work and lives. Easier to put it off for a bit, right? There’s so much else we’d rather do.

By putting it off, we falsely assume that tomorrow it will be easier to do the task, that we’ll have less fear. God only knows why we think something will change overnight that’ll make it easier. It turns out that the opposite is true, according to Forbes contributor, Margie Warrell:

“Our fears grow larger, not smaller, the longer we put things off. Eventually they lead into the burial ground for unfulfilled dreams and untapped potential.

By procrastinating, we sellout on our happiness—both today and in every tomorrow.”

Ouch! We don’t really want to do that, do we? Sellout on our happiness? Bury our dreams? Leave our potential untapped?

There’s three good reasons to stop procrastinating!

The question is: how can we stop?

Here are a five ways in which we can beat procrastination and get going again, according to psychologists and other experts in the field:

1. Define our goals: The clearer our goals, the easier it is to motivate ourselves.

According to Berkman, it is important to connect our goals with our future self. Imagining how we will feel if we achieve our goals, really identifying with that fulfilled future self makes it easier to detach form the present self that just wants to indulge.

Asking ourselves the specific question: why do we want to exercise, meditate, learn to play the guitar, stop drinking, or start saving money? What is our goal?

For that matter, why do I want to write? Good question.

Because I love writing! It makes me feel alive. Because I have many unique stories and experiences and insights in my head that I want to share—they might be of benefit to other people. Because I am a teacher, but I don’t like crowds—so I’m better off writing it down. Because I have a book in me that needs to be birthed.

Because I want to reach out to the world and be of service with my words.

2. Once we have a clear idea (again) of our goals, we can look at the things we have to commit to in order to achieve them.

The experts recommend making this as specific as possible. It is easier to fulfil specific goals than vague concepts.
If we want to get healthy, our goal should not be a vague wish for “more exercise.” Specifying it into “going for a 30-minute walk every day after we’ve had our morning coffee” makes it more likely that we’ll feel committed enough to actually do that.

If I want to be a writer, I can commit to sitting down and writing 1,000 words every damn day, starting at 9 a.m. right after breakfast. I can commit to posting a short inspirational post on Instagram every day after lunch. To submitting a story to Elephant Journal every Tuesday. Three specific and doable goals.

3. An often heard piece of advice is to break the big goal up into smaller bits that are easier to handle.

If we aim too high or too big at the beginning, first of all, it will seem too overwhelming. Secondly, we set ourselves up for failure further down the road. It’s called self-sabotage.

It is also important to focus on fewer tasks and really being choosy about our priorities.

We cannot start running 10 miles when we have not moved at all for the last 15 years. We may start with a daily walk just around the block. When that feels comfortable, we add another block. The priority is moving every day, not moving 10 miles.

If I want to be a writer, I won’t crank out a best-seller on the first try. Or become a daily blogger overnight. So I start small with a weekly blog submission. I do one Instagram post a day, instead of four or more. I’m not getting into Twitter or Pinterest yet. I aim for a 1,000 words every day to begin with, instead of 2,000 or even more.

When we set ourselves tasks that are within reach of our abilities, but just a tiny bit out of our comfort zone, we are more likely to fulfill them compared to goals that are too unrealistic. Growth happens right in the middle between too easy and extremely difficult, between comfortable and too challenging, between well-known and totally unfamiliar. Choosing tasks that fit in that middle zone will set us up for success.

When we are able to fulfill the smaller goals that we have set for ourselves, we will feel accomplished. That feeling will motivate us to keep going, and move on to the next goal. Celebrate every achievement for an extra motivational boost!

4. Imagining the future rewards and understanding our intentions and motivations.

Regular exercise will bring us prolonged health so that we will be able to take our grandchildren on hiking and camping trips. That’s a reward worth working for now.

Now that I’ve lost the immediate reward of multiple cheers from my Academy peers, it’s time to redefine my reward for writing.

Getting published all the time is actually a worthy reward in itself, knowing that I only started submitting stories a couple of months ago. I’ll celebrate every 10 published articles by buying myself a book that I really would love to read as a bonus reward. I’ll write for that!

5. Take the first step—even if we’re not yet convinced that we can attain our goals.

As Lao Tzu said: “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”

Although that first step is the hardest, because it is the one that has to move us from our comfortable procrastination into action mode, it is also the most rewarding. Once we get going, the next step is already easier. We gain momentum (again) and before we know it, we are at full steam. The fact that we have taken the first step is reason for celebration of our accomplishment, which motivates us again to keep going.

My first step was writing this article about procrastination! What could be yours?

 

This article was first published in Elephant Journal

Image: Flickr/Andrew Wiggin

 

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.