My Ex-Vice: Procrastination
My Ex-Vice is a series that explores the things that can challenge us most – the bad habits, temptations, and dependencies – and how we understand them in order to overcome them.
To tell you the truth, I started this with less of an interest in how to stop procrastinating than in figuring out the reason why I do it in the first place. Where is the part of me who loves to delay, who can’t work unless she’s on a deadline, who is thrilled to hit “send” on an email at 11:59, just in the nick of time? I don’t identify with this part of myself: she’s unreliable, selfish, unorganized, often late; I am painstakingly dependable and always on time. What gives?
I think the best way to launch into this essay is to admit that I procrastinated in writing it – but not because I didn’t want to do the task itself. On the contrary, finishing a piece – figuring out how the puzzle pieces go together, and successfully articulating myself – is the moment in which I am most fulfilled. I am constantly chasing this feeling: pitching stories, building the framework of a problem I want to dissect, then poring over my keyboard for hours trying to get at it, to the very core of it. So it makes sense to me that, according to Dr. Fuschia Sirois, procrastination isn’t about self-discipline, but rather, mood: “People engage in this irrational cycle of chronic procrastination because of an inability to manage negative moods around a task,” she says in the New York Times.
In other words, procrastination is a coping mechanism: because avoidance of the task at hand makes you feel better than doing the task itself (and, thus, experiencing whatever emotions are attached to it).
With that in mind, I found that the best way to confront my procrastination as it pertained to my writing was to try to figure out where negativity was attached to the task, and why. I’m a list-making person, so I started a list of hypotheses: was is the fact that I hate staring at my computer screen? A fear of failure, of being unable to articulate myself? The stress of my work, which is so close to the core of who I am, being judged (read: edited) by another? I think these are all fair and reasonable worries. I also do not think that they should prevent or delay me from writing, which is to say, the thing I love most, the thing that helps me to make sense of myself and the world around me.
In order to squash my penchant for avoidance, for starters, I had to confront those fears on my list, and counter them with a list of positive associations: the thrill of articulating myself, and the way that having a good, tough editor makes my work so much better, for example. The good outweighs the bad. I realize that that’s not always the case – sometimes we procrastinate doing things because they are truly unpleasant, or just plain boring – but in this instance, rejecting my impulse to postpone work was only to my benefit. The experts quoted in the Times list other solutions: self-compassion, cultivating curiosity, considering the next action, and making your temptations more inconvenient (this could be anything from putting the unhealthy snacks on a hard-to-reach shelf to deleting an ex’s number so you are less inclined to text). I found these to be similarly helpful; I put my phone and my book out of reach until I committed an hour or two to my keyboard, for one.
And I began to consider my writing as an explorer considers uncharted territory; diving headfirst into the unknown, anticipating the thrill that comes with the unearthing of a new idea – instead of worrying about whether or not I’d strike gold.
Sometimes the words simply won’t flow. I have learned the difference between waiting until my thoughts are ready to fly from mind to page and avoiding the task out of fear they won’t land. It’s OK to not be ready. It’s OK if it isn’t the right time. But – and here is where this essay turns into an appeal to my own self – don’t cheat yourself out of the opportunity to put pen to paper and simply try.
Photo courtesy of Thought Catalog.