I’m pretty sure that I’ve been a procrastinator since my high school days, but maybe it started earlier. Homework was always a drag, especially at the end of a particularly tiresome school day, when I’d get home and just want to relax and read a book. I’m an introvert, and I often feel drained when I’m around a lot of people, and back then in school, even more so, because I was shy and awkward; I lacked confidence and faith in myself, so I was always ‘acting out’ a version of myself that I deemed cooler by other people’s standards.
But schoolwork had deadlines, and I had to meet them, even if that meant leaving said homework to the last minute and doing a rushed job on it. This was particularly true of the subjects I didn’t enjoy, and there were many of them. Science was boring, Maths was excruciating and even History, which I’d always enjoyed, suddenly became a conveyor belt of essays about dull World War politics. Give me ancient civilisations and raunchy Tudors and Stewarts any day. I thought I’d love French, but vocabulary lists and grammar didn’t engage me. That only left English, my one true love (back then anyway). Ahh English. Reading literature and poetry, and creative writing were all wonderful to me. They didn’t feel like a chore.
I dreamed of growing up to be a writer, and spending my time either typing away in a chic cafe or a dreamy library/office or doing research for my novels. It would all be so easy. Except it isn’t. Because there is a niggling, nay, irritating part of me that loves to self-sabotage. I’ve read many articles on the subject of procrastination and that part of ourselves that self-sabotages has been likened to a chimp, a naughty disobedient child, and even a demon. It is frequently called the ego too, though not in the Freudian sense of the term. Some people name their ego, so they can acknowledge him or her when they try to take over. “Oh yeah, it’s Geoff trying to put me off writing that really important essay” or “I can’t sign up for that awesome photography course because Joan says it’s pointless.”
Indeed, the more I read about procrastination and this pesky part of my brain, the more I’m beginning to recognise her when she rears her ugly head. I can’t believe I never noticed before. Case in point, last Tuesday I decided that I really should go to a class at my local yoga studio. Why? Because I love yoga, I need to get more active and I’d been putting it off for a long time. But as soon as I thought about going to class, my ego popped up with excuse after excuse:
Ego: “Err…wait, you can’t go to yoga. What if everyone is really advanced and super flexible? You’ll look like a total dick and be humiliated!”
Me: “That’s ok, stupid ego. I checked and the class is open to all levels.”
Ego: “But the class is bound to be fully booked. Then you’ll have gone all that way for nothing.”
Me: “If that’s the worst that can happen, then fine. Besides, I doubt a 9:30am class will be packed.”
Ego: “But you’re bound to get stuck in traffic and…”
Me: “Damn it ego! I’m going and you can’t do a damn thing to stop me. This time I win!” Cue Nelson from The Simpson’s signature laugh. Ha ha.
A victory this time for me, but the ego tries to sabotage every aspect of my life, especially my creative side. I chose to be a writer because I love creating worlds and characters and stories, so how could the ego possibly win at getting me to put off my passion in life? Easy. The ego punches you hard, where it hurts.
Me: “La, la, la. Going to write that next chapter today.”
Ego: “Wait? What? No, no you can’t do that. It’s going to be so hard to actually write today. That idea for the scene you have might sound awesome, but on paper, it’ll totally suck. You’ll feel such a failure and I don’t want that for you. Why don’t you put it off? We could nap, or read or even better, we could carry on watching Charmed on Netflix. We’re only on season 3 and we have so many episodes left to watch.”
Me: “Oh ok then. Just this once.”
Ego: “Yay! Woo hoo! And screw the diet! You know we totally need to add chocolate to the equation, because, chocolate.”
And so the vicious cycle continues.
I’m not writing this article to explain procrastination or the ego. There is a great article about it here, which explains much better than I could, and there are amusing stick men illustrations to boot! It’s actually the best description I’ve ever read of how procrastination actually works.
I’m not even writing this to say, hey presto! Abracadabra! There’s an immediate cure and here it is! Rejoice! (I wish). I’m writing this because I know that I’m not alone in suffering from this. In fact, it seems to be a common problem with creative types (although not exclusively). Creating can be hard work and can plague the artist/writer/etc with self-doubt. Creating can be daunting and scary, and once you’ve gone over that hurdle, it can be just as scary and daunting to present your work to the world and try and sell it. But it doesn’t have to be. Elizabeth Gilbert’s wonderful book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear fully debunks the struggling artist myth, and why we, as creators, creatrixes or whatever we want to call ourselves, shouldn’t fall into that trap.
So, the burning question, how do you beat procrastination? I’m still struggling with it, and I don’t think there is a 100% full proof way. But you can trick your ego like I did with my yoga class. You have to learn to differentiate the ego from the rational part of your mind. You have to know when it’s trying to sabotage your plans and thwart it. You have to acknowledge and ignore. Just do one tiny little step to your goal, because a tiny step can lead to bigger ones. Force yourself to put on your work out clothes, force yourself to open up the Word document or Pages document on your computer, get out your paints, don’t reach for that bar of chocolate, even though it seems to be calling to you.
Remember each time your ego tries to put you off something, why you wanted to do it in the first place. Procrastinating doesn’t make a task go away, it makes it feel like a weight on your shoulders that gets heavier and heavier the longer you put it off. Another trick is to cut your neverending to-do list down to three priorities every day. Three isn’t too overwhelming, as long as you make them baby steps, and if you get them over and done with, the feeling of fulfillment you’ll experience will far surpass the guilty feeling of knowing you should be working on tasks but are instead watching YouTube videos of people falling over.
How do you beat your procrastination?