Editor: My friend Amy Torres published a brilliant article about procrastination in Medium.com this month with useful tips on how to use writing to get past this inner procrastinator and back into action. Read on to discover your brand of procrastination and what to do about it.
How long did it take to get where you are today?
Let’s guesstimate that you have spent half your life procrastinating.
The depressed kill time. The anxious frenzy-froth time. The perfectionistic nitpick time. You may have a combo-thing going on. Anxious/perfectionist. Agitated/depressive. Whatever your style, procrastinators are masters at delay. The price you pay is feeling deeply disappointed and frustrated with yourself. Instead of writing, you think about how you’re not writing. Brutal.
I know. I’ve been there. And I have some suggestions I think you can handle. Let’s make up for lost time.
Procrastination is about feeling overwhelmed and inadequate to the task at hand. It is also about maintaining loyalty bonds, often unspoken, so that we don’t surpass someone else and hurt them (or throw off our family system) by succeeding.
The Depressed Procrastinator
Depression is an attempt to ward off death by entering into a chronic imitation of death. The deadening of your needs and desires serves a purpose. But it also ruins your life. Ultimately, the “cure” (burying and denying your needs) is worse than the illness (depression). You’re already painfully aware that you’re killing time. Depression may feel like it’s happening to you, but there is always an unconscious motivation. We’ll get to that in a bit.
The Anxious Procrastinator
Anxiety is an attempt to ward off life. It is an false insurance policy against catastrophe. As long as you whir with anxiety, you seem to be one step ahead of disaster. You live with an underlying current of visceral terror, which you avoid by feeling chronically worried, rattled, thin-skinned, and at the mercy of your jumpy nervous system. This intensified energy insists its concerns are urgent, but actually it distracts you from following through with what is truly important to you. Keep reading.
The Perfectionistic Procrastinator
Perfectionism is an attempt to play God. It is arrogance appearing as humility. You never think anything is good enough and getting hung up in the details prevents you from embracing your own flaws. This is your fatal error. Crossing your “t”s and dotting your “i”s will never bring you the superior outcome you desire. However, facing your humanity and allowing creativity to flow through you imperfectly will help you discover your signature style.
What To Do?
Here are five seriously potent writing exercises to help you bypass your inner procrastinator. Just tiptoe right past while s/he’s snoozing on your sofa, biting off your fingernails, or compulsively revising your revisions ad infinitum.
(1) Chronicle your state of mind. You are going to write down what you are feeling and thinking in a factual way. You are going to leave all interpretation out and simply record the facts. Like this:
(2) Quote yourself. Transcribe your thinking exactly so you gain deeper access to your mindset. Don’t write, “I was thinking about …” or “I feel so low.” Catch your exact thoughts and put them in quotes, e.g., “No one is ever going to love me. I’m never going to finish my book. I’m a lazy, underachieving good-for-nothing. The worst part is I think I’m a pretty good writer. If I would only write. Which I don’t. I’m a loser. Pathetic.” Write down your thoughts verbatim. It’s brutal, but now you have something to work with. Next:
(3) Uncover your introject. Introjection, an idea theorized by Sigmund Freud, is a defense mechanism we all develop as children. We mentally absorb the voices of authority figures. Starting with our parents, we internalize, for better and worse, what they say. “Don’t touch the hot stove!” is helpful to internalize. “You’ll never amount to anything,” is not. An introject is both the authority figure (let’s say your mother), and the message (I prefer your big brother).
In other words, your mother’s voice and preferences now live inside your head. You keep recreating a version of yourself that is always second best to the one you love most. You’ve mistaken this tyrannical thinking as your own. It is time to discover that the critical voice began outside of you.
It’s up to you to uncover your introjects and free yourself from opinions that are not your own. Introjected messages range from subtle to blatant, so find an obvious introject and dig deeper to uncover the entire diabolical inner saboteur. You want to pull the weeds out by the roots. Here’s how:
(4) Notice pure sensation. Pure sensation has a neutrality to it. Find a place in your body that physically feels something. It could be your butt making contact with the chair, or your breath moving through your nostrils and rib cage. Any physical sensation will do. Jot down a bullet list of adjectives describing your pure sensations.
You’ve probably been avoiding physical sensations for years. Taking Excedrin for headaches, Tums for stomachaches, Tiger Balm for muscle aches … without exploring the actual sensation. As a writer, you owe it to yourself to investigate these sensations and articulate in words. As you do so, beliefs, memories, stories, and feelings of sadness, anger, fear, shame and more will begin to bubble up. Process them in this way:
(5) Excavate hidden emotions. Once you’ve written out what you’re noticing on the level of pure sensation, you are prepared to delve into what you are feeling on an emotional level. Depression squelches genuine emotion. Anxiety exaggerates genuine emotion. Perfectionism denies genuine emotion. As a writer, uncovering your true emotions is like opening the lid to a treasure chest of stories and inspiration.
Your psyche has developed brilliant defense mechanisms to protect you from the consequences of feeling your actual, authentic emotions. Your urge to write is your healthy core insisting on expression! It is risky to be yourself, but playing it safe and holding back is not only self-betrayal … it is a form of suicide.
Procrastination is self-sacrifice. You don’t procrastinate because you’re lazy. Procrastination goes deeper than that. It is a crazy attempt to stave off life and all the possible consequences of putting yourself out there full-bloodedly.
Stop sacrificing yourself in order to maintain family loyalty, prevent personal failure, or avoid facing parts of yourself that you don’t like.
If you’re depressed, you need to get underneath your numbness and brain fog. Using the Chronicling Process, you will probably bump into a family taboo, such as, “I’m not allowed to feel there’s greatness in me. If I do something great, I might surpass my big brother and upset mom.”
If you’re anxious, you need to face the anxiety because it’s bullying you. Again, the Chronicling Process is a powerful way to do this because as you list how fear feels in pure sensation, you dismantle the mechanism with which fear is frightening you. When you write down, “I experience anxiety as lightheadness, shortness of breath, constriction in my chest, migraine headaches, burning in my belly, etc.” fear gets backed into a corner. You’re onto its symptoms and there’s liberation in that.
And if you’re a perfectionist, consistent underachievement is your ticket. Your opportunity is to try “good enough” mode and see if you can tolerate the less-than-perfect results. You will complete projects this way. The project will not meet your standards, but it will be far better than most because you are driven to operate at a high standard. You must give yourself permission to complete a project before you consider it finished.
Stop being a victim of your own psychology. Chronicle your state of mind. Uncover your introjects, quote your thoughts verbatim, notice your sensations, and excavate hidden emotions. You will gain detachment.
Detachment is an antidote for procrastination because procrastination is an investment in self-doubt. Detachment restores objectivity. Objectivity allows you to dispassionately chronicle your state of mind. Airing out the hidden contents, taboos, and oaths of silence that have resulted in procrastination will ignite your passion to write your truth!
Visit Amy Torres’ website at amytorres.love