I am a world-class avoider of things. Seriously, I could teach a class. Like… a graduate-level class. I am singularly talented at not doing what I tell myself I want to be doing.
Be it another commitment, an ache that requires rest, an urgent need to stare off into nothing… if it can be put off, believe me, I am in the forefront of finding ways to put things off.
Nowhere is my singular talent for procrastination on finer display than on the myriad reasons why I don’t write. I’ll do it just as soon as I’ve got that outline done. I should cook for the kids. The world is probably going to blow up unless I watch CNN. Or, the loftier feeling, Well, a good writer should read. So I’ll read a little first.
Oh, the reading story.
I have spent a lot of time contemplating my desire to avoid things I say I want to do (side note: another excellent avoidance technique) and it comes down to this: fear. For me it’s usually fear of overwhelm, of having too much to do and not knowing how to cope. There’s also the cliched fear of failure, of course. In my mind, all my stories are The Handmaid’s Tale mixed with Macbeth (minus the BS Birnam Wood device. Seriously, Bill?). Once I put them on paper, well… they’re all Birnam Wood. Trite. Already done. Just the next thing I won’t get published.
Interestingly, the one way to overcome procrastination is to… well, sit with it. This morning I was absolutely sure there was zero chance I could face my outline again. I’d put it aside just when it was getting hard (note to self: really dumb idea), and the thought of picking it back up put me straight into the desire to take a week-long nap. I was ready to default to my escapes (just a little TV until I start the day job), but, instead, I made myself meditate.
For a lifelong meditator, I am absolutely terrible at it. Which is why I need it. I wiggle and play with my fingers, I get all my most brilliant ideas which I simply must write down right now right now right NOW! My brain is wily in its drive to not be still. But then that’s why meditation is so good for me. I once read that meditation is like working out a muscle… you bring your mind back to your meditative focus every time you get distracted and there is your meditation, like lifting a heavy weight. Some people think they need to be able to control their mind in order to meditate, but actually, most of us meditate in order to be able to control our minds.
After the meditation, I made myself write my fears down. They were banal, what you’d expect. I’m going to fail. I’m not good enough. I used an old technique I sometimes turn to, Byron Katie’s “The Work” (a supremely obnoxious name, I’ve always thought, but an excellent tool) which is a series of questions designed to challenge your own thinking. Is it true? How do you react, what happens when you believe that thought to be true? Who would you be without the thought? Turn it around.
Doing “The Work” often helps me look at a problem from a new angle. I find it freeing, almost physically so, to let myself play with the opposite of a problem statement. The “who would you be without the thought” often gives me wings. Who would I be if I could not believe I’m going to fail? What would I try? How much lightness and joy would there be in the endeavor? What if it was all just play, delighting in the fun of it?
So I took a deep breath. I got into it. I wrote some. Not much. But I broke through the paralyzing fear, got a step closer. And that’s a win in my book.
Check out the short and simple worksheet if you want to try The Work yourself on any thought that’s causing you pain or anxiety today. Try it! It can be transformative: click here.