Even before we get into the juicy stuff, here’s what I’m asking myself today: Can I avoid procrastination? What is procrastination, after all? Chronic procrastination has plagued me immensely in the past, but now I identify with being a procrastinator in recovery. If you feel seen, keep reading.
Coming back to work after a couple of days away is, often, an endeavor filled with anguish. Let’s call it Monday Scaries. This form of short-term memory ignores all the times in which you were competent and goes all the way back to difficult periods where you felt stuck, inadequate, or you made a mistake, got belittled, or failed an exam. It fills you with doubt: What if I can’t? Many times you won’t even know why you feel dread anymore, you just have this unpleasant sensation in your body. It makes me think of what psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott famously said: “The catastrophe you fear has already happened.” Perhaps this is something akin to many creatives (you tell me), but personally, it feels like a malaise of the recovering procrastinator.
In its inception, procrastination can feel good. I have this recollection of working at the kitchen table of my little student house in Uni on a paper I needed to have ready by the following morning, but writing poetry on a whim instead. I hadn’t felt so motivated in a long time! Oh, the inspiration rush! The intense pleasure of self-expression! Other times I researched things I was vaguely interested in, only to find myself suddenly passionate about the topic. Ah, the excitement of learning about Politics! The sense of urgency in reading every party’s manifests. The world needs informed citizens! You must be prepared to debunk every misinformed stance at any moment! Home makeovers are a classic too. I never knew I was this handy! Why did I put off hanging this print for so long? (Turns out, a good procrastinator doesn’t procrastinate solely on work…) A deadline can be a potent igniter of creativity, a sweet discovery that can bore five poems in a row. That night, many years ago, this is how I reasoned with myself after closing my old pc at seven am. This may have been stressful but you were productive, I reasoned with myself. Putting things off until there’s no more time to waste works until it doesn’t.
Procrastinating incites terror: that is both its seduction and its biggest trade-off. There was nothing more action propelling for 20-year-old Ana than working against time. And being able to hand in a complete document to the professor the next day and often getting a good grade made me feel triumphant. It’d been a sprint but I had made it. Imagine what I could achieve if I had done it properly. This modus-operandi goes hand in hand with anxiety. If you already live with anxiety it’s anxiety over anxiety, a royal shitshow. Over time, you start feeling like an impostor, incapable of celebrating your achievements because they feel half-earned. If only they knew you’ve been cheating all along.
Avoidance and delay are the fuel to the fire of insecurity within. Even if you didn’t miss the deadline, you risked it, and it was unnecessary and stupid. It’s like you were slowly, slowly making your way up a rollercoaster (aka: thinking about what you need to do, ruminating about how you don’t feel like doing it, asking yourself why that is, stressing out at all the inner-chatter, getting annoyed at repeating the same mistake and hating yourself in the process) only to finally free fall. Terrorizing yourself is a poor motivation strategy as it triggers action by poking at your weaknesses instead of adding to a solid foundation of habits that can strengthen both your work ethic and your self-worth. Every success feels like sheer luck – after all, you just threw yourself out of an elevated railroad track – and each failure stems from your defective personality.
For all the organized people among us who are mortified to read this right now, I get you, I really do. Having befriended routine and a secluded way of life has made me rise off the depths of severe procrastination and self-boycott. Having missed two Blogmas over the weekend, however, just gave me a taste of former battles with myself, even if I know that the absence was justified. The comeback may have been less enjoyable – working against the clock gives me no thrill anymore – but it is good to keep our memory fresh. I’m a procrastinator in recovery, after all. The weekend’s efforts gave way to an apartment ready for Christmas if you’re interested: cozy, warm, (I caulked windows again!) clean, and dressed in a panoply of fairy lights. I’m ready and more than happy to wake up tomorrow and do the writing all over again.
I wrote a in-depth newsletter on procrastination on my newsletter #2 – Just Do It, But How? Sign up to read here. I’d love to have you there.
Header photo: @jan.arsenovic and I chilling (perhaps too) hard at the Lloyd Hotel, Amsterdam