Procrastination - Part 2 - The role of resistance
In part 1 we talked about how procrastination can be a helpful way to bring focus to projects you don’t want to do, but have to. The quiet panic you feel when you’ve left a task to the last minute can actually be a gift, inspiring intense focus and commitment to complete. The real issue is all the pre-production time you spend telling yourself you ought to be doing this thing, when the truth is that there is NO chance you’re doing it before the panic sets in. Life becomes much richer when you can fully embrace what you are currently doing, trusting that you will do everything else, at the right good time.t what if there is something stopping you from doing something you actually do want to do? It’s one thing to think,
“I don’t want to clean the garage today. It’s a beautiful day. I’m going swimming.”
By all means, go swimming and trust that one day in the future the state of your garage will inspire you to clean it.
But what if you are thinking,
“This garage is making me nuts. I would love to get it cleaned up but the idea of doing it feels exhausting.”
Why does it feels exhausting? It’s not that you want to avoid it because you have things you’d rather be doing. You want to avoid it because something about doing it is draining your inspiration. Something is generating resistance.
It could be that the job feels too big, since you haven’t touched the garage in years. You may have no idea where to start. Or you may suspect that your walls need repair and, if you find out for sure, that’s another problem to worry about. Your freezer may have ancient food in it or you suspect there’s the remnants of some kind of rodent nest. Or…….as many reasons as there are people not cleaning out their garages, I suspect.
Myself, I come from a long line of 80%ers. In my family, we tend to do 80% of a task and then sit down. The other 20% doesn’t get done. If I don’t pay attention, after dinner I will put the food away, put the dishes in the dishwasher and hand wash what’s left. If it’s been a big dinner, I am likely to also wipe the counters, but then I will for sure get distracted by the conversation in the other room and not clean the stove. If it’s a small meal and the stove doesn’t need cleaning, the TV will call and the counters won’t get wiped.
Even if I am paying attention, I’ll often allow myself to move on to the more intriguing activity without completing my tasks. The wall of resistance, the overwhelming desire to be part of whatever has caught my attention in the other room, and the white noise static in my head when I consider staying to complete the kitchen cleanup, is a fight I don’t have to put myself through as an adult. (See part 1) I’ll clean the counters in the morning!
I don’t know where this 80% pattern came from. I think they’ll find a gene about it someday. In the meantime, I have had many 80% clean garages, everything clean but tools spread out to put away in an orderly fashion, now covered in cobwebs because the work was done last year. Or garden beds, deadheaded, cleaned out, weeded, with the tools on the lawn and the trimmings waiting for a bin to go in. Days later.
So, for a long time, I had a resistance to taking on big projects. Because the feeling - days, weeks or months later - of looking at the results of a project left 80% done felt worse than not having attempted the work in the first place. My entire life was 80% done and I genuinely believed I wasn’t as capable as the people with tidy garages.
The solution to this particular resistance was the result of a couple of things. First, I got especially sick of having no baseboards in my house, the result of a previous renovation, 80% complete. A friend voluntold me he would bring over his tools and teach me how to install baseboards. He did. And he didn’t leave until the work was completed, cleaned up, and all the tools packed back in his truck. Completion felt amazing!
Second, my wise older brother (same family, same 80% gene) offered me a solution he had cooked up. Make the project only as big as what you can do in a day, including cleaning up after yourself. This may sound obvious to those who don’t have the 80% gene but it was all new territory for me.
I started in the garden, quitting half an hour before I really wanted to be done, so I could clean up the yard waste and put away the tools. I was remarkably resistant to stopping sooner, seeing more that really did need clipping and weeding, but I stuck to my commitment. Soon, the delight I consistently felt the next day, seeing the result of my efforts, all done and tidied up, reminded me to stick to the rule for future projects. Now, the short hand rule is this:
Make 80% of any large project the goal, including clean up
Make the last 20% of the project a 100% new project
Make 80% of this new project the goal, including clean up
Keep up these iterations until the final project can be 100% completed with ease
So, if I’m writing a blog, something I want to do but am at risk of leaving 80% done, I make my first goal to write the first draft, ready for edits. Then I leave it. My next goal becomes getting my edits done and sending it off for comments. Then I leave it. My third goal is to make recommended changes and post it. Each goal takes successively less work and is easier to accomplish. This accommodates my natural resistance to turning on my brain as I get closer to the end of a project. Oh, and I give myself a deadline so I know, ultimately, when to turn on the juice.
As a procrastinator, can you tell the difference between procrastination because you don’t want to do something and there’s no sense of urgency versus procrastination because of some unnamed resistance? If the procrastination is because of resistance, because of that white noise that makes it impossible to get a grip, see if you can’t figure out what your pattern is.
Do you resist when you anticipate challenges you don’t have answers for? Or the opposite – when you already know what to do so doing it poses no challenge? Do you resist when it feels like the project could monopolize your life? When past experiences have left you feeling incapable? When it requires participation with others or when it must be done alone?
Recognizing what projects you don’t want to do is step one. Recognizing why you are afraid to do what you do want to do is step two, allowing you to develop strategies for gaming your resistance.
Want to explore possible reasons for resistance? You’ll find them in part 3!