Procrastination - Part 3 - What's resistance really about?
For those of you who have read part 1 and part 2 of this three part blog, you now know that I am an 80%er - get a thing 80% done and then sit down and procrastinate on the rest. Well, in this case my particular type of crazy has resulted in getting part 1 and part 2 of this blog done, and then procrastinating about part 3. I am now under a deadline to get this piece finished and I’m writing it on the first sunny day in a while, because panic has set. (See part 1 of the blog.) Brilliant!
It seems to me that resistance to doing a thing, resistance that results in procrastination, is actually based on experiencing one of two things. The first is a lack of interest. Have you had the experience of being asked to do something you’ve done numerous times before and feeling a huge resistance to doing the same thing again? I suggest that resistance kicks up when there is nothing in it for us.
Take making your bed. I know many people who feel a sense of accomplishment from leaving their room in order, before beginning the rest of their day. Starts things off on the right foot for them and they feel satisfaction. I’ve even read self-help advice (Isn’t that an oxymoron?) that suggests that you should make your bed every morning to start your day with a sense of accomplishment.
News flash – making my bed, even really well, gives me nothing. There is no part of me that feels like I’ve accomplished something. In fact, trying the exercise completely derails my day as resistance kicks up big time. Why? That doesn’t feel like accomplishment to me. For me, getting up early, sipping coffee, finding a new idea, puttering in my garden – that feels like accomplishment.
I 100% support finding a way to start each day with an activity that feeds your soul, but we make a mistake when we assume that thing is the same for all of us. Not only is it true that not everyone finds a sense of accomplishment from making their bed, I suggest not everyone gets a boost from accomplishment itself.
So when you find yourself resistant to doing something you know you “should,” see whether or not there is anything “in it” for you. If there isn’t, you might want to find a way to divest yourself of the activity instead of believing you are somehow a failure for not getting it done.
The other experience that will often result in procrastination is the feeling of not being able to predict the steps required to get a specific project done. I think it is this experience that derails us when we want to do something but yet we feel big resistance.
In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman maps out the two ways we think. Most of the time our thinking is fast, intuitive and emotional but some things require the second type of thinking – slow deliberate and logical. The book is full of valuable insights into how our brains work and I recommend you read it, but for my purposes I want to highlight just one point. He tells us that slow thinking is effortful – it takes effort, for which we have a finite capacity. He says it can be like a sprint and we will become fatigued from the effort.
So, attempting a task when we don’t know how to do it yet is a lot like deciding to go for a run. We have the capacity to do it but we know our total capacity is limited, and we have a bias towards conserving brain power. It can feel unsafe to start a project without knowing how it will work out because, I suggest, it threatens to deplete our capacity for slow, deliberate thinking.
This can happen without our conscious knowledge. Back when I was working full time, a good friend used to complain that I didn’t respond to her texts in a timely manner. I knew she liked a quick response, I wanted her to know how much I value our friendship, yet I would often read her texts and immediately decide to postpone answering her. Why?
Turns out, the texts I delayed answering involved a request for information I didn’t immediately have access to. For example, if she asked how I was doing, I would answer right away. If she asked when would be a good time for a visit, which involved looking in my day timer, and then anticipate what might cause me to be busy or be slow in the future,
I would feel my resistance rise and I would procrastinate about answering her. My work was heavily weighted by slow thinking so I had a natural resistance to anything making demands on my reserves. I’m happy to report that, now that I’m working for myself, I’m much better at responding to her and she can be assured of just how much she means to me.
Can you identify this type of resistance in your experiences of procrastination? For example, given that you were curious about the topic, did you still check out how long a “read” this blog was, before choosing to read it? Did you need to decide if you could “afford” the time and brain power? You can see how being unsure of what’s involved in what you want to do, in not knowing how long it will take or what will be required of you can invite resistance. Knowing that our concentration is a limited resource, stressing about how much work something might be is a valid concern.
For me, really getting this has made all the difference. I feel validated. I’m not lazy, I’m a conservationist. I can consciously choose whether or not I’m going to spend my mental resources on a given project, without guilt. And, if I am feeling strong resistance to starting a project that feels daunting but that I nevertheless want to tackle, I can consciously acknowledge the fear and just begin, giving myself full permission to stop whenever I feel fatigued.
There’s one more point I’d like to make before wrapping up this series. Muddled in with resistance to things we ought to be doing is the judgement we and others attached to that resistance. The judgement is where the poison lives. If I believe being a procrastinator means I am immature, lazy or broken, I am crippling myself. If the people around me pass that same judgement on me, it is more crippling yet. Procrastination is the result of resistance. Resistance is a natural reaction to perceived danger. We can develop new strategies to address the resistance, but first we need to understand that resistance is actually an indication we are mature, healthy and whole!
“The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.”
― Jessica Hische