For the love of writing: my favorite tool to overcome procrastination

I love writing. I have loved writing all my life. Except when I haven’t.

I have a visceral relationship with writing, and I have determined as an adult that writing is a tool without which I cannot think. After a period of time without writing (varying from hours to days), a sensation fills my chest cavity. It is as if an open faucet has been filling my chest over that time, and it has now filled me up. Writing is the mechanism by which I pour it out. On the page, I can identify the contents clearly. If I don’t empty the container, the thoughts float around in murky places, and I cannot clearly see them, understand them or work with them. I will sneak out to write in the same way a smoker will slip out of a social situation to smoke. Inhale. Exhale. Ahhhh, relief from the craving. 

And yet, despite this drive, I still find ways to procrastinate. I’m completing my memoir these days, The Wilderness of Motherhood. I will self-publish it in April. I have now gone through a couple rounds of edits, and I’m completing yet another in order to get the document to an editor who will help the final fine-tuning process. When I get into it, I love it. I love working with the words, re-reading what I’ve written and finding it to be good. “When I get into it,” is the operative phrase here. I have managed to waste hours, days, weeks, even months avoiding those edits. I don’t understand the mechanism of it, but I am working actively with the method of getting past it. I suppose you could call it ironic that I haven’t yet gotten around to understanding my procrastination. I’ve previously written on this blog about procrastination; I have also taught classes addressing it. Frankly, at this point, I am ready to stop using my examination of procrastination as a means to procrastinate from my writing.

My most powerful tool to get past the procrastination is community accountability. I started a Google Group called “Project Clock-In” for the express purpose of getting my own stuff done more effectively (Check it out, and if you’d like to join, drop me a note with your email address. I’ll send you an invite). I invited other people in, and they seem to be profiting from the group, as well. I had really selfish motives for setting it up in the first place: I know that when I state my intentions and plans for the day to other people, I am significantly more likely to fulfill those intentions than if I think about them or even put them on my calendar. Other people’s witnessing of my plans shines a light there and helps me to focus and to overcome my selective amnesia. I have goals for my writing, my business, my personal life that, if I don’t have reminders of their importance, I simply forget how much they mean to me in the course of the day. Noisy, minor crises take over my day, and the more meaningful projects that fulfill my calling quietly languish.

I’ve written recently about 2014 being the “year of rigorous tracking.” I’ve tracked my use of time and money. Time is a resource that flows through my fingers at the same rate, whether I use it well or not. The benefit of tracking is that I recognize sooner when I’m not using my time for what’s important, and it helps me to identify my patterns that work well and that don’t work so well. For me, and for many others who find social supports to be invigorating and focusing, accountability can make the difference between getting that beloved writing project done or not.

 

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2014 – The Year of Rigorous Tracking (Part I)

This blog will be part of a series in 2014, and I am starting it off with a little background before we kick off the New Year.

I’ve become a fan of “tracking” in the past year, though the actual habit of rigorous tracking frightens me. Tracking for both personal and professional habits includes writing down the things we do, the resources we use, and our experiences of them. Some folks may need very little tracking in order to stay “on-track.” Others of us need considerably more.

This is my professional coaching site, but this is a decidedly personal process. So I’m going to share the content with my readers for their own personal use and challenge, and I’m going to share the personal experience because human change is often difficult, and it’s a disservice to pretend it is not. I’m not a coach because I have everything mastered; I’m a coach because I’m walking the talk and sharing the journey with those who wish to join me on it.

A little more background: the Good Mother and the Good Father

A long time ago I realized that the parent’s job is to help the child internalize the principles that help them to self-regulate later. In other words, we learn from our parents how to parent ourselves. For some people, the gaps in that information of how to parent themselves are very small; they had good parents, and they may tweak the parenting they live out, but they essentially have it down. For others of us whose parents were mentally ill, addicted, abusive, or otherwise largely checked-out, we have more work to do to fill in the gaps.

I never understood what people meant by “working with archetypes,” until recently. I suddenly realized that I knew what the Good Mother was enough that I could embody that not only for my child but also for myself. I started dialoguing on paper with the Good Mother, and I found that I knew how to access the nurturing, playfulness, compassion, and safe space I could provide for myself. I often have done so with journaling and art journaling practices.

However, as soon as I tapped into the Good Father, all hell broke loose! The Good Father’s job is to guide the child into the real world and teach the child how to show up. The Good Father knows that if you’re late for work, you’ll get fired; if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. In essence, there are actions and consequences.

All my life, I have struggled with structure. I have rebelled against structures, even if I put them in place for myself! There is a certain undeniable insanity to rebelling against the very things we decide support our life goals, mission and purpose! Yet the feelings that come up for me around structure are so intense and shame-laden. I have decided in 2014 to take the bull by the horns and enter into The Year of Rigorous Tracking for those areas of my life where I have tried to deny reality and make it somehow work differently for me.

The Year of Rigorous Tracking

I’m going to carefully track and pay attention to two categories of life: behaviors and emotions.

In the behavioral category, I’ve got two big areas to track, and a third that I will periodically track. They are time, money and food. By no small coincidence, these are areas where I will express emotions, rather than dealing with them directly. Expressing emotions through wasting time (or being too busy), spending money (or hoarding it) or eating too much (or too little) will be destructive. However, a lot of emotion comes up around these issues, so I’m adding tracking in the emotional category to support success in these other areas.

In the emotional category, I will use two primary tools: journaling and art practice. These are the two ways I will be most likely to identify and work with feelings in a constructive way.

What’s the Point?

I’ve been a meditator for years, and the practice I follow is to observe the breath and body sensation without attempting to change them. What I have learned there is that the things we pay attention to naturally change. It’s a proven fact that the people who write down everything they put into their mouths lose weight. They don’t even have to consciously change their eating habits. I’m trusting that the same thing will happen here: by writing down where I spend my time and money, the accountability and visibility of that action will change the behaviors. By attending to the emotions directly and with compassion, I will find healthy expression of them.

Want to Join Me?

One of the most powerful tools I’ve found for any kind of change is companionship and the encouragement and accountability that go with them. If you’re interested in joining me in this Year of Rigorous Tracking,  feel free to follow me here and leave comments/questions about your own journey.

Tomorrow, I’ll share some more about how the tracking will work for me, and you may use these tools (or others) as you find them supportive.