Writer's Block and Stress - part 2

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Procrastination let me down – and it’s not fair! Is this you?

Then read this…

I started with great intentions in the last blog but the procrastinator within found plenty to keep me distracted so I never quite got round to it.

Today is a totally different story:  I’m tackling procrastination head-on! I’ve got no washing to do, am well stocked with tea, and definitely do NOT need to go and rearrange the stuff on that shelf… No. I don’t.

First up, in good old SG style, let’s try to define the evil beast that is procrastination.

Dr Piers Steel, author of ‘The Procrastination Equation’ describes it as the act of voluntarily putting off tasks ‘despite believing ourselves to be worse off for doing so.

We know we shouldn’t do it. We’re not prioritising our activities by deciding to complete more important tasks first. Instead, we’re distracting ourselves from the key challenge by doing anything and everything else: watching videos on YouTube, raiding the fridge, updating facebook, tweeting about the four words we’ve got written in the last 2 hours and how much we’re hating writing this piece, sorting the washing, having a cup of tea, picking our nails, rearranging our desks for the 14th time today, daydreaming... anything but getting that report, essay, blog, letter or email written.

Why do we do it? Dr Steel has some answers for us again:

Expectancy: What is your expectation of the final result?  Do you believe you’re going to produce something brilliant, to wow whoever your audience may be? Or do you doubt yourself, your ability to create something to the standard you feel you need to reach, or your ability to see it through to completion?

Low self-esteem or a history of past failures can cause us to have low expectations and fear another fall, leading to endless procrastination as we seek to put off what promises to be a disappointment.

By delaying starting we can then end up rushing the job when we do get around to it, thus further damaging self-belief for future projects and tasks. What a vicious circle!

Value:  The value and enjoyment we place on the writing we are meant to be doing, compared with the value or reward of completing any other task or activity now, can seriously influence what we choose to prioritise.Now is the key word here.

For example, wading through another 500-1000 words today only gets you another 500-1000 words closer to your end goal (which may be 100,000 words), compared to the immediate value of, say, taking the dog for a walk, having a cuppa and catching up on the headlines, sorting the washing out, reading a book, getting rid of that irritating hangnail… and so on.

Often it’s our perception of how worthwhile that activity is, right here and now, compared to another task, that will dictate the activity we choose.

This is even more apparent when we are procrastinating on something which we find particularly hard, unpleasant, or stressful.

Time: Time is another crucial factor in the world of procrastination, and this one stems from good old human psychology and the conflict between two parts of our brain: the prefrontal cortex that controls our thoughts and how we plan for the future, and the limbic system, which causes us to act on instinct and seek instant gratification.

With projects that don’t have a particularly imminent deadline the planning part of our brain tends to raise our stress levels about the looming pressure, but the limbic system doesn’t kick in until we realise that report is actually due tomorrow and we really should be getting on.

Ultimately we procrastinate because the end goal often seems so far away, it offers little value in the here and now, and we may lack the self-belief in our ability to actually see the task through to a successful completion of the standard we hope to achieve.

The Question is….

Do you recognise any of yourself in this?  I know I do.  I have spent too many months (years, in fact) brimming with ideas, but not having the belief in myself that I am good enough to create what I envision, or determined enough to see it through, and there always seemed to be so many other things that needed doing RIGHT NOW – things which impact on the here and now and which give me instant reward.

Tips and tactics on how to combat procrastination will follow in the next SG instalment, but in the meantime, absorb the above and see if you can devise your own strategies – I’d love to hear them as it gives me something else to read while I’m having a cuppa instead of whatever else I should be doing! (only joking)

SG out

Finding it hard to de-stress, take time-out or switch off?  Check out my free 6-step e-book - 'Emergency Stress CPR'

Dave Algeo, Stressed Guru is a speaker and writer committed to spreading the message - well-being and success need each other.  Get in touch to find out how he can help your organisation develop greater success with wellbeing, or learn more about his speaking and workshops.