Article: Working on your ‘stuff’ even when you’re watching TV
Something I love about leading workshops on procrastination (how NOT to do it, not HOW to do it) is the reminder that (a) there is just no end to all the wild things we can come up with to avoid DOING THE THING, and (b) despite all of our own little tricks, we’re really all in the same big avoidance boat.
Procrastination comes in a couple of different flavors.
It can be useful to know which one you’re in when you’re in it, though luckily we can all make use of the same concepts to work on it, shift it and turn it around . . .
Two flavors of procrastination: active vs passive
Active means you go out and find a thing and then you do that thing in order to avoid DOING THE THING. Passive is when you let a thing fill your time/space/mind so you can avoid DOING THE THING.
(And when I say DOING THE THING, I also mean just thinking about maybe eventually possibly wanting to get around to DOING THE THING).
Scrubbing under the refrigerator is active. Watching Starsky and Hutch reruns is passive. Researching a replacement widget for that thing that fell off the whatchamacallit in the garage is active. Picking lint out of your belly button is passive.
All of these are fine when you truly want to be doing them. And all are equally fine when you are consciously choosing to be in a state of “not doing”.
Otherwise, the truth is, if you’re doing them instead of making that phone call or finishing that assignment, they’re just different ways of being in avoidance.
And you know what? That’s okay too. Or at least, it’s not the end of the world. It’s not going to be any help to say (or to have me say), “Hey, stop avoiding.” You just want to know that you are avoiding. Obviously there is a reason that you’re avoiding DOING THE THING. Maybe to protect yourself from how scary it is, maybe to keep yourself from feeling overwhelmed, maybe to hide from the self-criticism that will come up if you face all the what-ifs.
Whatever the reason for your avoidance, it’s going to make you miserable because you’re in a state of resistance. You know you’re avoiding. You get mad at yourself for avoiding. And then you don’t even enjoy the avoidance mechanism. You start to think, “Oh, here I am avoiding, why can’t I just get my act together, what’s wrong with me?”. The more you fight with yourself, the deeper you go into the world of stuck.
Turning it around
When you bulldoze through the stuck, you aren’t being conscious and compassionate. Plus it will just come back to bite you on the behind. Not to mention that sometimes you just can’t bulldoze through the stuck and couldn’t even if you wanted to. Allow me to let you in on something I have learned the hard way — and keep on learning.
The trick to flowing with the stuck instead of fighting with the stuck is to make the process conscious. When you make the process conscious, at least you get to be working on your stuff in any given moment, even if that moment happens to be taking place while you’re watching that Starsky & Hutch rerun.
It’s a bit like organizing expert Julie Morgenstern’s advice to always be doing one thing. She advises that every time you move from one room to the next, you can take something with you that needs to go somewhere else. Straighten one towel. Throw something (one thing) out. Doing that one thing keeps you in the process and makes it conscious. Plus, all those “one little thing”s add up and you actually get to see changes fairly quickly.
When you catch yourself in procrastination, you want to always be doing one thing to make the unconscious conscious. So? Let’s have some examples of “one thing”s.
Doing it wrong (active procrastination mode)
Oh, I can’t believe I’m cleaning behind the stove just because I’m too chicken to make that phone call. How embarrassing and pathetic. I can’t stand thinking about it. Shut up shut up shut up.
Doing it right (active procrastination mode)
Whoah, I’m totally cleaning because I don’t want to make this call.
Okay, I’m allowed to have issues around this call. Right now I don’t think I can make myself stop the cleaning without going into resistance. So I’m going to work on my stuff in a slightly different way.
What can I say to myself right now that can help me work on my stuff and still be compassionate? What about attaching a symbolic value to the cleaning? Okay, I am consciously choosing to clean right now, because I’m feeling stuck around this call. I’m clearing out my junk and making room for more positive stuff in my life. I am scrubbing away at my own frustration and asking for some more clarity around what I’m avoiding.
Doing it wrong (passive procrastination mode)
I’m such a lazy worthless piece of sludge. I just wish it would all go away. I have no will power. Shut up shut up shut up.
Doing it right (passive procrastination mode)
So I’m watching TV so I won’t have to admit that I haven’t made any progress on this thing.
I guess that’s just what’s going on for me right now. I’m dealing with a lot of fear and anxiety, which is pretty normal given my situation.
Instead of staying in passivity, I am going to actively, consciously let myself watch TV for half an hour. And while I do it, I am going to do one thing to make it conscious. Maybe I will work on conscious breathing, with a six count inhale and exhale. Maybe I will do some stretching while I watch or give myself a foot massage. That’s my “one thing” that is going to help me be in this process instead of avoiding it, so I can work through these fear and avoidance patterns.
[NOTE: Hanging out on the “internets” is slightly more dangerous than television which has episodes — so you’ll probably want to set a loud alarm in the other room to go off after half an hour.]
What’s the point?
There will be times when procrastination will be bigger than you; when you just need to tune out and be in passive (or active) procrastination. The crucial idea is, even in a Starsky & Hutch situation, just to do it, but acknowledge it and play with it — and then at least you’re always doing one thing to bring some consciousness and love into the process.
This way you’re playing with your pattern and reminding it that it doesn’t control you. Which means you get to be working on your stuff even when you’re in it. You won’t always be DOING THE THING. Then again, you won’t always be fighting with DOING THE THING. Even when you’re deep in your stuff, you get to always be learning something about yourself. You get to always be practicing. And it gets less challenging every time.