procrastinate: v. defer action
resistance: n. resisting; refusal to comply, impeding or stopping effect exerted by one thing on another, to oppose, to strive against, hindrance
It seems almost foolish to define these words that most of us know only too well, but I think it is essential for us to define and understand our habits if we are going to change them. And that’s exactly what procrastination and resistance are – habits – and bad habits at that!
What is Resistance? What is Procrastination?
“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.” – Steven Pressfield
This powerful quote comes from a great book called The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield. The entire book is devoted to Resistance, describing its nature, most common targets, varied forms, and, most importantly, how to combat it.
The most important thing to realize, if it hasn’t already occurred to you, is that you will at some point have to deal with procrastination and resistance. Regardless of what you call it, the question is not if it will strike but when will it strike. By being prepared, you’ve won half the battle. The forces of procrastination and resistance to your artistic development will likely be fierce because you are pursuing your passion, developing your creativity and improving yourself, which are all activities that require discipline, patience and courage.
Pressfield calls resistance the enemy of creativity, and I think he is right. It sucks out our energy, kills our excitement and curiosity and creates fear and doubt where there should be joy and faith.
Low Ceilings and Sticky Floors
“He who controls others may be powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still.” -Lao Tzu
Low ceilings result when we make excuses that lower the expectations we have for our art or our lives. Some of the common excuses we might use include things like, “I don’t have the time to… _____”, “I don’t have the money to… _____”, “I don’t have what it takes to … _____”, “I’m too old to… _____” or I’ll never be able to… _____”. When we start believing these false statements we lower our standards and as a result we reduce the scale of our lives.
Sticky floors work in a different way to reduce the impact we can have with our art and our life in that they restrict our movements and opportunities. They keep us stuck, they pull us down. Sticky floors include a myriad of bad habits, along with procrastination. I like to refer to procrastination as “The Tomorrow Syndrome”, where one day at a time we rationalize away our inactivity on the tasks or activities we value the most.
I’ll share with you one of my own favourite personal forms of procrastination that I used while I was doing my bachelor’s degree. (You see, by the time I was doing my master’s degree it had changed forms into something else – but I digress.) If I had a major project due, perhaps a series of paintings to create or an essay to write, I would feel an overwhelming desire to wash my car. I would start by washing the outside of my car, taking great care to be thorough. Once the outside was clean I ‘had to’ vacuum the inside of the car and clean the interior. By the time I had moved under the hood to clean the engine compartment (yes, sadly I am serious!) my dad would approach me and ask, “What’s due?” He was onto my procrastination technique even when I didn’t recognize it for what it was. Subconsciously I had rationalized my much needed car maintenance, while my easel and canvases sat waiting. Today of course, a myriad of technological distractions can keep us from our art and other ambitions, so it’s important to be vigilant in monitoring where are precious hours are being spent.
Another powerful force that can pull you down is spending time in poor quality relationships. What do I mean by this? These would be relationships that bring unnecessary drama and negativity. Some people have the power to become a sucking vortex of our energy and creativity – and we may need to do ourselves a favour and create some emotional distance from these toxic relationships.
The problem can become more challenging if we realize that the toxic relationships in our life that are draining our much needed vitality and energy are some of our closest friends or family members. Obviously, I’m not recommending that we ditch our family or even some of our closest friends, but we definitely need to address the situation by minimizing our time with them during crucial work periods and build new supportive and positive relationships that will encourage our development.
- Reflect on your own life and consider how you resist your work. Do you rationalize or make excuses, something that I refer to as “low ceilings”, or do you engage in bad habits such as overeating, taking drugs, compulsively shopping, or using social media or talking on the phone to avoid getting down to work? These bad habits I call “sticky floors”. Remember, be honest. Record your observations in your sketchbook.
- Consult with your family members and closest friends to see if they can help identify some of your “procrastination tendencies”.
- Draft up a list of positive actions you will take instead of giving in to your bad habits and procrastination.
- Create boundaries for the distractions in your life. For example, one of our rules is no television during the week. We love to watch movies on the weekend, but during the week we enjoy studio time instead. You might have boundaries set up around time spent posting or looking at social media. I usually try to set up my “online time” during my lower energy hours and reserve the mornings and early part of the day to be in the studio or work on important projects.
- Purchase a small kitchen timer. Whenever you feel like procrastinating on your artwork and other important projects, procrastinate on the procrastination. Tell yourself to work for 15 minutes and then give yourself permission to procrastinate. Time yourself. After 15 minutes you will likely be engaged in your work, and you’ve made a positive step to take control.
So now that you’re clear on your personal forms of resistance and techniques of procrastination and have written about them in your sketchbook it is time to move on. Now you can be prepared to act when you find yourself moving in the direction of your personal forms of resistance. The way to push through your resistance is to become 100% committed to your vision and make a clear decision to change your patterns of behaviours. Pressfield calls it turning “pro”.
Turning professional is the opposite of being an amateur. It means that you show up and do the work regardless of how you feel in the moment. It means you dedicate your life to it, rather than dabbling. As Somerset Maugham said, “I write only when inspiration strikes, fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.” My friend and colleague Peter would say, “Don’t wait to be inspired, be inspiring.” You see, the truth of the matter is that when you commit to your art, establish the time and the place to work, and then show up and work, incredible things will start to happen.
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans. The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”
Although there are some concerns about the correct attribution of the passage above, it is usually attributed to Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, who ruminated on the power of action and the good fortune that results from daring to begin. Despite the attribution debate I feel it is an important quote to include in this section.
One last note before we move on, I’d like to address the word ‘try.’ Try is a word for amateurs; so rid that word from your vocabulary. You can experiment with different media, you can explore various techniques, and you can take action. Whenever you say, “I’ll try” you give yourself too much room to give up. Commit to doing – not to trying. As Yoda said, “Do or do not. There is no try.” Make it your motto.
So now it’s your turn…I’d love to hear about your most effective strategies to deal with procrastination? Please share your ideas below so that we can all benefit!
In the meantime, I wish each of you hours of joyous creating! – Nancy