Stop Procrastinating and Get Creating
My psychotherapy practice is in Los Angeles, which means I treat mostly creative people. Do you know when they display the highest degree of creativity? It’s not when they perform, write, or sing; it’s when they make up excuses to procrastinate!
But procrastination isn’t limited to Hollywood. Everyone avoids taking action—going to the gym, sticking to a diet, introducing yourself to someone you’re interested in, tackling a difficult assignment at work.
WHY DO WE PROCRASTINATE?
The list of things we postpone doing is endless, but the list of reasons we procrastinate is not. We avoid every task for the same reason: taking action always causes pain. To understand this concept, close your eyes and try the following:
Think of an action you’ve been avoiding. Close your eyes and imagine yourself starting to take that action. You’re going to feel something unpleasant. Concentrate on what you feel.
No matter what you call it, that unpleasant feeling is a kind of pain. Under this broad definition, fear, shame, vulnerability, and so on are all forms of pain.
THE FIRST STEP TO ENDING PROCRASTINATION
The first step to overcoming procrastination is to admit that when you avoid taking action, you’re really avoiding pain. It’s also important to admit that for most of us, pain avoidance isn’t limited to a single situation – it’s a lifestyle. Without realizing it, most of us instinctively retreat to a comfort zone and try our best never to leave it.
An easy (and extreme) example is that of an agoraphobic. Their comfort zone is restricted to their own home. Just walking out the door fills them with terror. For most of us, the comfort zone isn’t a physical place—it’s a pattern of avoidant behaviors. A shy person will avoid public speaking, and this habit will apply to other areas of their life, as well: They may not attend social events and might even skip an interview for a promising new job.
Whatever a person’s comfort zone, they pay a huge price for staying inside it. It’s a shrunken world where ideas, opportunities, and new relationships can easily pass us by. Worst of all, procrastinators squander the most precious asset a human can have: time. Our time on earth is limited. Every moment is an opportunity we’ll never have again. But procrastinators act as if they had all the time in the world. As each moment passes, by, they’re wasting their most precious possession: life itself. That’s why, in the words of Henry David Thoreau, most people “live lives of quiet desperation and die with their song unsung.”
A PLAN FOR MOVING THROUGH PAIN
We want you to sing your song before you die. In order to do that, you need a plan for facing pain and moving through it. Pain can actually become your guide to an expanded life once you know the secret: Pain is never absolute. When you move away from pain, it increases—it’s like a monster pursuing you in a dream. But if you turn around and face pain, it shrinks.
The Reversal of Desire is a tool that takes five seconds to use and that enables you to face pain and move through it.
If people use this tool every time they feel like procrastinating, life changes profoundly. They get in the habit of moving toward pain all the time. They can take emotional and creative risks because they now have a way to deal with the pain of failure. This gives individuals confidence that nothing can stop them.
This is called “living in forward motion.” It has an amazing effect on people’s lives—as if the universe has become an ally. Out of the blue, new opportunities and relationships appear. The Scottish explorer W. H. Murray described it best: “The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too … raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.”
This isn’t a mystery; it’s the result of a newfound harmony with the universe. The universe is constantly moving forward—there have never been two moments exactly alike in its entire history. By putting yourself in forward motion, you harmonize yourself with these universal processes. The universe then leads you to people, places, and opportunities that you never could have found on your own.
HERE'S HOW IT WORKED FOR ME
Before you dismiss these concepts as part of a New Age fairy tale, consider what happened to me:
For the first half of my life, I was driven to achieve as much status as I could. I was admitted to Harvard as a sophomore, I went to a prestigious law school, and by age 25 I’d graduated near the top of my class and was hired by an outstanding law firm. I should’ve felt like I’d reached the top of Mt. Everest, but inside it was the low point of my life—I hated what I was doing.
I wanted to quit, but it was going to be painful. So I procrastinated—and stayed at my law firm for three of the longest years of my life. One day, I found myself propelled into my boss’s office. I explained that I couldn’t do it anymore. I quit.
Almost immediately, I felt strangely free. To my surprise, I began to feel that something much wiser than me was guiding me along my path. Over the course of the next three years, I become a psychotherapist (and discovered that I loved it), met my wife (at a psychotherapy conference), and met Phil, who has become an amazing friend as well as an incomparable source of information and encouragement.
You can chalk these things up to coincidence. But in my heart I know the truth: I never would have found these people or these opportunities on my own. Life guided me to them—but only after I stopped procrastinating and left my comfort zone.
Moving forward can change your life too. So take a moment and ask yourself: “What kind of life do I want to live?” Do you want to live a small life, limited by your fear of moving forward? Or a big life in which you free yourself of your petty fears and embrace the opportunities that lie ahead?
This article first appeared on Quora. It is Barry's answer to the question, "How do I get rid of procrastinating while doing productive works?"