With students returning to school soon, I thought it would be appropriate to write a little something on procrastination. Staving off procrastination is something that you will face your entire life (unless you’re some sort of work-ethic god, in which case I am envious and I hate you). How many of you have fallen victim to trying to accomplish a task, let’s say writing a paper, and instead find yourself baking lemon tarts or browsing r/starcats? This infuriating circumstance can leave you feeling guilty at your lack of being able to take care of business and more importantly, it keeps you from getting stuff done! Procrastination is like Tolkein’s Mirkwood: wander into its depths and you will run into trouble (if only you found elves like actual Mirkwood!). Whenever I feel tempted to walk away from the task at hand, this is a tip I use to keep myself from meandering into the dark forest of procrastination. I think this tactic might work whether you are in school or not, but it is a method I picked up while working on my Masters, so I apply it specifically to an educational context.
Deborah Britzman, of critical pedagogy and psychoanalytical fame, speaks of the relationship of the unconscious in learning and how in learning parts of ourselves resist what she calls, “difficult knowledge.” Education is about gaining useful skills and expanding our knowledge. Not all of this knowledge is going to be easy to absorb; in fact, I believe that much of the knowledge worth having involves a struggle, involves us getting out of our comfort zone at least a little bit. When a student becomes “psychically disengaged” i.e. bored by material, one of the reasons could be the student’s mind setting up defenses to gaining that information, due to fear of failure, being labelled stupid for not “getting it,” etc. When you become resistant to doing something, or you reach an impasse in your learning, your mind wants to occupy itself and with all of the wonderful distractions out there, that is easy to do. The psychic disengagement in your task leads to procrastination.
I notice specific steps going on in my head when I start to procrastinate. First, I find the task I’m trying to accomplish difficult in some way, say in the example of writing a paper, I can’t think of what to say next. Second, I try to find a solution to the problem, maybe by looking at my essay outline or research notes. Third, when I am having difficulty find the solution to my problem, my mind goes blank, and then wants another way to occupy itself. Fourth, TIME FOR REDDIT! I find now that I’m more self-aware of what’s going on when I start procrastinating, it makes it much easier for me to avoid. When I start to lose focus, I ask myself a couple questions:
1.What was I doing the moment I stopped doing my task?
2. What are you afraid of?
Usually, the first question will add insight or even straight out answer the second question. Once I have identified what I am scared of or resistant to, it makes it much harder for me to return to my procrastinating activity. Because I’m the type of person that operates well with shame-based motivation, the simple act of realizing I’m afraid or nervous about something makes me want to overcome that fear. Like Marty McFly, I hate being called chicken.
Like I mentioned previously, this is a tactic that works for me; it might not work for you. Give it a try though, what’s the worst that could happen? You keep baking lemon tarts instead of cleaning out the garage? The garage will still be messy, but you will have delicious tarts.
What keeps you motivated?