You’ve known about the deadline for months, but you still pull an all-nighter to finish it 12 hours before it’s due. As perfectionists, we fear that we cannot complete the task perfectly, so we put it off for as long as possible. We delay the criticism that we might receive once we finish. We fear the possible rejection.
I hold awards in procrastination. In college, I used brute force to finish my engineering projects the night before they were due. When I turned to creative work, this method no longer worked. It took me a long time before I finished any of my writing projects and even longer to start the blog project that I had been talking about for years. There was no professor to set off the last minute panic, so I became my biggest obstacle.
After I became very good at watching the cursor blink on the blank white screen, I decided to procrastinate some more by reading lots of books about procrastination. These three books helped me the most.
- The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield
My battered copy of The War of Art never leaves my desk. Whenever I find myself browsing on Facebook or playing a game on my phone, I read a random page. It’s a collection of short essays, so it lends itself to reading a page at a time. If my procrastination is at its worst, I’ll read the entire thing in one sitting. Thank you Steven Pressfield for providing that thing that I call a fire under my ass.
Steven Pressfield writes that the main cause of procrastination is resistance:
“Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do.
“Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.
Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance. Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That’s why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there’d be no Resistance.” – Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles
2. Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin
I get a little jealous when I read Seth Godin because it’s just that good. Although Seth Godin’s books are focused on the bigger topic of realizing your potential, I think all of his books are a valuable read for the procrastinator. Start with Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?. Seth Godin discusses battling resistance or “the lizard brain,” in order to do “art” which he defines as anything that challenges the status quo.
“The lizard brain is hungry, scared, angry, and horny.
The lizard brain only wants to eat and be safe.
The lizard brain will fight (to the death) if it has to, but would rather run away. It likes a vendetta and has no trouble getting angry.
The lizard brain cares what everyone else thinks, because status in the tribe is essential to its survival.
A squirrel runs around looking for nuts, hiding from foxes, listening for predators, and watching for other squirrels. The squirrel does this because that’s all it can do. All the squirrel has is a lizard brain.
The only correct answer to ‘Why did the chicken cross the road?’ is ‘Because it’s lizard brain told it to.’ Wild animals are wild because the only brain they posses is a lizard brain.
The lizard brain is not merely a concept. It’s real, and it’s living on the top of your spine, fighting for your survival. But, of course, survival and success are not the same thing.
The lizard brain is the reason you’re afraid, the reason you don’t do all the art you can, the reason you don’t ship when you can. The lizard brain is the source of the resistance.” – Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?
3. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life is among my favorite books about writing. But it’s so much more than a book for writers. It’s full of wisdom on how to live a full life done with the honesty and humor that no one but Anne Lamott can deliver. She dedicates an entire chapter to perfectionism and how it results in procrastination and a lack of creativity.
It’s a must-read not only for the writer, but for anyone who is pursuing a creative project.
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.” – Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Are there any other books that have helped you avoid procrastination on a creative project?
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