The horror as my depression lifted at the beginning of the UK lockdown. It wasn’t depression stopping me. It was something far worse. Me.
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Dealing With Procrastination
Thanks to everyone who sent messages about episode 21-43 Do the Things That Need Doing. I’m glad that it resonated with people. That episode skirted the surface of a much deeper personal crisis I’ve been wrestling with.
Just over 2 years ago I released the zine Your Attention Is Sovereign. It’s had over 10k downloads since. In it I talk about an important two-step process..
- You, personally, get to decide where you put your attention.
- By acknowledging this you have to take full responsibility for where you have put your attention in the past, and where you will put it in the future.
It seemed simple to say these words out loud in Episode 18-24. But it is of course much easier said than done.
Deciding that you are going to stop fucking around on the internet, arguing about nonsense on social media or watching crap tv etc is not a one-off decision. It’s an ongoing one. One that has to be re-commitment repeatedly and constantly, every time you catch yourself at it. They aren’t decisions that can be made just once.
It is also impossible for me to talk about my struggle with procrastination without talking about meditation.
It’s a way of being, living and acting in the world that has woven itself deeply into my day to day, my writing, and creative life. I’m coming up on 10 years and 5000 hours next year. The results so far indicate that my life is better and immeasurably worse for having done so much of it.
In 2018 I was feeling good about what and where I was taking responsibility for my attention. But it was ultimately vainglorious and temporary. Telling everyone else to do the same was somewhat hypocritical.
Trying my best resulted only in being constantly aware of how much of my life I was wasting by procrastinating. And just how much of that I’d done since I was a teenager.
The struggle to take responsibility for my attention over the last few years has resulted in an extended period of personal crisis. Exacerbated by other competing anxieties
The horror I experienced as the fog of a years-long depression broke at the beginning of the UK lockdown last year was intense. The transparent fact that it wasn’t depression that was preventing me from doing the things I felt needed doing.
It was something far worse. Me. Depression was just a blanket I had wrapped myself in to calm other anxieties about my lack of activity.
The Yoga Sutras talk of obstacles and consequences.
There are 9 kinds of distraction:
- Illness (Vyadhi),
- Apathy (Styana),
- Doubt (Samśaya),
- Negligence (Pramada),
- Sloth (Alasya),
- Imbalance (Avirati),
- Delusion (Bhranti-darshana),
- Self-depreciation (Alabdha- bhūmikatva),
- Instability (Anavasthitatvani)
Each of these obstacles result in consequences:
- Mental or physical pain,
- Sadness or dejection,
- Restlessness, shakiness, or anxiety, and
- Irregularities in the exhalation and inhalation of breath.
This gives one a wide palette with which to interrogate one’s mental and behavioural obstacles. The solution (of course) involves a circular logic: Make the mind one-pointed. Focus. Then to use that focus as self reflection to tease apart the bundles of consequences one is experiencing. Working them back to their cause – the obstacles.
My own experience of chronic procrastination are made up of a set of compound consequences. Restlessness, anxiety and anguish.
Examining these things without the blanket of depression was difficult. My sloth causes restlessness, anxiety, anguish, but the sloth is caused by self doubt, resulting in apathy.
“Take responsibility for where you have put your attention in the past, and where you will put it in the future”. Says nothing about the here and now in the present.
Awareness of where one’s attention is being placed can only be noticed in the present. Looking backward one finds the work of body. Looking forward is to fantasise about the size and scale of possibility that lies ahead. The best intentions as it were.
Only in the present can procrastination and its causes be addressed.
I’m also acutely aware that talking about these things doesn’t actually solve anything.
“Failure to execute” is the term I would use to describe my creative life ever since I was in my late teens. Lots of talking and thinking, very little doing and finishing.
I’ve always been affected by self doubt. Which has lead at times to accusations of lack of ambition. But finally being honest about it all out loud is a start of the solution..
When meditating just as one becomes aware that their mind has wandered and acts up it. So too one must act as soon as they become aware that they are procrastinating.
You have to be honest with yourself at that moment. I am procrastinating. Then you either close the web browser or you don’t.
Either way you take full responsibility whatever decision you take.
Finding rhythm is about making these small decisions in the present and then being responsible for the consequences throughout the day. This results in doing the things that need doing when they need getting done.
For me personally, the isolationist experience of the last pandemic years have been an extremely useful environment for introspection and self honesty. There has been no choice but to face one’s own demons.
I am for my part just going to continue my deal with my life in the present as it unfolds.
Acknowledging engrained 20+ year old behaviours. And trying to be more responsible for where I am placing my attention. Each time I am honest about my behaviour smooths the surface of the way ahead slightly.
I know I will get there eventually. No point being eager for it to happen sooner. The only thing of concern ultimately is what you are doing right now.
The script above is the original script I wrote for the episode. It may differ from what ended up in the audio due to time constraints.
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