Don’t just do it, just get started!
What a great name of a blog for this topic! Write to Done, implying ‘Write and get it done!’.
Procrastination is a topic commonly discussed in the writer’s community. Yet, when it comes to the evidence presented to back up specific claims on procrastination, it all comes down to opinions. No specific studies are mentioned nor the things we can learn from these studies. Maybe because people aren’t aware of them.
I hope all of this is going to change with this article. We’ll explore some of the findings from the psychology on procrastination and the lessons we can learn from those studies.
Just do It Doesn’t Help Much
One great quote I once heard about this is, Telling a person who chronically procrastinates ‘Just do it’ is like saying to a chronically depressed person ‘Just relax! This might sound funny at first, but think about this quote for a while.
We have an entire self-help industry with a bunch of books preaching this Nike’s logo as the ultimate way to get out of procrastination. Just do it, don’t delay! I wish it worked so well. I don’t want to imply this particular motivational phrase doesn’t work at all, but it doesn’t work as well as many people (who write pop psychology books) would like to.
Timothy A Pychyl is an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. He and his students did a series of studies where they determined that the participant’s perceptions of the tasks they needed to get done changed over the course of the week (many avoided doing a task on Monday). The second thing they discovered is once people started doing the task, they didnít find it so dreadful as they thought it would be.
What’s the lesson here? According to professor Pychyl, the lesson is to just to get started. I found this phrase useful to replace the Nike’s logo. You don’t have to just do it, but just get started. It only takes you a small start to see that the thing you wanted to do isn’t as scary as you thought. Do you think that new article you plan to write will be a nightmare? Try to get started and you’ll probably see it isn’t that bad. To get started is way easier than to do it.
How to Resist Short-Term Temptations
You’ve probably heard about that Marshmallow study where they determined the kids that resisted eating the marshmallow were WAY more happier/positive/persistent/successful than the kids who ate it immediately. If you haven’t heard of the experiment, here’s a short summary:
A kid is placed in a room with a table and a marshmallow on it. The kid is explained by the experimenter that he can eat the marshmallow now or wait until the experimenter is back and then he’ll get two. The goal here is to examine whether the kid is going to resist eating the marshmallow while nobody is in the room.
This is just one experiment to demonstrate how self-will and self-discipline is important in long-term success. The problem I have with all this is that nobody TELLS you HOW to NOT eat the marshmallow! I think that telling someone “resist short-term temptations” is far from enough to get him to do that. I think this is like telling a depressed person “resist feeling depressed!” It just doesn’t work well.
Two psychologists (Fishback from the University of Chicago and Benjamin Converse from the University of Virginia) have a few specific suggestions to offer on overcoming temptations.
The first suggestion is the concept of width. Temptations might seem harmless at first (should I not exercise these two days? It isn’t a big deal!) if we consider them in isolation. What we should do is to expand out view and consider other opportunities that will impact our long-term goal. Something like ‘Yes, being lazy and not exercising today might be harmless but tomorrow I’ll be in the same situation).
The second concept is consistency and it implies that we need to expect that the particular decision we’ll make at the moment will play out in the future. This is common sense if you think about it: You are more likely to do tomorrow what you did today. Or at least it will be easier to make the same thing in the future. So if you listen to your temptation today, you are more likely to do the same thing tomorrow. If you avoid your temptation today, you are also more likely to do that tomorrow. What will you choose?
The same concept applies to writing, if you avoid starting writing today, you’re more likely to do it tomorrow. So just get started and realize that the more you do it, the easier it will get and will eventually help you get closer to your long-term writing goals.