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How Procrastination Can Lead to Your Best Work

Because sometimes, procrastination isn't procrastination.

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Procrastination has gotten a bad rap. And, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the badness of it, and to browbeat ourselves over it. I get it. I’m an experienced perpetrator, judge and jury when it comes to the subject of procrastination, often handing down my own verdict: Bad Writer! 

As I’ve mentioned here I’ve been working on a memoir. And, for a while it was simply pouring out of me.

Until it wasn’t. It’s like the river of ideas just stopped flowing. I fell into what most people would call the abyss of procrastination, which kind of fascinated me, to be honest. I'd start by beating myself up, then by trying to pep myself up and then just giving up. It was a cycle that went on for days.

Then I realized, I was talking about the story with everyone I know, flushing out an idea for a title, discussing through lines, themes and what was underneath certain scenes, asking my family about specific events from childhood, clarifying my memory. The fact is, I’m thinking about this memoir all the time, like a hundred times a day. Also, I read some books about writing memoirs and connected with other memoirists to discuss various aspects of the genre.

That’s when it hit me. This is my process, not my procrastination. And, not just about writing. This is the way process shows up in every area of my life. 

So, when isn’t procrastination, procrastination? When it’s part of process.

The truth is, I noodle. And, I noodle, and then I noodle some more. Then, the pieces start to fit into place, like a mystery puzzle when you don’t exactly know what it’s going to look like completed. At that point, often the project really cranks, like it has a mind of its own, until it's a little jewel of creation. It becomes the product of what I now call Productive Procrastination.

Ah, there’s a reframe!

I think this new recognition of procrastination deserves some love here. Productive procrastinating can actually be very helpful.

I ran across three TED Talks recently that sparked more thought along these lines.

One of my favorite TED Talks, "Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator", Tim Urban talks about what happens when we procrastinate and how the "instant gratification monkey mind" takes the wheel, involving us in everything except what we're wanting to get done. Fellow procrastinators, this talk is a must-see. It's hilarious and my guess is you'll see yourself in what he describes. 

I say the monkey mind can be a great friend to creative productive procrastination.

In a fascinating TED Talk, “The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers,” psychologist Adam Grant concluded that some of the most original and creative thinkers procrastinate, they incubate. “Procrastination gives you time to consider divergent ideas, to think in non-linear ways, to make unexpected leaps.” He says, “Procrastination can be a vice when it comes to productivity, but it can be a virtue for creativity." As a result of this process, "some of most creative people are fast to start and slow to finish." Yes!

The creative process is not rational, “the true essence of creativity is unexpectedness.”

That really takes the pressure off. Some of the most brilliant people I know are 11th hour geniuses. No matter how much time they have, they continually pull off brilliance at the last minute.

Author Manoush Zomorodi in her TED Talk “How Boredom Can Lead to Brilliant Ideas,” says, when you engage in mundane tasks you enter “default mode. Your body goes on autopilot and your brain gets busy forming new neural connections that connect ideas and solve problems.” You can probably recall times when THE idea or solution or word or thing came to you while you were doing something mundane, or by rote, like driving or taking a shower. Not that you should be bored while you’re driving, but your body is on autopilot so your mind can wander somewhat.

So, here are some ways to be a Productive Procrastinator:

  • Get bored. Do nothing. Stare at the wall. And...
  • Be still and just think. That’s it. Just noodle. Don’t take notes, don’t try and catch a thought. Just allow your mind to travel. Set a timer if you want to. Know that you’ll remember what you’re supposed to remember.

    “You call it procrastinating, I call it thinking.” Aaron Sorkin

  • Engage is some mundane, autopilot tasks: laundry, dishes, mow the lawn, any by-rote physical task.
  • Allow your imagination to take flight. This time take notes. No editing. No judging. Just free associate, mind to paper.
  • Be in nature. Being around such alive energy, it’s definitely where I do some of my best noodling.
  • Idea-storm, word-storm and brainstorm with others.
  • Keep trying new ideas and fresh ways to look at things. Sometimes it’ll take several passes before it’s the winner.
  • Know that “bad” ideas are simply pre-great ideas.

Remember, reflection is the Productive Procrastinator’s secret weapon. It's how ideas germinate and generate.

Then, put your project on your dance card. Make an appointment with yourself to get back to work on moving your project forward.

And, relax. There will be plenty of time to procrastinate again!


Life Isn’t Like You Thought It’d Be, and That’s Okay

And, other advice for my younger self.

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I’m finding that some of my most treasured time these days is spent listening to, advising, encouraging, mentoring and enjoying young adults. It’s happened organically, sometimes out of the blue, as so often wonderful things do. I find myself, when in these situations, wanting to give them shortcuts, to tell them what I’ve learned along the way that might give them a leg up or that might save them from the angst or hardship or heartache that I went through when I was their age.

Then, of course, I realize I can’t “save” them but can perhaps shed some light on a different or experienced perspective. I still remember those loving influences early in my adult life, often recalling the gems, now metaphorical or thematic, that still guide me.

It got me thinking, as I’ve counseled these incredible, curious, bright, seeking, voracious people, is how often my words are echoes and whispers of what I would have told my 20-something self, given the chance.

So, on this birthday in the midst of my fifth decade I decided to do just that.

I had to laugh because once I got started it became a pretty darned long list of things I wished I’d known at the time, things that would have definitely saved me from a headache or two.

For the sake of time and space, here are 12, plus one from one my most trusted life guides.

1. Don’t dim your light or dumb yourself down for anyone. This one’s big and happens way too much.

You may find yourself in situations when you feel others are cutting you off or belittling your opinions or points of view. Two remarkable young women in the last two weeks shared stories about this happening in their jobs. If you feel someone is trying to sniff out your light (you know who the light-sniffers are) know it’s usually because they’re afraid of their own. They feel threatened by you because they only want to shine too. By standing powerfully in your own presence, fully, you really allow them to do the same. They still may not be comfortable around you, but that’s okay.

You were brought into this world to shine in your own unique specific way. To use your gifts as no one else can. The God source in you is infinite and powerfully bright; when you dim it in order to make others feel more comfortable or less insecure, you also dim your God source. You cut off your divinity by being less than who you are. And, over time those external voices can start to become your own negative self-talk.

2. Women, help other women. This goes hand in hand with the above. Nothing is more disheartening than when you see a woman not giving other women a chance or opportunity to be seen, heard or hired, because of her own insecurities and limiting personal power. The thing is when a woman clips another woman’s wings, she clips her own. We need to help each other. It goes for men too, but I see it as an epidemic with women. 

3. Don’t hide your gifts from the world for fear of not being enough, or worse, of being too much. Playing small is doing you and the world a disservice.

4. Trust your own inner voice, your God voice. It is your best and highest counsel. Seek its wisdom every day. It always knows what's best for you and the situation you're in. Get quiet and listen. Often. 

5. Life isn’t like you thought it would be – Let go of what it’s supposed to look like. Surrender to the flow of life and you’ll be less disappointed and more engaged by life’s twists and turns. They’ll be a part of what is beautiful about life.

Michael Singer talked about this in his book The Surrender Experiment. He was as a ponytail-wearing yogi in college when he made the decision to surrender to life, to be present with each moment and to see what was being asked of him in that moment. And, he’s had a very big, roller coaster life where he built several businesses, one of which became a billion dollar public company that went through serious trials and tribulations, things you and I will hopefully never experience. And, he became the best-selling author of The Untethered Soul. All the while, surrendering to what life brought his way. “Over the years I had come to see that I really had no idea where life was going to put me. And, in truth, it was none of my business. My job was to simply continue surrendering and serving what was put in front of me.” BTW, he's still a ponytail-wearing yogi. So relax, let life flow.

6. When you mess up, own up – and as quickly as possible. This is a repeat from my birthday post last year, but worth repeating. It keeps your side of the street clean so you don’t keep stumbling over obstacles you create, or co-create. And, don’t ever throw others under the bus. The blame game keeps you small.

[Last year's post: On Being Born to Run... and to Create and Play and Love and...]

7. Give credit where credit is due. Honor and champion others for their ideas and contributions. It fosters trust, loyalty and authenticity in your relationships.

8. Don’t ghost on people. In other words, don’t just disappear or not respond when you’re afraid of rejecting someone or if you don’t want to do something. When you do ghost, it’s the ultimate rejection. Just state your truth and move on.

9. Make your life’s mission about how it will make an impact on others. When you do that it will be the guide post and touchstone for a meaningful life. It becomes your legacy.

10. Self-love is the most important love. It’s the strongest foundation from which to build any relationship. The only foundation, actually. You really can’t fully love others until you fully love yourself.

11. Surround yourself with people who make you laugh. And, think. It’s pretty simple. Be with people who fill you up.

12. Focus on your attitude. You often can’t control what happens. The only thing you can control is how you react to it.

Fellow birthday girl, my beloved Mom, who turns 80 today, has a wonderful life full of wisdom, laughter and love. By the way, Mom is rehearsing to sing a solo ("Hello Dolly") in her theatre company's upcoming show. I mean, this woman! Happy Birthday, Mom! So, of course I asked her what she would tell her 25-year-old self. She said:

13. Don’t worry about the small stuff. And, be more patient. Things usually work out for the best.

The simplest thing I would tell myself is Life is meant to unfold. Learn, educate yourself, continue to seek and strive for excellence, but life is going to happen the way it’s going to happen.

And, everything will be okay.


The Trifecta of Failure

Comparison, competition and perfection - the trifecta for failure. And what to do about them. 

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Photo by Andrew Worley on Unsplash

All three of these beauties – Comparison, Competition and Perfection - present themselves to me often, in varying degrees, one at a time, or when things are really fun they show up at my door as the three Witches of Eastwick, taking up residence in my castle, car, computer, office, dialogue and of course the mind, wreaking havoc, getting wild and basically controlling everything.

This is the way the Trifecta works. Each of them has their own bag of tools and spells designed to accomplish one thing: to keep us in place, safe from harm (getting hurt, rejected or dismissed). Their nutrients are fear, shame, disappointment, disillusionment, frustration and regret. And as long as we serve up these goodies our unwelcome guests are never going to leave the party and they block the door so we can never leave either.

Comparison Robs Us

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” Theodore Roosevelt

A brilliant actress friend of mine was up for the role of a lifetime. It’s a role she'd wanted since she was a child and she had a great shot at it. After receiving a callback she found out she was one of only a handful of others called back. So, unable to stop herself, she began Googling (Yep, Google is in the Trifecta’s toolkit). She looked up the other actresses also up for the role and then unwittingly gave her cursor over to Comparison. And, as we so often do, she could only see what they possessed that she thought she didn’t. She lost the part before even walking in the door to the callback.

“Comparison is an act of violence against the self.” Iyanla Vanzant

I fished out the email I’d sent to her at the time, because this is what we do for each other as friends, we provide that soft place to land and then give a boost up so they can look in the mirror. Believe me, she's done the same for me. 

Here’s what I said: “What you bring to the table is so unique and wonderful and completely different than anyone else. There's NO ONE like you. You bring your YEARS of experience and expertise and talent and skill, in a way that no one else does. No one can compare or compete with that. It doesn't matter what their resume looks like (or anything else for that matter). Truly. At this stage of the game, you're in the room with very experienced actresses. That's where you want to be. If you just focus on that, then you'll stay on your A-game. Let them play their game and you play yours. And, don't allow them to rob you of your experience by giving them your time and energy; it gives your power away.”

This comes up for me as I follow brilliant writers who have published numerous books and I think I can’t possibly hold a candle to that at this point. A myriad of reasons (food for Comparison) present themselves: I’m too old, it’s too late, they’re better, smarter, prettier (not sure why but this comes in too but it does), braver, you name it I’ve projected it.

But, here’s the thing. When you compare yourself against others, you’ve given away your power to something outside of yourself. 

Comparison leads to judgment, which almost always leads to self-judgment.

Let's Reframe Comparison

Take a moment to think about reframing comparison. Look at what you admire about the other. Pay a brief and silent homage to that person’s success.

Empowerment coach Andrea Quinn, says, “Until you’re able to appreciate and honor the other’s success you won’t have the space to do it for yourself.” That’s how debilitating comparing yourself to others can be. It locks you in the deep freeze of your own prison. The first step to unlocking it for yourself is to appreciate the other.

Then, look in your own mirror. Dig deep and acknowledge what strengths and talents you bring to the party.  What are you serving at the table? What do you do that you know in your core gives you an edge as you?

Competition is a close bedfellow.

Now, certainly there’s something to be said for understanding your marketplace, or "competition" as marketers like to say. Knowledge is power when it’s used as information that serves you. But, when Competition is fed with all of those things we listed above at your self-defeating party, then it’s a blocker and not a helper.

Funny, the idea of competition came up recently as I was driving to an appointment. In the middle of the canyon with winding roads, I was minding my own business when suddenly the car behind me – a Honda with a thick front bumper guard – was on my tail, honking and trying to push me faster. Stop signs and other traffic didn’t matter; this guy was trying to be a force. In the past it would have stressed me out because I would try to please and play by his rules. This time, I surrendered to the metaphor and found it really interesting how much he was trying to get ahead. I thought, Dude, I’m going at my own speed, in my lane, you’ll just have to deal.

[Related: Pick a Lane, Follow the Road Baby]

Then, when we were on a wider thoroughfare I found myself competing with him. I played a game, trying to get ahead and around him, beating him through a light or slowing down on purpose to piss him off.

I caught myself and laughed out loud. It got me thinking about how much focus I was giving to his journey and not my own. I was literally giving this other annoying driver all of my attention. So, I stopped, slowed down my breath and focused on where I was going at my own speed, which to be honest was slower and more steady.

Pretty soon I forgot about him only to be aroused a few moments later by a series of loud beeps several cars behind me. Sure enough it was the Honda guy with the front bumper guard, torturing some other driver who was in his way. It struck me that people like him often need a protective bumper; they’ll keep running into or barreling over obstacles along the way. Awesome, if that works for them. But, that’s not the way I roll. So, why was I trying to compete with him? We both seemed to be on the same road, going in a similar direction, but we each have different purpose and reasons for doing so. In truth, I had no interest in where he was going.

When we focus on our competition we can lose sight of our own purpose.

Competition can foster copycat thinking and actions rather than originality and authenticity based on your own gifts and magic. When you lose those you lose yourself.

“Because she competes with no one, no one can compete with her.” Lau Tzu

Let's Reframe Competition

When you realize that no one makes it alone, often aligning or collaborating with those forging similar paths can sometimes bolster you and inspire you to keep going toward your own goals, dreams and desires. Then you have a community rather than a field of competition. That feels pretty good. Seek out those who have done what you want to do. Learn from them, partner with them, help each other and all the while, forge your own way.

Nobody has your magic sauce. Remember that. Get back to your own self worth.

Then, there’s Perfection

Perfection is the lurker, the wallflower at the party. Perfection can be the non-starter that keeps you from engaging in life all together.

I know so many incredibly talented people who are brilliant at what they do – in their own rooms. They re-do it, edit it, start over, keep polishing, get feedback and then start it all over again. All the while robbing the world of their gifts.

Trust me, I’ve been there. A lot. Just one more pass, then I’ll send it out. It just needs something…and then it will be ready. I will be ready when it’s perfect.

Perfection keeps us playing small. And, that’s not doing anyone any good.

Brene Brown says perfectionism is “a 20-ton shield. We carry it around thinking it’s going to protect us from hurt. But, it protects us from being seen.”

Yikes.

Progress not perfection

When we think of our work as progress rather than perfection, when we release it into the world it takes the pressure off of trying to be perfect. It’s a work in progress. We are a work in progress.

[Related: 6 Reasons Why Progress, Not Perfection]

Say it with me, fellow perfectionists. “I am a work in progress.”

Hmmm. Look around. The sky didn’t fall, the world kept spinning and guess what? People will only notice that you’ve stepped a bit more into your light, which allows them to give themselves permission to do the same thing. And, that's a gift that keeps on giving. 

So, our lovely little Trifecta of failure, reframed becomes a…

Trifecta of Purpose and Success:

Comparison becomes Appreciation, Gratitude & Self-Acknowledgment.

Competition becomes Collaboration, Community & Self-Respect.

Perfection becomes a Work-in-Progress & Self-Trust.

Now, that’s a trio worth inviting to the party and taking along for the ride.


Mastering The Art of Fear

 How to allow fear to work for you instead of against you.

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Photo by Stephanie McCabe on Unsplash 

I think about fear a lot. I mean, at times we all do, right? Lately it's been a very loud companion as I dig deeper into writing my memoir. No matter the situation, whenever it shows up I run the gamut in my relationship with fear. I see it, dread it, fight it, am pissed off at it, run from it, cry with it and am utterly fascinated by it for the never-ending lessons and conversations that derive from it. 

Recently I listened to Linda Sivertsen's Beautiful Writers Podcast when she and guest co-host, Martha Beck interviewed author Glennon Doyle. They were discussing Glennon's extremely raw bestselling memoir, LOVE WARRIOR, which is sitting next in my Kindle queue. I'm an admirer of all three women and their work. This was a great interview where they delved into a wide range of topics centering on their commitments to being completely truthful in the expression of their stories and the way that stretched and freed them.

I was listening in my car and suddenly realized I kept exhaling, loudly, and my whole body was vibrating, my stomach like the engine room of the Titanic. Honestly, their conversation scared the sh*t out of me as I wade tender-footed into the pool of my own stories, uncovering little places where I've been hiding, often in plain sight, fearful of how it might be received. It was big. And, it couldn't have come at a more opportune time because this fear of expressing my deep truths to someone other than my cats, often has me paralyzed. 

When I sat feeling the bigness, what I discovered led to a more expansive aha: this engine in my belly, this fire that made me exhale like a dragon, is a fuel, an ammunition if you will, like I haven't experienced in a long time. Like it goes deep and wide, echoing back decades, the kind of echo you hear in canyons and see when you look at your reflection in a house of mirrors. The truth is, this reverberation has been growing louder for a while now.

[As an aside, although it's not really an aside because it's such a big part of my story, I've been on a 30-day cleanse, eating only clean food. The intense vibration I felt I couldn't feel before because I was numbing out on an addiction to sugar and overeating. Now, I could actually FEEL the raw fear in my belly which turned into food for my soul and fuel for my work when before I was feeding emotions that numbed me from feeling anything else. It feels incredible, honestly.] 

I had lunch with a friend recently and we got into a great discussion about fear. He said he believes fear drives everything, good and bad. It's a constant no matter what. I think there's truth to that.

And, it got me thinking about how mastering fear rather than fighting or trying to conquer it might turn fear into an ally instead of an opponent. It's like mastering an art form; at times you feel the art might kill you, until you reach a place of working with the art, willing the art, arriving at the mastery of the art. Could it be the same with fear? 

The famed music producer Jimmy Iovine in HBO'S THE DEFIANT ONES said things turned the corner for him early in his career when "fear became a tailwind rather than a headwind." What a game-changing shift in mindset! When fear is a headwind, getting in your way, it can be so strong that it keeps you in place, stagnant, stuck or pushes you entirely away from what you want. It can feel like fear has a power of its own.

When fear is fuel for intention it's the tailwind that catapults you forward. Gary Zukav said in SEAT OF THE SOUL, "Every action, thought and feeling is motivated by intention...your intention creates your reality." When intention is aligned with your fear-turned-into-fuel it's a very powerful forward momentum.

The game-changer is the knowledge that we are the ones controlling our fear, not the other way around. 

I had a friend a few years ago who used to say when she was afraid of doing something it made her feel truly alive, to go into the fear and do it anyway. 

That can be called many things: courage, bravery, boldness. They all give fear a new role in the game. 

Invite fear to be your partner, to work with you instead of against you. Is it a fear of rejection or of failure or of success that you have? If you take fear by the hand and move forward with it into each of those arenas, you take control and allow fear to morph and transform into passion and action.

Put your fears, as kindling, into the fire of your own engine. Then, just watch what happens. It could create the tailwind you've been waiting for.