There are certain tasks we discard because of their lack of importance, their inherent boring-ness-basically, tasks which “I’m too lazy to do right now.”. I call this the lazy level.
Then there are tasks which cause stress and anxiety just by being thought about. Whenever we attempt to start on these tasks, our mind itself seems to almost physically stop us from taking the first step. It’s as if there were some intense resistance-“stop, you can’t do this right now, I forbid you.”
Let’s fix these tasks.
Table of Contents
Why the lazy level?
When I talk about tasks being on the ‘lazy level’, what I mean is-to borrow an Economics term-being indifferent between doing and not doing the task. Through the following methods, I’m attempting to generate the thought ‘might as well do the laundry’ or ‘might as well write the article’ etc., etc. This is, of course, not ideal-it would be better to have motivation instead of indifference-but, in my experience, it’s by far much easier to be okay with doing something as opposed to being excited to do something. And as Mark Manson tells us, actions lead to motivation.
A lot of the methods I will be talking about are mostly paraphrases of what has been said already. The whole post (apart from the first technique) is an overview of the current landscape of techniques that I have personally found useful. Read it more as a getting started guide (augmented with personal experience), rather than something detailed or new; and think of me more as a summarizer rather than an inventor of something novel.
The following techniques are primarily psychological. This is because, at least in my experience, I have found it unlikely that I would try out anything practical unless I was actually okay with doing the task in the first place-and tricking myself into doing the task (through pomodoro techniques, etc.) would only work temporarily. I eventually want to write a post about practical techniques for fixing procrastination, but this is not that post.
How It Works
Seems like a very useful technique! I’ll try it out…later.
The fundamental problem with attempting to solve any motivation-based issue is the fact that we’re not motivated to implement the solution in the first place! if it was easy to circumvent the procrastination machinery, we might not even require the solutions themselves. It’s quite the catch-22.
The way that I try to fix this is a technique I’ve been calling ‘drive’. There are several ways to frame it-‘be intentional’, ‘be conscious’, ‘know what you’re doing’, ‘pay attention moment-to-moment’-but the word I prefer to use is ‘drive’.
I am often in the habit of scrolling through hacker news comments. Almost always, the process is as follows-I’m thinking about something, I don’t want to think about the particular thing (perhaps completing a project, perhaps completing an article, etc., etc.), and without even thinking about it, I open the site and start scrolling through comments mindlessly. ‘Mindlessly’ is the specific term here-it’s as though I’m attempting to escape from whatever is bothering me, whatever is happening right now. This leads to self-recrimination later in the evening, when I think back to what I’ve done throughout the whole day and come up with nothing.
However, if I keep track of what I’m doing moment-to-moment-keep asking myself “what am I doing right now?” and attempt to intentionally do things-I find it easier to stay out of addictive cycles like that. it’s not just that, though-rather than doing whatever subpart of me thinks is useful right now, I instead have space enough to think about what I should actually be doing, and that seems to help.
Essentially, then, the technique is-notice everything you do. Ideally, do everything intentionally-scroll through social media because you’ve decided to scroll through social media, watch a movie because you’ve decided to watch a movie, etc. Keep asking yourself “what am I doing right now?” and make sure that whatever you’re doing is what you actually want to do. This makes the rest of the techniques a lot easier.
I’m not quite sure what resources to recommend for this. It’s something I mostly came up with myself (this specific technique, at least), and I just don’t know the right terms that would allow me to find analogs. However, some similar-sounding things that might offer better insight:
- This sequence on noticing
- Noting in Vipassana (I don’t know a resource for this I would be comfortable recommending, and noting itself also seems to be at more of a sensate level than a thought-to-thought level, but it still might be worth looking into)
How It Works
Focusing, as realized by Eugene Gendlin, is the act of getting in contact with the bodily awareness of a negative thought. It’s contacting your ‘felt sense’-a gestalt impression of the whole problem, as felt through the body-attempting to figure out what the felt sense is attempting to ‘say’, and finding understanding and release through the process. Focusing, in some sense, acts as a basis for other psychotherapeutic techniques (specifically, it provides access to the felt sense, which is almost necessary when doing psychotherapy). More importantly-it will be useful to learn for the very next technique.
I personally found focusing valuable when attempting to understand the reasons for not starting a particular project. In particular, it’s really useful in the ‘physical resistance to doing something’ instance that I mentioned above. It’s almost as though, before the process of focusing, there was a part of my mind which was attempting to warn me of something I overlooked; and after focusing, and after that part of my mind had gotten the message across, it was quiet, and I could do the project without my mind rebelling against me.
Gendlin defines the process as a collection of six steps, as follows.
Clearing a space: Allow yourself to look at your problems ‘from a distance’. Give yourself enough space to let the problems be object, rather than being tied up in them (letting them be the subject-you!). The way I like doing it is this strange mind maneuver where I imagine splitting off a part of my mind which is responsible for watching the rest of my mind. I’m not sure what this actually does, but it allows me to get the drive-like detachment where everything can be examined instead of lived. Then ask yourself for a list of what seems bad right now-let the list bubble up, and then choose a problem (either by picking at random, or figuring out which problem seems the worst right now).
Felt sense of the problem: Think of whatever the problem is. Try to look at the problem as a whole, and determine how it feels in the body. Butterflies in the stomach? tight feeling in the chest? pressure in a part of the head? all of these are valid. (Crucially, you’re not looking to localize the feeling right now; just try to get a general, overall feeling of how the problem makes you feel in your body.)
Finding a handle: one of the resources I will be referencing calls it ‘finding the true name’, which just seems incredibly apt. Now that you know what the problem feels like, attempt to describe it with a word. Does it feel tight? tense? suffocating? something else entirely? don’t try to force words that don’t fit; just stay with the felt sense, and a word will eventually come to you.
Resonating handle and felt sense: compare the word with the felt sense. ‘Hold up’ the word to the felt sense and determine-is this the right word? do the word and sense match exactly? there might be cases where they don’t, in which case you should wait for another, truer word. There are cases, however, where the word will be just right-when it is, there will be a ‘release’, a sense of ‘yes, that’s it’. If you get that feeling, stay with it; let the body process it. (It’s quite peaceful, really, so that shouldn’t be a problem. It’s akin to the feeling of coming home, for one, among several other poetic metaphors.)
Asking: Now that you have a handle for the felt sense, bring the felt sense back into awareness and ask it how it relates to your problem. ‘What exactly makes me so tense?’ or ‘why exactly do I feel disappointed?’ or etc.-you’re attempting to determine more about the felt sense, in essence attempting to extract more information. Gendlin recommends two questions that might help in this process-‘What is the word-iest thing about this?’ (what is the most ‘tense’ thing in my problem? etc.), and ‘what does the felt sense need?’ (what would help me not feel so tense?).
Receiving: Welcome whatever the felt sense says. That is, you don’t necessarily have to do whatever the felt sense requires of you; but at least you’re aware of what your body is saying to you. Welcome that, because welcoming it allows you to communicate with your felt sense better.
I personally don’t do the whole technique. After doing step one-getting into the right frame of mind-I cycle between steps three to five. This seems to offer value to me, but doing the whole process might offer yet more value; I just don’t know. But if you aren’t able to do the whole process, and would like to do ‘focusing-light’, as it were, try that. (I’ll link where I got that in the resources below.)
Also, this is very much not an intellectual exercise. Analysis is useful, but analysis can only occur once your body stops opposing you. The only way for that to happen is for you to at least listen to what your body is trying to say. So ignore any analytical reasons that come up; wait until the felt sense speaks to you. (There is a specific feeling of release and relief that accompanies the understanding of a felt sense. You’ll know when you feel it.)
- The book itself (‘focusing’, by Eugene Gendlin) is pretty useful. It’s written in an instruction manual style, and is easy to follow.
- The CFAR handbook has a section on focusing which I found fairly useful to get another perspective on the technique.
- Focusing, For Skeptics. This is where focusing-light comes from.
The Work of Byron Katie
How It Works
Is that true?
The work of Byron Katie (hereon abbreviated as the work) allows questioning deep-held judgments and beliefs. Essentially, it asks you to consider ‘shoulds’-things that ought to be a certain way, or things you ought to do-and asks you to think about the consequences of that aught, the consequences of not believing in that aught, and the consequences resulting from believing several opposites of that aught. This seems to work surprisingly well.
The biggest benefit of this technique-for me, at least-is not that it allows deconstructing specific judgments. It’s the fact that, in the process of deconstructing those judgments, several deeper judgments come up into awareness which I otherwise wouldn’t have known about. Those judgments can then be deconstructed in turn, leading to collapse of several surface-level judgments on their own.
For instance, while attempting to write the introduction post for this blog, I was having trouble. My brain kept insisting that I should be able to write the post easily. Deconstructing this led to ‘I should be good at writing’, which led to ‘I should be a productive person’-and deconstructing that allowed me to leave the first post alone, finally knowing that I could afford to write the post later, and in the meantime work on something else. (Namely, this post.).
The Work consists of the following process. You figure out a writing implement (pen and paper, word, what have you), and write down any judgments you are thinking about. Here, ‘judgment’ is anything you think should have been different-you should’ve done things differently, someone should’ve behaved better towards you, etc., etc. (The website for the work, which I’ll link below, has worksheets which help with this.). And then you ask the following questions (in order, to begin with):
- Is it true? compare the ‘should’ to what actually happened (or what you expect to happen). Does that actually happen? will whatever you’re thinking about absolutely happen? are there things you’re doing to bring that reality into existence, or are you just imagining the ‘should’ reality and hating yourself because it hasn’t come to pass?
- Can you absolutely know that it’s true? if the answer to the above question is yes, are you absolutely certain that reality is supposed to be the way you’re thinking about it? can you think of any counterexamples? how likely do the counterexamples seem to you?
- How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought? what effects does your belief cause? how do you treat other people because of the belief? how do you treat yourself because of the belief?
- Who would you be without the thought? imagine if you lacked the ability to think about the judgment at all-what kind of person do you imagine yourself to be without the judgment? how would you behave? (warning, here: you might get something like “but I can’t live without this thought, because…” this is valuable! write that “because…” down, and do the work on that. Keep doing this as much as you think you need. This is the part of the process that has been personally incredibly valuable to me.)
The questions allow you the possibility to change your mind. The turnarounds complete the whole process. The turnarounds can be expressed as ‘to yourself’, ‘to the other’, and ‘to the opposite’. For instance, ‘people should like me’ turns around to ‘I should like me’, ‘I should like people’, and ‘people shouldn’t like me’.
The process as I’ve described it seems incredibly formulaic. but as with all psychotherapeutic exercises, only you know what works best for you. Try the process, first as written. Eventually, you’ll gain enough experience with the exercise that you’ll be able to fluidly carry it out without having to manually go through all the steps.
- The official website. Try out the worksheets-they offer good structure when getting started.
- The Curse Of The Counterfactual. This is what introduced the process to me, and it is incredibly valuable and well-written. Much of the usefulness of that post is acquired after you have some experience with the process, however.
- The books. I’m currently going through Loving What Is, and it’s been useful in exploring how the process actually works. (Warning, however-I was personally not very convinced with the transcripts, but this seems to be a common trope in psychotherapy. Try out the process, see if it works for you; be unconvinced by any anecdotal accounts of its efficacy or lack thereof.)
I hope at least one of these techniques helps with a problem you have. If you were to take just one thing away from this, I would say start with driving-attempt to know, at every moment, what you’re doing. Once you know that, come back, and try the other techniques. Good luck.