In my last blog, I wrote about the vicious cycle of depression and procratination: you procrastinate because you're depressed, and then you get depressed because you're procrastinating, and so on and on. The question is, if you're depressed, what can you possibly do to stop the cycle before you feel so lousy you can't even get off the couch?
For many years, I thought the answer to this question was basically "determination." Get control of yourself, use your will power. The "just do it" approach to getting things done.
There is only one problem with this approach; namely, it doesn't work.
At least it doesn't work for me. All it does is make me get down on myself. Not only can I not write that article, or do that run, or start whatever task I've been avoiding--I also am a lazy, undisciplined person who has no strength of character and no moral fiber. Unfortunately (or fortunately) beating myself up and calling myself names¬—the classic boot camp approach—only makes me feel worse.
I once had a therapist who always ended our sessons with the words "be kind to yourself." Naturally I scoffed at this piece of advice. Be kind to yourself? You mean, just let yourself loll around and get nothing done? Feel good about staying home, reading detective novels or watching TV? No way.
It took me a long time to learn (and to tell you the truth, I'm still learning) that being kind to yourself is truly the key to ending procrastination and actually getting things done.
Being kind to yourself doesn't mean letting yourself get away with things. Rather, it's about changing the terms of the conversations you have with yourself. It's about rethinking your assumptions. Perhaps most important, it's about focusing on the here and now, rather than making the moment a referendum on your whole life (which right now probably seems pointless and without any positive acheivements whatsoever).
To show you what I mean, here are some of what I like to call the "demon thoughts" I had when I was trying to write this blog. I've followed each with a thought that recasts it in kinder terms.
Demon thought: I'm lazy and undisciplined.
I'm having a hard time with this topic. That doesn't mean I'm lazy. Maybe I could just brainstorm some ideas and see what happens.
Demon thought: I'm afraid of being preachy or boring.
This is a first draft. If what I write turns out to be boring, I can rewrite it.
Demon thought: This will take forever.
I can start by spending 15 minutes on this, and then I will get a cup of coffee or call a friend.
Demon thought: I feel awful. How can I write anything?
If I write even one sentence, I will feel better.
Demon thought: I never get anything done.
It may seem that way now, but the fact is that I've written lots of blogs. I can do this.
Demon thought: It needs to be really, really good (read: perfect).
Once I get something on paper, I can revise it and make it better.
Demon thought: Who am I to be advising people about procrastinating?
I've broken the cycle of procrastination in the past. I'm actually an expert on this subject.
Get the idea?
Now, I'm not saying that this is easy or even that it will work every time. Learning to be kind to yourself is kind of a lifetime project. To be honest, I'm still not all that good at it.
But I'm getting better.