Isolation and Invisibility as Key Tactics *and* Goals of Procrastination
From Chapter 6 of The 7 Secrets of the Prolific
Procrastination makes you invisible and isolated. If you never finish your novel, you won't be seen by agents, editors or your audience. If you never finish your thesis, you won't be seen by your committee, colleagues and prospective hirers.
Invisibility and isolation are, in fact, key strategies and goals of procrastination:
They are strategies because community is essential to productivity and success (Chapters 3.9 – 3.13), so if you're not seen, you probably won't finish your work or attain your other writing-related goals.
And they are goals because if you're not seen, you can't be judged – and, in particular, can't be judged a failure. Underproductivity may feel terrible, but recall that, for perfectionists, failure is a kind of ego death that feels far worse (Chapter 2.6).
Often, the craving for invisibility and isolation predates the procrastination habit. Many procrastinators grew up in critical or abusive families where they learned to survive by, as one writer put it, “flying under the radar.” Once such children grow up, they still feel a strong desire to hide when threatened – only now, not in the coat closet or remote corners of the backyard, but via procrastination and underachievement.
To make matters worse, writing is about as self-revealing an activity as you'll find. Your thoughts, feelings, values and visions are spread out nakedly on the page. This, of course, represents an extreme challenge for someone craving invisibility, and is a big reason why so many people procrastinate with their writing but not elsewhere.
Incidentally, it is also common - and antiproductive - to use writing, or a grandiose self-sacrificial vision of writing (see the section on “Stalling Out” in Chapter 1.10), as a way of making yourself invisible in other frightening realms, including:
*Financial. The writer may not want to be seen by decent employers – who, perhaps, he's afraid won't hire him – so consigns himself to a life of poverty and bad treatment in bad jobs. Or, he doesn't want to be seen by personal finance coaches and mentors, who might judge him a failure financially. Or the IRS, who literally has the power to penalize him.
*Social. The writer may not want to risk rejection by getting out and trying to socialize or date.
*Health. The writer may want to hide from frightening news not just about his health situation, but his health and fitness obligations (e.g., diet, exercise) by isolating himself from doctors, nutritionists, personal trainers, etc.
In Chapter 1.4, I talked about procrastination as an addiction. Dr. Abraham Twerski, in his classic book Addictive Thinking, talks about “hypersensitivity,” or an unusual sensitivity to stress, as a common trait of addicts. He compares such people to “sunburn victims” who react strongly to stimuli that nonsunburned people .For hypersensitive people, “alcohol and other drugs are emotional anesthetics as they seek relief from feelings of distress and discomfort.”
Of course, the deprivation in these key areas only further undermines your writing productivity. And so, once more we see that procrastination packs a multiple punch (Chapter 1.4). And, of course, procrastinators usually feel shame over their procrastination, which further makes them want to hide – so that's one more punch, and also a self-perpetuating cycle.
As always, our fears are always legitimate and sensible, even if procrastination is a suboptimal response to them (see Chapter 1.1). This is particular true in the realm of finances, which I believe is not often easy hard to reconcile not just with the creative process, but ethical living. possible to reconcile with the creative process (Part 8). However, the cost of not doing so is severe: in Money Drunk, Money Sober, Julia Cameron and Mark Bryan, talk about “poverty addicts” who think poverty is virtuous.
(They also published in 1993, when there was a much stronger economy.)
I also believe that a desire to hide is also a major factor in one other common area of procrastination: weight loss, another highly charged emotionally, and around which people make a lot of judgments. You can apply the solutions in this book to those or any other field where you procrastinate, and my next book will be an application of the principles outlined in this one to weight loss. Please check www.hillaryrettig.com for updates.
Back to writing...Fearful writers don't just crave invisibility within their professional community: they crave it within the communities of their family, friends, neighbors and day job colleagues. Each area of invisibility is a barrier to success, not just because you need those communities' support, but because invisibility in any realm adds to your shame and fear.
So, a primary task for any writer is to “come out.” Yes, I mean that in the exact same way the queer community does – to reveal your true identity to yourself and others. I'm going to talk about ways to do that, but first let's discuss societal and other forces that encourage invisibility and isolation.
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