In life, and despite our efforts to spend time doing only the things we love, there are almost always unpleasant tasks that we 'have to' do. These can be, for example, going to the dentist, writing a letter of complaint, doing boring house chores, making a difficult phone call, or something a little bit bigger, like writing a PhD thesis :P
In our minds these are heavy/tedious/painful/difficult/draining tasks that the world is forcing upon us, and so we create a lot of inner resistance towards them. A conflict is born, as we are torn between fulfilling the 'obligation' and running away from it. We feel stuck, and we procrastinate for as long as we can. But, in the end, we feel like we don't really have a choice.
What we probably don't realize is that we do have a choice... We can choose not to make the difficult phone call or, for that matter, we can choose not to write the thesis! But of course, like with all choices, we must accept the responsibility that comes from deciding not to do these things. This is something that I only realized recently…
While doing my PhD, I was constantly resisting it. I felt trapped, and somehow I was waiting for some kind of miraculous solution. I guess I was waiting to wake up one day, and find out that the thesis had written itself. Or that the PhD had just been a nightmare - a dark figment of my imagination! :P
What I mean is that I hadn’t really made a choice about it. I didn’t want to continue with the PhD but, simultaneously, I didn’t want to give up. So… I really had to make a choice.
I then realized that finishing the PhD was stronger. I didn’t want to live with the consequences of not finishing it, which would be to disappoint myself, my teachers, and my parents - but mainly myself. Next, I thought about the (positive) reasons why I was deciding to finish the PhD. And these are:
- To share the knowledge that I created with my research, which I actually consider important;
- To be able to feel that I fulfilled my duty (I’ve actually been paid to do this, with a scholarship indirectly funded by Portuguese taxpayers);
- To show myself that I managed to overcome the challenge, however difficult it was, and in this way increase my confidence;
- And, at last, to free myself from this project, and then be able to focus my time and energy on projects and tasks that I really love.
After doing this exercise, my choice was clear, and I stopped dwelling on inner conflicts and negativity. I am going to finish it. Period.
I believe focusing on choice can be helpful with other things too. Instead of thinking: ‘I have to make this difficult phone call, but I don’t want to’, now I think: ‘I choose to make this difficult phone call, because_________ (fill in the blank)’.
This is actually a simple practice, but one that allows us to take better ownership of our choices and, consequently, of our life. Perhaps we will choose not to do some of the things that weigh us down, or perhaps we will gain new and more positive perspectives on these things, and actually embrace them…
I’ll end by acknowledging that I learned this important lesson from the book ‘The Now Habit’, by Neil Fiore, which, in my opinion, is filled with wonderful resources for anyone who struggles with procrastination.