Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Monkeys, Monsters, and Playgrounds

Today marks the first day of my favorite month: October.
There's one simple reason why this is my favorite month:
Tomorrow is Hubby and my 3rd wedding anniversary. <3

However, we decided to get married in October because I already loved it so much; it just seemed fitting to add to my list of things I enjoy about this month.

I don't really know what it is exactly about October, but I love it. I love that it has a distinct feel. That crispness in the air and bite of frozen toes first thing in the morning. Normally I don't like being cold, but that lack of feeling in my feet when I first wake up is refreshing because it means my favorite month is here.

October has distinct smells as well: pumpkin EVERYTHING, apple cider, and this weird wax smell that accompanied the novelty monster-shaped Halloween candles that my mother had around the house as I was growing up. There's another smell dealing with nature starting to go dormant, but I can't quite describe it. Something about that smell just seems "October" though, even though it technically is around in September and November too. Guess it's just the most prominent in October...

October also has my favorite holiday. You get to dress up as someone else and get free candy for it! How do you not love that!? I also love monsters: werewolves, vampires, Frankenstein's monster, sea creatures, etc. If it's supernatural, I eat it up!

Imagining who I'd like to be on the 31st, and watching tons of Halloween/monster-themed movies, and plotting my own supernatural stories; October is just a perfect Writing month. I just need to remember to harness this energy this year.

Which brings me to the meat and potatoes of this week's post.

Last week I went in depth about an article I read: Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators by Megan McArdle.

This week, I'd like to talk about another article on the subject. When I posted McArdle's article to Struggling Writers Society I quickly got a response from ChibiSunnie.

Chibi: I think the related article that came up when I clicked [for McArdle's] does a better job of explaining why we can only write when we have deadlines, but I do agree that sometimes the fear of not writing anything overcomes whatever other reasons we have for putting off writing.

The article she found - and then shared with all of us - was Why Procrastinators Procrastinate by Tim Urban.

Urban kept us amused as we read his article; by way of including cartoons to explain his concepts.

Such as his depiction of what derails procrastinators in the first place: The Instant Gratification Monkey (IGM)
Image by Tim Urban
In the article, Urban has a little strip where we are introduced to IGM and how it comes up with a long list of amusing - albeit pointless - activities that seem way more fun than whatever it is we're avoiding via procrastination. The last image of that strip totally hit home for me.
Image by Tim Urban
This is pretty much my rationale all the time! Over two hours before I need to do something? Nope, not enough time to do anything productive. Ignore the fact that all I have to do is write for 1/2hr a day to stay on track to write a 90,000 word novel within a year. Ignore the fact that even when it comes to writing something like a blog post I only really use two-hrs max.

Instead, focus on the times when I would marathon writing for about 8hrs straight. Once I get going on a project I don't like to stop until I am either done or come to a natural stopping point in the story; that way I don't have to worry about coming back to the story and forgetting where I was going with it. Trust me, I've had that annoying quandary multiple times. Not fun.

So, naturally, I now think "If I don't have at least four hours to write, there's no point in starting." If I get done before the 4hrs is up, fantastic. I have time to screw around then. However, I'd much rather set up the hours and not need them, then to say "Alright, I have a 1/2hr. Go!" and then have to stop prematurely. Thing is, I feel the same way about my chores too. "Oh, I have to pick up Hubby in an hour. Clearly not enough time to do the dishes or vacuum."

Instead of doing something productive during that 2.5hr window described in the above image, I'd rather putz around on Facebook and then complain that I didn't have enough time to accomplish anything that day. I really need to get past that first mental block of HORRENDOUS time management. Maybe if I just tell myself to suck it up and work during that time; regardless if I feel I can complete the task within the allotted time.

The next real hurdle is what Tim Urban described as the "Dark Playground."

I have spent many a day in the Dark Playground. Heck, I have a season pass there! My favorite attractions are:
  • Check Facebook Notifications Instantly Carousel
  • Look For People To IM Shooting Gallery
  • Get Lost On DeviantArt Maze
  • Repetitively Refresh X-Future Forum To See If There's Anything New Arcade
  • Do Stupid "Maintenance" Stuff In Facebook Games Food Court
  • Watch Shows I'm Really Interested In Simply Because They're On Traveling Minstrels
It's a bad place to be in, and you can get lost there for HOURS before realizing it. There seems to be a large percentage of the current teens and twenty-somethings that have another name for their Dark Playground. They seem to know it best as simply Tumblr.

Anyway, Urban comments that most procrastinators tend to linger with their IGM in the Dark Playground instead of actually doing any work. The only way to get us out of the Dark Playground? Why, a good old Panic Monster, of course!
Image by Tim Urban
Seems that little IGM is terrified of the Panic Monster; that dread that something horrible will result in you procrastinating to the point of NEVER accomplishing a certain task. The bigger the consequence of not doing the task, the scarier the Panic Monster; as well as the fast PM shows up to scare us out of the Dark Playground. Tasks with little to no real consequence - such as the ones we set for ourselves - either have a tiny PM or one never shows up.

Consequence of procrastinating and never going to work: getting fired and all the badness that follows. This results in huge PM chasing you out the door ASAP.
Consequence of procrastinating and not doing the dishes: the dishes pile up until there are no clean ones left. This results in a baby PM showing up and shooing you off to the sink to quickly scrub a dish and fork the next time you need it to actually eat.
Consequence of procrastinating and never writing that Great American Novel: feeling regret and a bit disappointed in never accomplishing such a lofty goal. The Panic Monster may never actually show up here; depending on how severe that consequence is for you.

The ebb and flow of IGM taking over until PM scares it away is a really crappy way of attempting to accomplish anything; and results in not really ENJOYING the fun stuff that somehow becomes an attraction in the Dark Playground.
Of course, this is no way to live. Even for the procrastinator who does manage to eventually get things done and remain a competent member of society, something has to change. Here are the main reasons why:

  1. It’s unpleasant. Far too much of the procrastinator’s precious time is spent toiling in the Dark Playground, time that could have been spent enjoying satisfying, well-earned leisure if things had been done on a more logical schedule. And panic isn’t fun for anyone.
  2. The procrastinator ultimately sells himself short. He ends up underachieving and fails to reach his potential, which eats away at him over time and fills him with regret and self-loathing.
  3. The Have-To-Dos may happen, but not the Want-To-Dos. Even if the procrastinator is in the type of career where the Panic Monster is regularly present and he’s able to be fulfilled at work, the other things in life that are important to him—getting in shape, cooking elaborate meals, learning to play the guitar, writing a book, reading, or even making a bold career switch—never happen because the Panic Monster doesn’t usually get involved with those things. Undertakings like those expand our experiences, make our lives richer, and bring us a lot of happiness—and for most procrastinators, they get left in the dust.
So true. Every last word. They all speak to me so strongly. Especially that second point.
...which eats away at him over time and fills him with regret and self-loathing.
I get this a LOT. Especially now that I'm 30. It seems silly since I still have about 50 years left - hopefully more - and so I have plenty of time still. However, I had always thought that I would be in my chosen profession, married, have at least one kid, be a home-owner, and at least have a CONCEPT for a manuscript figured out by now. Out of that list I have.... I'm married! While a fantastic part of that list and one that makes the rest of it worth while, one out of five isn't that amazing a completion percentage.
Whoot! 20% completion rate for the things I wanted to accomplish by the time I'm 30!
So, I really REALLY need to figure out how to break out of this pattern within the next decade of my life. As I said, I still have time to turn things around. I'm slowly, but semi-surely, working on a writing career and that manuscript concept. I may not actually get said book done before I'm 40, but trying to do so will push me harder to get serious. A lot of women this era have been having children in their mid-to-late 30s, and so I still have time there. I don't actually need to EVER own a home; the in-laws are STILL renting. The only thing I really, truly need to focus on right now is to find SOME job that doesn't suck the life out of me and can pay me enough that I'll feel comfortable at attempting to start a family.

See? In everything I get bogged down in the Big Picture when I really need to just take things in bite sized chunks. Maybe that's how I'll reign in my IGM. Maybe a trail of bite-sized tasks.
Yes, I did just watch Family Guy...

Luckily, Tim Urban continued on his Procrastination train of thought in a second part to his article: How to Beat Procrastination

Essentially, his concept on how to beat procrastination and to keep that IGM in check is the same as the one I just presented: Bite Sized Chunks. His analogy is a brick. Focused. Precise. Simple. Something that can be used to build a grand goal with. In other words, a finely tuned task with a distinct goal.

In other words, my list of things I wanted to do by the time I was 30 was too broad, and with no definitive deadline - aside from my 30th birthday - to keep me in check. That left IGM alone to play for quite a while.
Image by Tim Urban
With Urban's "brick" analogy, I was basically looking at the house I wanted done by the time I hit my third decade. However, I didn't really think about the blueprints and how many bricks I would need to finish building the thing. I have the foundation poured out - my marriage - but I completely forgot to get the materials I needed for the rest of my "home".

So, that's what I need to do for the next ten years. I need to figure out how many bricks I need and focus on carefully placing each one. If I focus on the task at hand - properly laying one brick on top of another - I won't even notice how many it will take to finish a room. Then I'll be surprised when I place the last one and realize "hey! I actually sold my first book!"

Urban continues by explaining - in his own opinion - why it's so hard for us procrastinators to pick up these individual bricks and actually start building. For me, as I continuously mention, I seem to look at the huge pile and focus too much on how daunting it's going to be to actually build a room out of so many bricks. Instead, I need to refocus on how simple it is to pick one up and place it down where I need it. I may not see much of a difference at first, but soon enough I'll actually be able to see my progression, and maybe that can help me.

But let's jump back to Urban's take real quick.
Image by Tim Urban
In his take the issue is what he calls the Dark Woods. It's the same thing as me looking at the Big Picture. The woods - as the name implies - is dark and dense and a pain to get through. There's struggles and it's hard to see the end. However, as you can see from Urban's drawing, it's fairly easy to see the Dark Playground just on the outskirts of the Dark Woods. All you have to do is look left or right instead of straight ahead, and you'll find one of the dreaded "attractions". The IGM can't STAND the Dark Woods and would much rather play in the Dark Playground, and so if you lose track of IGM for even a moment, you're off on an attraction until you can wander back to the Dark Woods to try the task again.

Some times the only way to get out of the park and through the woods is with that lovely Panic Monster chasing after you.

However, you see that happy bluish-green section at the top? The Happy Playground? That's the satisfaction of actually completing the task. That's what you see at the tail end of the Dark Woods, when most of the obstacles are behind you and the goal is easy to see ahead. The last leg of the Dark Woods is almost easy after trekking through for so long.

Last year of school? Cinch after going there for four years.
Last month of braces? It's gonna fly by after two years!
Driver's test? Piece of cake after practicing for a year.
Last hour of work? Vacation after the first seven hours.

You get the point.

The trick is not allowing the Panic Monster to chase you so far through the Dark Woods that you can't complete the task without it right at your heels, otherwise you won't really make it to the Happy Playground either. You'll be in that white space between the two amusement parks. The task will be done, but you won't really feel satisfied about it either.

But what about that Rainbow Road segment? The Flow, Urban calls it.

That, my dear friends, is when you get through enough of the Dark Woods that the task is not only no longer a struggle, but it's actually enjoyable! Think about all of your hobbies that you sort of dread doing now?

I know I felt that way about crocheting when I was working on my niece's blanket. I felt that way when I was building pixel-dolls in Photoshop for all 30+ characters on the X-Future board; especially with the time needed to just set everything up to piece together.

And how many of us feel that way about writing? It's no longer fun. It's almost an obligation. There's something there that made the Dark Woods look like something out of a slasher film.
Don't make me go in there!
You remember your brick laying and decide to push through. You'll make a friggen gorgeous brick path through these darn woods as you make your way to the Happy Playground! You fight your fears - perhaps of inadequacy - and make your way through the Dark Woods.

Before you know it, the woods don't seem so scary. In fact, they seem down right delightful. Screw the Happy Playground! You want to spend all your time here!
Who brought the picnic basket?
Congratulations, my friend, you just reached The Flow. We all know that feeling. When you are so in the zone you don't WANT the task to end. See above and my comment about marathoning writing for 8hrs straight! All of those hobbies that I dreaded I also ended up losing hours to without realizing it.

I went to bed late some nights because I WANTED to do another row - or two or three or four - of the blanket. I was in a groove and didn't want to stop. I lost DAYS in Photoshop putting together those pixel-dolls of the X-Future characters. I legit spent about 60hrs custom designing wrestlers in Xbox's WWE '13 so that they resembled the X-Future characters.

There are times where I would rather write than anything else.

There seems to be so much more satisfaction in The Flow than in the Happy Playground. Sure, you may feel satisfied that the house is clean, and now you can have three guilt-free hours of playing World of Warcraft. However, sometimes cleaning the house gets you in to a flow of organizing the house, and then doing home improvements. Next thing you know, you'd rather be staring at your gorgeous new living room than playing World of Warcraft. And it's not just because you're an adult.

Anyway, if you haven't guessed, I really enjoyed Urban's two-part blog about procrastination, and I think it will do everyone a world of good to read them too if they find themselves procrastinating more often than not.

Well, now that I've past through my Dark Woods of "Dear lord, I forgot it's Wednesday again, and I have to write my blog instead of officially starting my Staycation after a long, grueling week," I'm off to the Happy Playground of snuggling with my husband on our couch.

Until next week where I'll FINALLY get around to talking about the advancements I've made on the X-Future comic reboot.

No comments:

Post a Comment