“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit”. ~Aristotle
I have a little card on my desk that has this quote on it and I come back to it again and again (and again). I fully admit to being very distractible. Sometimes I try and go easy on myself… to give myself a break…I mutter to myself, “well, you’ve got a lot on your plate… all these kids…elderly parents to tend to…an almost finished PhD to… just finish already… several teaching gigs… midlife…and just life-life… You have a lot to be distracted by….how can you not be distracted?!” And, well, yeah, sure. I guess those things are all true… But! Really! I am REALLY just easily distracted. I WANT to focus but I am weak, there is stuff to read and look at and fiddle-fart around with. As I have professed on many occasions I am a big ol’ procrastinator— yet, still, I get up every day determined that today I will be better. I know it is a practice—I just need to continue to practice staying focused, I practice daily, fighting against my urge to procrastinate. It is a habit that I will forever need to be mindful of, and there is no easy fix. I recently ripped through the book The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles” by Steven Pressfield on a morning that I had dedicated to working through my PhD revisions— This is nothing new to me— procrastinating by reading books about how not to procrastinate but, I have to say, this procrastination session was particularly enlightening and dare I say, useful. Pressfield’s book resonated deeply with me because his theory revolves around what he considers to be the enemy of creativity; resistance. Procrastination is the result of resistance and fuelled by fear. Fear, Pressfield attests, can be a good thing— it indicates to us that something is important to us— and in my case, this is true. While I do tend to also procrastinate about doing things like cleaning the bathtub and folding the laundry these are not the things that have fear attached to them— my PhD, the play and the article I am writing , these are the things that have fear firmly attached to them and as Pressfield suggests “…the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance.” (2002 40) And, well, yes, the degree of fear I feel from avoiding scrubbing my tub is significantly lower than my fear of not getting my PhD revisions done in time.
If I am what I repeatedly do then I want to believe that acknowledging and wrestling resistance must simply become a habit, and part of my practice as an academic, artist and writer. The wrestling takes many forms. Plain old willpower is one way to do it, removing distractions is another. I have been using the website blocker Freedom— which helps. I had read that Zaide Smith used something similar and I was, of course, thrilled to know I was not alone (and in very good company) in my distractedness. It helps. And I will actually laugh out loud to myself when I habitually click on one of my blocked websites while I’m in a Freedom session only to find a green screen with a butterfly on it staring back at me. Resistance is futile, I suppose, and deadlines are looming.
I belong to a Facebook group for PhD and Early Career Researcher Parents- where, we share the challenges of parenting while trying to navigate academia and just recently one of the members posted a photo of some adorable but labour intensive looking Easter themed cupcakes proclaiming herself to be a procrastibaker- I can SO relate, and while I certainly would call myself a procrasibaker in the most obvious sense of the word- I bake to avoid the mounds of writing and researching I should be attending to… I realized today, it goes much deeper than that. It hit me this afternoon as I got up from my desk after a particularly dismal day of fiddle-farting around and successfully avoiding the abstract that needs writing, the three separate student assignments that need marking and the script (for a show that goes up in 2 months) that needs re-writing- that my motivation for baking (or procrasti-baking) comes from two places; love and guilt. Love because I know the kids truly love walking in the door and racing up the stairs calling out their best guesses as to what the wafting baking smell is (“Chocolate chip cookies?” “Banana muffins… I knew it!”) And guilt for all the time I have spent away missing birthdays, school concerts, or just being there when they come in the door after school. Somehow- a warm muffin or chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven make ME feel like I am being some kind of good Mom and while neither makes up for time away- I feel like I’m doing just a little something special- while weaselling my way out of reading those 27 student essays… care for a muffin?!
I am an early riser. I always have been, my Mother was too, she grew up on a farm and I like to think it is in the genes. Even as a undergrad student, working until 3 am in a bar, I still woke up at 9 am (early for a barmaid and a student!) because I just couldn’t fathom spending the day in bed. (I suppose I have what the young ’ins these days call FoMO- of “fear of missing out”).
Over the years my early rising has shifted from what some people seem to think of as a sort of reasonable early rising of 6 am to my current 4 am. I know, 4 am is really early. Telling people you get up (because you want to- not because you have to) at 4 am elicits the same same sort of response as telling people you have six children. “What?!” “Why?!” or “That’s amazing!”- which is always slightly embarrassing because, trust me, I am not doing it for the notoriety, or the wow factor, I do it because it really helps me get set for the day- centres me, makes me feel like I can “get ‘er done” (whatever “it” may be). My current weekday morning ritual looks something like this; I wake up somewhere between 4 and 4:20 (I don’t use an alarm clock- ever- I just wake up.) I get up, turn on the heat, and make a hot water with lemon. I roll out my yoga mat, and sit in meditation for 5-15 minutes ( the time depending on whether I got up at 4 or later) I then do a bit of yoga, usually, Sun Salutations for 5-10 minutes, then try to read a short passage of something inspiring (currently; Meditations from the Mat by Rolf Gates and Katrina Kenison), then sit for a few minutes at my desk and write a to-do list or a few notes in my agenda/journal and then go put on the water for coffee. Some of the inspiration for my current ritual came from a Podcast I was listening to on Français Authentique– I actually listen to it to work on my french but in one particular episode he was talking about “The Miracle Morning” a book by American Hal Elrod, who writes about the ‘best practices’—”developed over centuries of human consciousness development” (according to his website) to create an effective morning ritual “to transform your life” and apparently achieve everything you have ever wanted. I definitely got some inspiration from it but have also tried really hard to listen hard to what I need each morning whether it be more mediation, a few minutes rolling around on a massage ball or more time to scribble some thoughts down- I try not to be a rigid as Elrod prescribes- because I really like that time to be something nourishing- and not something I feel like I have to do.
The ol’ man gets up at 5 (he has also always been an early riser) and we sit, for a minimum of 30 minutes every single morning (this we’ve been doing without fail for 24 years) and have coffee together. Sometimes we talk; about the kids, the weather, what’s going on that evening or that coming weekend, who needs to be taken where… and sometimes we just sit in silence. By 5:30- I’m making breakfast and packing lunches, finding socks and gym clothes and white shirts with no stains on them, somedays (2 days at the moment) I am out the door by 7 am to get to work and the other days I walk the youngest kids to school and get back to my desk by 9-ish to start writing.
The ritual has shifted and changed over the years, and has most definitely had to adjust through babies, and breastfeeding etc. I remember with extreme fondness a time when I was just mama to 3 and we lived near the beach- I would get up around 5 to go for a run and watch the sun come up. Other phases of my early rising had me simply being up before everyone else and reading.
Of course, getting up so early, means that I am ready to fall into bed pretty early, usually around 9 pm and it is not unusual for me to conk out shortly after 8, as soon as I get the younger kids to bed. And on those mornings when I have had to be up “late” (10 pm+ *gasp*!) the night before I just let myself sleep until I wake up which is still usually 5:30 or so. But after many months of being on the 4 am ritual schedule- there is always just a bit of disappointment when I look at the clock to see I’ve missed my precious golden hour.
Rives, an American poet, and storyteller, talks about his own obsession with four in the morning on a Ted Talk that I highly recommend- in it he talks about how he came to curate the online; “the museum of four in the morning“. I enjoy visiting this virtual museum if for no other reason, when I am bumping around in the dark- getting up and trying not to wake anyone else in the house, it makes me feel like I am part of some secret society.
Several years ago a colleague in academia commented to me that procrastinators are adrenaline junkies, and I think about that idea every single freakin’ time I am writing or working on something, especially if it has a deadline. It can be a paper, an article, rehearsing a show, marking student assignments, pizza lunch forms for the kids, whatever… I would say 98% of the time I come right down to the wire with it… almost every single freakin’ time I have anything to complete… right down to the wire. Am I really getting that much of a “rush” of adrenaline? Am I getting off on it, or is there something more going on?
According to Adam Grant’s January 2016 New York Times article “Why I Taught Myself To Procrastinate” while “procrastination is a vice for productivity”…it is also “a virtue for creativity”. Grant’s research contends that our first ideas are usually our most conventional and by procrastinating we can let our mind wander thereby opening ourselves up to newer and more unexpected ideas and patterns. I gather that what he is suggesting is not that we should simply leave tasks completely untouched until the last minute but rather, start something and then leave it- let it simmer, come back with fresh eyes, ears and ideas. Grant lists several prolific procrastinators for whom leaving things last minute worked out very well for them, Steve Jobs, Aaron Sorkin, Bill Clinton, and Frank Lloyd Wright…my name is not on the list.
I can certainly buy the creativity angle, giving ideas time to percolate, allowing one’s self to feel a sense of spaciousness, but I am not quite there yet. My procrastinating ways tend to lead me into more dread and panic rather than whimsical creative wanderings, but, I am definitely curious to test out these theories. Perhaps I will start with the pizza lunch forms…fill in my sons name, then my daughters, allow myself time to contemplate on whether to order two slices and the juice box option or three slices with desert, lose myself in thought over whether to pay by cash…or cheque, fully feel the impulse to include my signature before racing to the school to beg the secretary to accept my late forms so I don’t have to make lunch on Tuesday.
I am here.
Life is CR-azy.
2 runs in the past 2 weeks.
New job, new kids schedules…
I am determined I will run again, VERY soon.
I cannot wait for things to settle down, but rather, must figure out how to work within this chaos. Because really, when is my life ever NOT chaotic?
Still thinking about a marathon in the Spring.
You’ll hear all about it.