I’m typing out a draft of my psychology paper when I feel a tingling on the back of my neck. Like the prickle of the sun on an extra humid April day at my grandmother’s house, the nape of my neck glistens with a thin layer of sweat that almost feels itchy. And then I feel it on my right shoulder blade, where it crawls slowly, slowly, to the tip of my middle finger. The venom makes my finger itch, twitch, slide across the trackpad, and onto the keyboard. Before I know it, I’ve opened up Google Chrome and have 13 tabs of YouTube videos open. Psychology paper completely forgotten, my endless trawl through miscellaneous videos begins. I hardly notice I’m procrastinating again.
I’ve been an avid procrastinator since I was in elementary school. I remember this well because the plastic table in our upstairs study area is covered with random declarations of boredom from when I refused to do my homework. Even without a phone, I knew how to stall my workload at the age of seven, attempting instead to decipher the pencil marks on the wall instead of the equations in my math textbook.
This habit of mine is one I’ve attempted to fend off since high school. I’ve scoured the internet multiple times for ways to stop procrastinating, and I always get the same answers. Block all your social media sites! Try the Pomodoro Technique! Put away your gadgets!
But you see, I’ve already tried all of those. And none of them worked.
Obviously, I’m lying. They worked for a while. I blocked all the social media sites on my laptop, but I accessed them on my phone anyway. I tried the Pomodoro Technique, but my break lasted thrice as long as my 25-minute session. I tried putting away my phone, but realized that if I do, what on Earth would I use as a timer for my Pomodoro sessions?
You see, the problem with these “solutions” is that they hardly ever address the procrastination directly. They’re aimed at clearing oneself of the distractions (or shall I say enablers of procrastination), which works for some people. But it doesn’t really work for everyone because those material distractions aren’t the root causes of procrastination. According to a renowned researcher on the subject of procrastination, AKA me, procrastinators will always find new ways to put off their work if they really don’t want to do it. For instance, you could put me in an empty room with nothing but a typewriter, and I’d suddenly stare at the ceiling and find it to be the most interesting thing in the world.
You can only imagine my surprise then, at the irony of finding the solution to procrastination whilst procrastinating. I was on one of my usual procrastination marathons when I came across a YouTube video detailing how to get over procrastination in six steps. I’ve watched many a getting-over-procrastination video before, but none of them broke the process down into steps. So being the curious skeptic I am, I clicked on it. I got the solution on the first step, and it was something I would never, ever have expected.
According to the video, the first step to avoiding procrastination is to forgive yourself.
When I first heard this, I was confused. I didn’t think that procrastination was at all related to introspection. But when Thomas Frank started explaining that researchers have proven this to be effective, it started to make more sense. Of course procrastination would be related to the self. If tangible distractions like gadgets or food weren’t the root causes of procrastination, then it had to be the people themselves.
The more I mulled it over, the more logical it sounded. If I catch myself on my phone instead of doing homework, I can put down my phone and tell myself it’s alright. This way, I become more conscious of the bad habit, and by forgiving myself I become more aware that it’s done out of habit and not necessarily out of volition. Forgiving yourself instead of trying to eradicate a bad habit right away makes you more aware of why you indulge in these habits in the first place—it evokes cognizance. By forgiving yourself, you deliberately take the time to pause and acknowledge your bad habit and why you shouldn’t be doing it. I personally find that even saying “it’s all good” out loud makes me feel more energized to actually take on a task.
Forgiving yourself is like a subtle reinforcement to get your shit done.
I genuinely believe that there is no inherently bad habit, because it only becomes bad if it’s done over and over and over. Forgiving yourself poses a healthier relationship with the things that give you pleasure but aren’t necessarily good for you. It helps you strike the tricky balance between indulgence and resistance. And what I’ve learned is that the balance often relies on your ability to forgive yourself for something you don’t even realize you’re doing.
If your pet snake bites you and you slap her away and lock her in her cage, won’t she be more spiteful toward you the next time you take her out? Won’t she bite harder? What if all you had to do was acknowledge the venom, then tell her not to do it again? What if you just needed to be gentle, be tender?
Maybe then she won’t bite when you want to play next time.
By Ticia Almazan