How to stop procrastinating and write: with this easy, 1 minute exercise you can overcome procrastination, stop struggling to start writing, and finally just start writing without stopping.
It’s like carrying a goat on your shoulders. Have you ever seen someone sling a full-grown goat over their shoulders?
(Maybe not, but let’s use our imaginations here.)
It weighs them down and pushes their head toward the ground and makes them generally wish it weren’t there.
That’s how I think of big projects I’m procrastinating on. Everything’s going dandy and then—bam—I remember I have to write something big tomorrow or finally face editing a tricky section of a proposal. It’s a bummer. Not because I don’t like the work of writing and editing (I love it), but because the anticipation makes me anxious, and every time I wonder if I’ll be able to actually do that writing and editing and do it well.
Instead, I’m tempted to distract myself with the easy stuff: emails, phone calls, contracts, and whatever else is less intimidating. And that goat of a project keeps weighing me down subconsciously, bleating to be done and generally stressing me out with how difficult it seems.
All procrastination is fear
Steven Pressfield calls this burden “resistance” in The War of Art. It’s resistance to start the difficult work. Elizabeth Gilbert said “All procrastination is fear” in Big Magic, and I don’t think I’ve ever underlined a sentence in a book so many times. We’ve all felt it, and every writer I’ve ever worked with has struggled with it at one time or another.
But what are we really afraid of? I’ve heard every fear you can think of from writers and bloggers, and here’s just a little sampling from the cornucopia:
Fear of not being able to stay focused. Fear of giving up and escaping to something easy instead. Fear of never finishing that book. Fear of it not selling. Fear of no one caring. Fear of having lost the magic that allowed us to write last time. Fear of being untalented. (But talent is a myth, and here’s why.)
Essentially, fear of it being hard—really, really hard.
But over the years, I’ve learned a few techniques from my authors and from plain ol’ trial and error that has taken the wind out of my procrastination sails. Now, I feel anxious if I procrastinate at all, and I try to do the hardest things first thing in the morning, when I can.
How can we stop procrastinating and finally write?
The key is realizing this: procrastination is not real. All those thoughts that race through our minds when we’re trying to wheedle our way out of writing are just thoughts. They are not reality. They are not who we are. They are not what’s happening in this moment now.
They are a story we are telling ourselves, a story no one can hear but us. And the way to hear, understand, and edit the stories we tell ourselves, just as we do with a piece of writing, is to practice mindfulness.
I think of mindfulness and writing as two sides of the same coin: one helps us fully live our own story from moment to moment, the other helps us live the stories of others. Both require a good amount of focus; both build compassion and empathy; both are a practice; both can kick your butt they are so hard.
Luckily, I work with authors who are much wiser than me, and so I wanted to share with you today a 1-minute practice I learned recently from my author, Jillian Pransky, which can help writers breathe through the fear and keep working on their manuscripts and books.
Jillian shares a remarkable program in her book, Deep Listening, which is just out from Rodale, called the Calm Body, Clear Mind, Open Heart program. She’s taught it all over the world for over 25 years, and you should see the devotion her students have for her. Her work is soaked in the magic of life-changingness—that light people get when they’re talking about something that changed a deep part of them.
The book is full of stories, reflections, practices, prompts, and mini-resets that are perfect for yogis but would also help any writer feel a little more brave and a little less anxious about their writing. But here’s one easy practice that I think will especially help writers overcome procrastination and the fear that whispers behind it.
This practice takes just 1 minute, and you can use it when you’re about to sit down to work or in moments where you feel resistance and procrastination rising. Go ahead and give it a try now! Read it through once, then close your eyes, do the practice, and see how you feel after.
A 1-minute exercise to help you stop procrastinating and start writing
Excerpted from Deep Listening by Jillian Pransky.
Instant Pause and Reset: Label and Let It Be
Pause to instantly reset your attention several times a day. Take a moment to notice the activity in your mind and body. Notice if you are “somewhere else,” doing “something else.” And draw yourself back into the present.
- Pause and sense where your body meets the ground. Soften excess squinting and gripping in your face, neck, and shoulders. Let yourself land completely.
- Notice what is going on in your mind and body right now. Label whatever you find…are you planning, worrying, sleepy, sad, happy. Maybe your body is achy, tight, or energized. It doesn’t matter what you find, you are just taking a moment to notice how you are and to label it and let it be.
- Kindly bring your attention to your next three breaths and mentally chant for the length of your inhale, “I am” and for the duration of your exhale, “here now.” I am, here now.
- Pause at the end of your third breath and notice your body and how you are meeting support. Open your awareness fully to the immediate space around you.
- Welcome yourself into the moment just as you are. Slowly continue into your next activity.
Whew. I hope that helped you relax and face your writing with less tension and anxiety.
How to stick with it and stop procrastinating for good
If you found this exercise helpful, try bookmarking this page with a catchy tag like “Do this before writing.” I can’t ever seem to implement new practices unless I have them front-and-center with a “do this when/if/before” type of tag, and my computer is littered with documents like “Start here before writing a post” “Check this before submitting a proposal” etc.
So, in case your brain is as porous and forgetful as mine us, tuck this practice someplace safe and visible so you have a refuge next time the urge to procrastinate rises. And I hope it’ll help you put down that heavy goat of fear and procrastination so you can walk tall into the work that matters.
And if you want to learn more about Jillian’s practices, read more about Deep Listening:
“World-renowned restorative yoga teacher Jillian Pransky came to the practice of yoga to heal herself. For much of her life, she subscribed to a relentless work hard/play hard mentality, burying parts of herself beneath the pursuit of busy-ness and accomplishment. It wasn’t until a devastating personal loss and health crisis thrust her into suffocating anxiety that she stopped racing around. As she began to pause and examine her actions and emotions, she found herself able to unlock deeply seated tension in her mind and body. Since then, Pransky has been devoted to studying and teaching mindfulness practices, deep relaxation, and compassionate listening.
In Deep Listening, Pransky presents her signature Calm Body, Clear Mind, Open Heart program―a 10-step journey of self-exploration that she’s taught around the world. Derived from the techniques that healed her, the practice of Deep Listening invites you to pay close attention to your body, mind, and heart. You’re taught how to tune inward and relax into a state of openness, ease, and clarity. This is the new frontier in integrative wellness―mindfulness designed for healing.
Pransky doesn’t ask you to ‘be your best self,’ or ‘do more!’ She asks you to ‘be here’ and ‘do less.’ She guides you gently through the stages of Deep Listening, from being present and noticing your tension to welcoming what you discover with softness and compassion. She integrates tools like guided meditations, journaling prompts, and restorative yoga poses to help you regard yourself with kindness and curiosity. Immersing yourself in the practice of Deep Listening will allow you to nurture your own well-being.”
To find more practices for relaxation and centering, order a copy of Deep Listening on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or from your favorite local bookstore!
Class I’m Excited About This Week
Guys, Food Blogger Pro is open again! I know a lot of you signed up during the last enrollment period, and I hope you’ve been enjoying all the class material and videos as much as I’ve been.
In case you’re not familiar with Food Blogger Pro, it is one of only two classes I’ll recommend for bloggers. It’s, by far, the best way to learn how to start and grow a blog, even if you blog about things other than food. I feel so strongly about it for a few reasons:
- Lindsay and Bjork of Pinch of Yum are at the top of the blogging world, and they make as much as $30,000+ per month on their blog, with millions of page views per month. Because I work in publishing, I’m always highly skeptical of people who tout themselves as experts but don’t have the numbers to prove it. But I also think when you find someone who is clearly one of the best and is willing to teach you everything they know, you have to jump on it. I did–I’ve been a member of FBP for 3+ months, and I feel so much better about blogging knowing I have the huge FBP archive and community at my fingertips. It’s been so much more fun to blog now that I feel less in the dark about how to do it!
- I actually think it’s a ridiculously good deal. I work with or know a lot of experts who sell their Everything-I-Know classes for hundreds or even thousands of dollars, so at $29 a month, FBP feels like a steal. (I mean, I spend more on dog treats for Pepper. And my ROI is a big fat zero on those.)
- A lot of the very best bloggers, who have now become bestselling authors, went through Food Blogger Pro. It’s a class and community that I admire because it shows you how to build a site and spread your work with integrity–after all, you don’t want to learn how to grow a blog from the shouty, annoying types on the internet. To me, FBP provides a clear North Star-like guide to making this blog better for you all, instead of forcing me to sift through weird or flash-in-the-pan advice that pops up on Pinterest or Google.
But enough from me, you can read more about the class and sign up for Food Blogger Pro here! And if it feels like a fit for you, you can use my promo code to get 10% off a yearly membership or $3 off the monthly membership.
(If you do decide to try FBP, would you consider using the links above? It provides a small commission to fund the hours of work we put into c&b. Hope to see you inside Food Blogger Pro–if you join, say hi!)
What I’m Reading This Week
5-Minute Meditation With Mindfulness Expert Jillian Pransky (Forbes): If you’d like to go deeper right now, try this beautiful 5-minute video meditation with Jillian. It’s the instant breath of fresh air your mind needs!
How Information Overload Robs Us of Our Creativity: What the Scientific Research Shows (Josh Jones on Open Culture): Scientific proof that we need to wash and wring out our brains every once in awhile if we’re going to be creative.
The 6 Things Always on Your Writer’s To-Do List (Rachel Geisel): “As writers, we write and we read. And at a basic level, this is all you really need. But you don’t have to be writing 24/7 to be involved in your writing life, and you shouldn’t try to.”
The Angsty Relationships Between Writing and Sales (Andi Cumbo-Floyd on JaneFriedman.com): “…it’s really okay to promote your own work, even if people tell you it’s not. You are proud of what you write, teach, provide. Put it out in the world. Let your flowers rise up toward the sun.” Amen.
Radhika Jones, Vanity Fair’s Surprise Choice, Is Ready to Go (Sydney Ember for The New York Times): And in industry moves, the Editorial Director of the books department at the Times is heading over to Vanity Fair.
What We’re Eating This Week
Because last week was such a garbage fire of busy, this week I’m trying this new thing called eat like a normal person and actually cook at home, you lazy sack. The Yelp reviews for dinner at our house this week would be a solid 4 stars–we’re not the best, but hey, we could be worse.
Sunday: Ropa Vieja, made from a recipe given to us by a friend from an old Cuban cookbook. This alone dragged our dinner table Yelp rating up by at least 1/2 a star.
Monday: “We’re trying to be healthy”: a phrase I say dozens of times per week, usually while eating salad bathed in ranch dressing and feeling delusionally virtuous. We made the Teriyaki Chicken Cauliflower Bowls from SkinnyTaste: Fast and Slow, and they were a huge hit, maybe because I added wasabi mayo dressing, extra teriyaki sauce, and 2 glasses of wine as a side to the recipe. But hey, the book still says 236 calories per serving, so I’m going with that.
Tuesday: Glorious, cheesy pasta: Brussels Sprouts and Three-Cheese Pasta Bake from Smitten Kitchen Every Day. Because we were healthy yesterday, you know?
Wednesday: My lovely author Robyn’s White Chicken Chili recipe, which I’m doggedly trying to teach Jarrett to make and he’s doggedly flattering that “I make it best.” Stand-off continues; war looms.
Thursday: I’m running two book auctions this week, so Thursday will be beautiful, effortless takeout. Pizza or Chinese? That’s the only decision my brain can handle after the frenzy of an auction.
Friday: The most basic ground beef tacos, because hey, we’re a 4 star joint, not a 5-star one. Deal with it.