Vanquish Your No’s, Overcome Procrastination, Own Your Process

By Jude Walsh

Many creatives struggle with procrastination, sometimes to the point where we never actually start our work, much less finish it. When we procrastinate, what we are really doing is telling ourselves “no.”  Let’s look at what saying no means with regard to creating with purpose and ease. We’ll deconstruct some no’s and offer a strategy or two to vanquish them.

Have you ever had a great idea and you immediately write down the heart of it, thinking Oh I can’t wait to flesh this out? Then weeks later the idea is still nagging at you but now the nag is layered with guilt about why you haven’t done something with it? This is a fear of beginning.

Or, you have the most smashing idea for a novel and in a burst of energy you outline the plot and over the next few days write three or four kick ass scenes and then … nothing. Suddenly there are a million other things that you think need to be done and take priority when actually you have hit a wall with the writing but don’t want to admit it. This is fear of completion.

Or have you ever read a call for submissions and thought, “That’s perfect for me, it is exactly what I need to advance my practice right now!” The submission closing date is weeks out at the time but now it is three days before submissions close and you have not done one thing? Ouch. This is fear of rejection.

In each of these scenarios you are procrastinating by telling yourself no about moving forward. I propose that by examining no a bit more closely, and ferreting out what the consequences, and possible benefits, of the no are, you can move past them and return to a productive mindset and practice.

In the first, you are saying no before you start; if you never start, nothing can be produced. In the second, you are saying no to completion, denying yourself the satisfaction of a finished project. In the last, you are avoiding rejection.

In all three of these cases, the procrastination is sheltering you from putting your work into the world. Why would we say no to ourselves in this way? Why would we not want our work in the world, making a difference? While all artists create from the heart and soul, our mind can wreak havoc on our ego. What will people think? What if I am not the artist or writer I think I am? What if my submission is rejected? What if my work is just ignored?

What does telling ourselves no do for us? What is the underlying value? If we never write, no one will ever read it and no one will ever find fault with it. It will remain this terrific idea, full of potential to tap at a later time. If we never finish the novel or the painting, it remains in the world of possible, just momentarily shelved. All these no’s protect us from judgment and rejection; the benefit is that we are “safe.”

If we follow the no all the way through, though, safe does not feel so good. We deny ourselves the potential pleasure of having our efforts warmly received. We deny ourselves feedback that may advance us as artists. We deny ourselves the pleasure of bravely putting our work out there and knowing we have done our best and that it is indeed enough.

Use these questions to examine your procrastination and unpack how saying no is helping or hindering.

1. What will happen if I don’t complete this project? What will I lose? What will I gain?

2. What will happen if I do complete this project? What is the best outcome? What is the worst?

3. How can I switch from a no mindset to a yes mindset, thus getting my work into the world?

Let’s use avoiding submission as an example.

1. If I do not get this in on time I will have missed the opportunity to be considered. If I do not submit then I do not have to face the fear of rejection, and the anxiety of waiting for a response.

2. If I do submit the obvious best outcome is acceptance, success. But then there is the shadow side of success, that the work will be seen and judged. Or perhaps the rejection will be so discouraging I might stop work altogether.

3. If I do not submit, then I am guaranteed a no. If I do get a rejection that does not mean my work is not of value, it may just mean this is not the right place for it. If the rejection comes with critique I will have the opportunity to improve the work and submit again. Rejection is part of living a creative life. These thoughts help loosen the ego’s grip on outcome and open the possibility of acceptance.

In addition to looking at how telling yourself no is stopping your productivity and then reframing that, try this, stating the concern and then turning it around to a positive affirmation.

For example: This journal has a ridiculously low acceptance rate. My writing will not make the cut so why bother. Turn it around to: I am a good writer and I believe in my work. I am saying yes to this opportunity and I embrace whatever the outcome is. I will either rejoice and be delighted or I will learn from the experience and get accepted next time. Either way I am moving my work forward.

Taking time to examine how saying no to your own work helps or hinders you and then creating an affirmation to bolster your courage, will loosen the grip of procrastination.

I use this practice in 1-1 coaching sessions with my clients and also when I procrastinate. While writing this article I reminded myself that this practice has been enormously successful and part of my creative citizenship is to share what works. If you’d like some help implementing this, please visit me at my website and schedule a chat. Turn those no’s into yesses!

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