I procrastinate when I write. I have several projects I am currently working on (or should be working on) but at times I find it really difficult to sit down to actually write. Often it is far easier to find something else to do or simply just put it off.
Part of me thinks my propensity to procrastinate is laziness. That is, my procrastination is a moral failing. This is shame talking of course and feels like a very shallow interpretation of what is really going on.
Part of me thinks my propensity to procrastinate is fear based. That is, I have a subconscious fear of accomplishment or success and this fear undermines my will to actually sit down and do the work.
Then again, perhaps the fear and the shame work hand in hand. My shame makes me think I do not deserve success. As such, I fear the punishment I will receive upon achieving success. Therefore I sabotage my efforts to work so that I do not have to face this eventuality. The problem with this line of thinking is that I will feel ashamed for not writing as well. So by not achieving for fear of experiencing shame upon achieving I end up feeling shame for not working. Why is one shame based fear more scary than the other?
Perhaps then it comes back to laziness. It is easier to experience the shame of non achievement than it is to experience the shame of achieving simply because achieving requires work and not achieving does not.
Part of me does not believe these reasons (laziness, fear or the combination of the two) is the correct answer. Perhaps the answer is that I simply do not want to sit down and write. I do not enjoy the experience and so therefore I avoid doing it. But at the same time there is definitely a part of me that wants to write or at least feels like I should be writing. This might be shame talking. That is, shame convinces me that I should be performing tasks I do not want to perform and then makes me feel ashamed for not performing these tasks. The counter argument is that I have had wonderful experiences writing in the past. When I am in the “flow state” and the ideas come easily it feels physically good. I also enjoy the satisfaction of creating a finished product and receiving positive feedback. Actually any feedback is enjoyable but positive feedback is especially enjoyable.
Of course the enjoyment of feedback is ego driven. This is another shame based drive but not necessarily related to procrastination. It is really the flip side of the shame driven side of procrastination.
Perhaps I like the flow states but realize they do not happen that often. As such I figure the effort of writing is more likely to not be enjoyable so I tend to avoid it. Maybe this is the same thing a laziness only a little more complicated than it seems at first glance.
I recently listened to a podcast by James Altucher where he interviewed Ted Leonsis (former president of AOL and current owner of several Washington DC professional sports franchises) who talked about his six secrets to achieving happiness and success. The first secret is to actively participate in multiple groups of interest. That is, a happy and successful person must be a contributing member of more than one organization involved with activities the person is actually interested in. Second, a happy and successful person makes an effort to listen to others and also experiences regular opportunities for self-expression where other people are listening. Third, a happy and successful person has empathy for others. Fourth, a happy and successful person gets out of the “I” and into the “we”. By this, I take Leonsis to mean that a happy and successful person is not looking for opportunities for self-aggrandizement and is motivated to be a team player. Fifth, a happy and successful person finds a higher calling in all pursuits. That is, his pursuits are motivated by goals that benefit the greater good and not just the bottom line. And sixth, a happy and successful person creates situations that give rise to a “double bottom line” (i.e., multiple beneficial outcomes).
I found the interview inspiring and I highly recommend giving it a listen. But while I was listening I kept thinking that shame actively works to undermine each one of these secrets to success and happiness. First, shame does not like to participating groups because shame feels judged by other people, jealous of other people’s success and ashamed of its own failures. Shame perceives the success of others as a personal failure in comparison. Group situations tend to exacerbate these feelings and as a result shame will avoid them. Even when shame operates within a group setting and receives acceptance the high is really high and then shame tends to sabotage it and turn it into something bad. Shame then becomes suspicious of success and avoids it (or becomes incapable of embracing success) when it arrives. Second, shame does not want to listen to others because it finds others annoying or it becomes jealous and ashamed when listening to other people’s success. Furthermore, shame is afraid to put itself out there and express itself because it is afraid of judgment and criticism. Third, shame does not have empathy for others or itself. Fourth, shame is dominated by the “I” both in desperately trying to look good in the eyes of others and in criticizing the self to appease others (in order to look good in the eyes of others). Fifth, shame has no higher calling but to look good in the eyes of others. Sixth, shame never gets to be in a position of creating situations that give rise to a double bottom line because shame undermines its endeavors in the manner already described.
The bottom line I take from this is to be happy and successful a person must overcome shame at all costs.
The desire for fame for the sake of fame seems to me to be motivated by shame. We all want to be loved. The shame ego wants to be loved as well but it also believes that if other people knew the real “it”, they would reject it. So it forgets about the things that make it lovable and the things it loves and only focuses on trying to get other people to love it through deception (because truth will not work). When they do not love it (perhaps because they sense it is being fake) it hates them for it.
In third grade auditioned for a part in the play Hansel and Gretel. I pictured myself on stage entertaining people and receiving applause. After the audition I found out I had been assigned the role of background tree. I had no lines and stood in the background during one scene of the play. I was devastated. I could not understand why the teachers assigning the roles did not recognize my talents. I was used to being picked last for the kickball teams at recess and being assigned to the outfield in Little League baseball. But that was sports. This was something creative, the area in which I thought I excelled. The night I received my role I cried myself to sleep.
I have consistently acted in life that if I played by the rules, worked hard and denied myself eventually I would be rewarded. The world would love me some day. So far I have pretty much been a background tree. That is all I will ever be if I wait for the world to reward me for “paying my dues.”
At the same time there is the sense that if I do not achieve success in life that my life will be a failure and I will be humiliated. But if I unpack the idea of success it has less to do with achieving something specific and more to do with achieving the notoriety that comes with achieving something specific. It has to do with achieving fame and the approval of others. This is my shame ego’s prime motivation.
With acting, it should be for the love of acting and not the desire for fame. Even when I write this blog I find myself really motivated by the number of hits I get. But is that so wrong? It seems misplaced. To write the best blog it seems to me the focus should be on the writing and not on the reaction to the writing. Or maybe it is okay for there to be a little of both motivations.
I am in the process of finishing a book I hope to e-publish in the near future. I find myself struggling with the idea that I need to accomplish something (like publishing a book) because it will then validate my life in some way. I picture myself being interviewed, having a new source of income and reading the reviews. But then I think about society collapsing soon after, making wealth and fame irrelevant. Is it selfish to want these things? My shame ego definitely wants to convince me of this. It also wants me to feel foolish for even thinking it is possible. I was born to be a background tree after all.