Need to stop Procrastinating? Lower Your Standards!

Isn’t it amazing, all of the ways that we can find to avoid our work?

Today, during the hours I’d set aside for writing, I managed instead to make a chicken stew, scour my kitchen floor, re-organize the downstairs file cabinet…  When I finally dragged myself to the computer, there were five or ten very important emails. Then, I had to schedule my daughter’s dentist appointment, help my other daughter with her Psychology paper, update my website, OH, and write this blog!  And HEY–would you look at those great vacation cottage deals on the Cape…?

If you’re a writer, this way of spending a morning probably sounds pretty familiar. Resistance takes many forms, including sudden compulsive cleanliness, a desperate need to cook, myriad physical ailments, extreme exhaustion, uncontrollable bouts of Internet shopping. All of these things, when faced with a specific time to write, can feel so much more necessary and approachable than writing.

I hear from so many of my workshop students the same lament: “I can’t get myself to buckle down!”  They complain about laziness, but laziness, in my experience, is usually really a cover for something deeper—something called terror.  Something called internal judgment.

There is a direct relationship between procrastination and expectations that are too-high.  If you’re suffering from a case of never getting to your work, the root cause is most likely too much self-criticism. William Stafford’s advice to his own students in these circumstances was to “lower your standards, and keep going…”

It takes a ton of courage to let your shitty first drafts be just that.  Today, try lowering your standards. Try giving yourself the assignment of writing the worst possible drivel in the world, and lots of it. If the assignment is simply to show up, the task suddenly feels a whole lot more approachable.

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