No doubt you’ve berated yourself for procrastinating at some point in your life. Or you’ve questioned your will power, discipline or desire to write because you procrastinate.
The truth is, if you didn’t have will power, discipline and a powerful desire to write, you wouldn’t procrastinate, you would have given up years ago. People who don’t care about writing, never procrastinate about writing — they just don’t write.
The Neurological Perspective on Procrastination
In an article in Wired UK, noted neurologist David Eagleman writes:
“Consider this lab experiment: if you put both food and an electric shock at the end of a pathway, a rat will pause a certain distance from the end. It begins to approach but withdraws when it receives a shock; it begins to withdraw but finds the courage to approach again; and so on. It oscillates, conflicted. If the rat is connected to a Newton meter, you can measure the force with which it advances towards the food and retreats from the electric shock. The rat pauses at the point where the two forces are equal, where the push matches the pull.”
Your cortex is “hungry” to write, so you move toward the act of writing. When you approach writing, you remember pain associated with writing in the past, get anxious and your limbic system moves you away. Even experiences you can’t consciously recall can trigger anxiety.
When you move away, the anxiety drops, your limbic system releases control to your cortex and you think about writing again. But the closer you get to writing, the more anxiety you feel, so you pull back again. This is the push-pull of procrastination.
Even though it had nothing to do with the decision to step away from writing, your cortex tries to explain why you aren’t doing what you said you were going to do, and you come up with some story about how something else needed to happen first.
Sometimes your cortex notices, “Oh, I’m procrastinating. I better stop that and get down to business.” As if the cortex had a choice in the matter!
Your procrastination is proof of your desire to write and your courage to keep trying.
All you have to do is find a way to another “pathway to the food” — a way to approach writing without getting shocked or anxious about the possibility of being shocked.
How do you do that? Find out in my next post.