Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

My Go-to List of Excuses: Part 1

One of the ideas I have encountered in my forays in the self-help realm is that we can facilitate change by becoming more aware of how our thoughts support our dysfunctional habits.  To that end, I have spent some time identifying the reasons I give myself for not wading in to the work I believe I want to do.  These are near the top of the pile:

1. I’ll get to this when I’ve finished my dissertation.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should confess that the deadline for this project passed over ten years ago (See "Today's To Do List")--but that hasn't stopped me from the knee-jerk use of this expired concern.  Emotionally, I guess, it stands in for all the dead wood and other detritus that clogs my mental pathways.  It could be time to retire this one.

2. My kids/husband/dog/friends/paying job/[insert appropriate person or persons or obligation more important to me than me] come[s] first.

Naturally.  But does every aspect of my relationships with these entities need to be addressed before I can proceed?  Must all of their needs and requirements be met to their, or even my satisfaction as a prerequisite for getting down to my own work?  In all honesty, probably not.

3. I will be much better able to focus on my creative work when I’ve cleaned/remodeled/fumigated/replaced my house.

Since energy and finances are pretty limited, my standards rather high, and my housemates (all three human ones and one canine one) male, somewhat destructive, and possessed of a haphazard sense of the aesthetic, I'm pretty much covered here.  I will almost certainly never have what would feel to me like a conducive setting for productive work.  Perhaps I should consider jettisoning this condition.

4. I got too late a start today. Tomorrow will be a better day to work.

This quasi-rational rationale works on any day that I don't get up with the sun, and/or have an early meeting or other commitment, and/or encounter some unanticipated household crisis.  (Read, most days.)  Tomorrow will seldom bring better circumstances.  In really bad patches, I often feel that I've gotten too late a start in this life.  So, if I am not to give up altogether, I just may need to stop "going-to" this justification so frequently.

5. It’s all been said before.

This is arguably true since the Ecclesiastes was penned.  It did not, however, stop Jane Austen, George Eliot, Virginia Woolf, or the uber-prolific Danielle Steel.  And in any case, "it" hasn't been said by me.

6. It’s all been said better before.

No doubt about it.  This scruple is clearly the work of the dreaded internal editor I've read so much about, who would protect me from writing poorly by protecting me from writing--period.  Maybe not such a friendly force after all.

7. My work won’t save the world, or anyone in it.

I have for a long time (since before I read the work in question, even) identified strongly with Anna in Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook, whose communist sympathies deterred her writing as not useful.   From my current perspective, I'm beginning to question this perhaps over-rigorous criterion.  It could just be that my voice merits using for its own/my own sake.  And who knows what other good its ungagging might do, or for whom?

8. I just need to finish this level of Mahjong Connect.

--Especially if I categorize this exceedingly challenging time-waster as "relaxation," of which I am in need and to which I am clearly entitled.  However, I am starting to feel not-so-relaxed at the end of hours inadvertently sucked up into this computer-age vortex.  Maybe I could find another use for my laptop?

9. I’m not in a creative mood.

This excuse is good for a considerable portion of the time I could steal for my own work.  It is losing a bit of its potency, however, as I gain more and more incontrovertible evidence of my ability to create without "feeling like it."  I may be outgrowing this "old reliable."

10. I’m too upset about my finances/the fight I just had with my husband/my children’s problems/the war in Iraq/[insert appropriate disaster or pending disaster] to concentrate.

Depending on where I set the bar with this one, it could ultimately come to preclude all forward movement.  It is just possible that this would not be in my best interests.

This exercise has helped me listen to the things I say to "get myself off the hook," which hobble my strides.  Unfortunately, I got up too late in this messy house full of upsetting cohabitants and incompleted scholarly papers (and during a recession, no less) to have anything new or worthwhile or earth-shattering to say about it.  And besides, I'm not in the mood.

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