How to write (when you really don’t want to)

Reading time: Less than 3 minutes

Do you want to learn how to cure procrastination? Try lying to yourself…

I used to hate writing. Twenty years ago, if you’d told me that I could tell myself a simple lie and — suddenly, magically — it would make writing easier and more pleasant, I would have leapt at the chance.

I no longer feel that way about writing but I have lots of other things I loathe doing. Hated job number 1 has always been my bookkeeping, even though I have a professional bookkeeper. (The part I hate is the tedious, boring job of rounding up all the receipts — especially, tracking down the missing ones.)

But this year, I finished the job in a flash, easy peasy, and submitted all my stuff to him by Jan. 22. Yes, my income taxes are already done! I’m amazed and my bookkeeper is thoroughly gobsmacked. How did I do it?

It was the lie.

As I tracked down those hated receipts I kept telling myself, “I LOVE doing this.” I didn’t of course. But I quickly found out that the task wasn’t nearly as horrible as I’d feared.

I found the suggestion of saying “I LOVE doing this” to myself on another blog (apologies that I didn’t make a note of the URL) and it intrigued me. I spoke with my husband and one of my daughters about it and they were both deeply skeptical. “How could that ever work?” they challenged. “If you know you hate doing something, it’s not as if you’re going to fool yourself.”

But I did. And if you’re a person who hates writing, here are five reasons why I think it might work for you, too:

1. Even hated tasks are almost never as bad as we fear

I learned this many years ago when my family had to go through a series of rabies shots because we’d been exposed to a bat. This involved an initial immunization with gamma globulin and then regular shots thereafter, for six weeks or so. My son, who was about 5, went CRAZY every time. He wrestled and cried and shook his head, begging us not to let this happen. We felt we had no choice (rabies is fatal) and when the shot was done, he was fine. It was the anticipation of the shot that he dreaded.

When I used to hate writing, I felt a similar anticipatory dread. I imagined how difficult and boring and tedious the work was going to be. I remembered sitting and staring at a blank screen — the worst feeling in the world — and rejected the idea of having to go through all that pain again. Of course I always forgot that as soon as I had a rough draft, I inevitably enjoyed editing.

2. Life is always better if we have a positive attitude

Convincing yourself that your glass is half-full rather than half-empty will not only reduce your stress, it can also have life-long implications for your health. According to the Mayo Clinic  positive thinking can:

  • Increase our life span
  • Lower rates of depression
  • Lower levels of distress
  • Give greater resistance to the common cold
  • Improve psychological and physical well-being
  • Reduce risk of death from cardiovascular disease
  • Improve coping skills during hardships

3. Loving a task creates a self-sustaining positive cycle

If you can convince yourself that you LOVE a task (even if you really don’t) you’re likely to finish it faster and with less stress. This will make you feel better about yourself and better about the same task in the future. I know, for example, that the next time I need to work on my books I’m going to remember how easily it went this January. This means I’ll be less likely to procrastinate. Remember: self-sustaining cycles can be either positive or negative. Don’t get caught in the wrong loop! If there’s a task you need to do regularly, why would you want it to catch even a whiff of negativity?

4. Negative thinking narrows your focus while positive thinking expands it

If you reflect only on how much you hate doing a task, you cause your brain to constrict or narrow. Conversely, if you think about how much you enjoy doing something, you’re more likely to become open and expansive — enhancing your creativity. This is the conclusion of American researcher and psychologist Barbara Fredrickson who has become famous for her broaden-and-build theory. As I read about her premise, I couldn’t help but be reminded of mindmapping, where the entire objective is to be open-minded and receptive.

5. Saying we LOVE doing something acknowledges a greater truth

Sure, writing (or, in my case, working on my books) may not be a favourite task. But I bet if you really think about it, you can identify something you like even less. What about moving bricks? Scrubbing toilets? Being screamed at by a bullying and unhinged boss (as I not infrequently was, when I worked in a newsroom). Even if you don’t LOVE writing as much as eating chocolate gelato or reading a juicy novel, isn’t it better than doing something you dislike even more?

Telling your Aunt Connie that her ugly dress looks pretty or suggesting to Uncle Jack you have no idea why he’s gained 45 pounds are both white lies we tell to grease the wheels of family dynamics. I’d put the white lie that you LOVE writing in exactly the same category. It will make you feel better. It will make you feel like writing. And you’ll get the whole job done faster and more easily.

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I’m looking for readers who’ve started using mindmapping to help with their writing and have found it’s made a huge difference. If this describes you and you’re willing to spend 15 minutes being interviewed, please email me: <daphne at publication coach dot com>.

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Do you think you might be able to learn how to cure procrastination with the “I LOVE doing this” approach? We can all help each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Feb. 29/16 will be put in a draw for a copy of the memoir What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.