Having studied procrastination for over 25 years, it’s not surprising that I’ve learned the lyrics to the procrastinator’s song: “I don’t want to . , , I don’t feel like it…I’ll feel more like it tomorrow.” I have always wanted to write a book with these lyrics as the title. Unfortunately for me, but fortunately for interested readers, the book already exists. It’s worth a read.
Cheri Huber and Ashwini Narayanan published I Don’t Want To, I Don’t Feel Like It: How resistance controls your life and what to do about it (2013, Keep It Simple Books). Their focus is broader than my own interest in procrastination, but they speak directly to the issue that is at the heart of our needless delay: resistance.
Resistance takes many forms, which these authors address, but fundamentally it is captured by “I don’t feel like it.” You may not feel like it because you’re telling yourself you’ll never succeed. You may not feel like it because it takes too much effort. You may not feel like it because you’re afraid of failing or have a deep sense of resentment. There are truly countless manifestations of resistance.
In their book, Huber and Narayanan address resistance through Zen awareness practice. This won’t be surprising if you’re familiar with Cheri Huber’s work because she has numerous other books on awareness practice that have been developed from over 30 years of Zen practice, much of that in the Zen Monastery Peace Center, which she founded.
Given that you can read the book to learn more about Zen awareness, my focus for this post addresses resistance from another mindfulness-based perspective captured by the acronym RAIN. The acronym stands for:
- Non-identification or nurture with self-compassion
You can certainly do a deep dive into learning about this important practice by exploring Tara Brach’s work. Given my interest in procrastination, I will narrow my focus even a little more by providing an example of how this practice can work to overcome resistance and the needless delay that may result.
Why We Procrastinate and What Rain Has to Offer
When we face a task associated with negative thoughts and emotions such as boredom, frustration, resentment, anxiety, or even fear, we first have to recognize that we’re actually experiencing these thoughts and emotions. So often in life, we remain quite unconscious of our feelings. We don’t recognize them; we simply, and quite instinctually, move away from the task to escape the negative feelings or thoughts they evoke. This is the strong habit that we call procrastination. So, the very first step in RAIN is to recognize what it is we’re thinking and feeling in relation to the task.
It’s key to understand that procrastination is an emotion-focused coping strategy. We use avoidance to cope with negative emotions. In this case, avoid the task, avoid the negative task-related feelings…at least in the short term. However, with RAIN, instead of immediately moving away from the task and related feelings, we need to simply allow them. This step will feel counter-intuitive given that most of us have developed a habit of task avoidance in order to avoid negative thoughts and emotions. However, we need to feel these emotions and let the thoughts stay with us, just as they are. We need to acknowledge that we are thinking these thoughts or having these feelings.
Of course, it can sometimes feel a little overwhelming to do this, so meditation teachers will encourage students to embrace a phrase such as “It’s ok to feel this way” to enable us to allow the thoughts and emotions. It is human nature, our common humanity, to have negative thoughts and feelings, but they are only fleeting thoughts and emotions. Recognize and allow them. Feel them in your body.
The next step in RAIN, the “I,” is to investigate these thoughts and feelings. Ask yourself, “What am I believing about this task or about me at the moment?” “Why do I feel vulnerable in the face of this task?” As with all mindfulness practices, it’s important that you do this in a non-judgmental way, treating yourself with compassion. In this investigation, you’re being curious about what you’re thinking and feeling, curious about the task and your relation to it.
The final letter, the “N” in RAIN, has two prominent references or interpretations. The first is non-identification, Parker Palmer captures this best in the wonderful phrase, “I can have fear. I need not be this fear.”
Given that we have recognized that we may have a sense of fear of failure, for example, when facing a task, it’s important as we honestly recognize and allow this fear that we remember that we are not this fear. It is a feeling state we are experiencing. It doesn’t define us. We have these negative emotions, and we need not be these emotions. We don’t identify with these. In fact, some meditation teachers encourage their students to use the passive voice to emphasize this non-identification, For example, “boredom is being experienced” as opposed to “I am bored.”
The second prominent perspective on the “N” in RAIN is the focus of Tara Brach’s work, where she emphasizes that this step is nurturing with Self-Compassion. Anyone who feels helpless in terms of their procrastination knows the suffering of procrastination. And as Tara writes, “Self-compassion begins to naturally arise in the moments we recognize we are suffering. It comes into fullness as we intentionally nurture our inner life with self-care.”
This self-care needs to be based on a deep appreciation for our common humanity. We are not perfect. When we face some tasks, we experience fears, worries, frustrations, resentments, etc. Everyone does. It is only human, after all. That said, it is also only human to experience reassurance in this recognition of our humanity and forgiveness; both are crucial to our ability to move on.
A single blog post can never do justice to the practice embodied in RAIN, and I encourage you to explore further and, most importantly, to develop a practice that brings some rain in your life. My purpose today is to emphasize how this practice can address procrastination.
The resistance we can experience in doing a task is based largely on our reaction to negative thoughts and feelings. Instead of non-consciously pushing tasks away in order to escape these thoughts or emotions, we need to recognize and allow these feelings, knowing that we can have without them being them. Of course, our feelings have something to teach us, and we will gradually discover this as we investigate the nature of our thoughts and feelings, not reacting to them with avoidance. Finally, as we nurture ourselves in the RAIN process, we cultivate compassion and self-forgiveness, providing a firm foundation for action.
RAIN provides a practice or a path to escape the trance that we can feel trapped in with respect to procrastination. It can set us free to do the things that matter to us as intended.