I remember the relief I used to feel Monday mornings heading out to to school when I was a teenager. All weekend I felt the burden of the mountains of work ahead of me. Then much of Sunday was spent fretting about the outrageous amount and trying to climb through it. (Lots of energy wasted dreading/fretting). Monday mornings, my backpack full to bursting, I felt light.
I may not have finished in my assignment book, but there was nothing more I could do. The reading, the studying, the problem sets, the projects—they were in my bag or in my head or they were not. I felt free. I didn’t mind taking tests: adrenaline can get you through a short, focused burst of concentration, similar to writing on a deadline. I liked most of the subjects. I enjoyed the reading. I’ve always loved writing. Here’s what bothered me:
A) The idea of all the work—in the abstract, it all feels so overwhelming [“journey of a thousand step”s before you’ve taken the first step]
B) The prospect of finishing with enough time to re-do, revise, polish & perfect
Recent research says that looking forward to vacation is often more pleasurable that the vacation itself. The flip side seems equally true: dreading something we have to do is often more aversive than the task itself. That seems true of exercise, dealing with the DMV, writing an article. The best response to A above would seem to be: start your work immediately because putting it off only causes more anxiety. But, here is where B comes in.
If I finished with enough time to re-do, revise, polish & perfect, then what I turned in was the best possible work I could do. I didn’t want to be judged for the best possible work I could do. I wanted to be judged for the best I could do in a limited time frame. The limited time frame lets you off the hook.
I hardly got a chance to practice that piano piece
I wrote that draft in an hour last night
I didn’t even finish the reading before the exam
I dreaded the work ahead, but felt a compulsion to put it off long enough that I didn’t experience the anxiety of being judged for the best I could do.
This comes down to a lack of faith, a lack of confidence.
I have connected this somewhat self-defeating behavior to postponing decisions in my adult life and to my generally frantic behavior. If I put off decisions, make them impulsively, then obviously they can’t be the best possible decisions I’m capable of making. They are ones I made in imperfect conditions. If my purse is a mess, my clothes mismatched, if I’m speaking quickly, rushing, out of breath, then any “mistakes” I make can be at least partly attributed to the fact that I’m clearly doing more than reasonable. Defense mechanism.
It’s taken me years—switch that to present tense—it is taking me years to change my position.
Every Monday morning feels like a new chance to work on changing my habits. Little by little, the only way anything worthwhile ever gets done.