Ah, creative types. We’re a neurotic bunch, aren’t we?
One of the most common hiccups in the creative process is procrastination. Why is it so tempting to put off what needs doing?
The central thesis of GTD is “get your ‘stuff’ out of your head, into a trusted system that breaks it down into simple tasks, and then start knocking out tasks.” Which works beautifully. When you actually do it.
But what about when you can’t seem to get yourself to start putting your stuff into your trusted system? Where do you find the motivation to get things done? Is the procrastination creatives are so prone to really just simply a function of overwhelm and too many inputs, or could there be something more to it?
For several years now, I’ve been practicing (off and on) an American version of two complementary Japanese therapy forms called Constructive Living. Dr. David K. Reynolds spent years in Japan studying Morita and Naikon, two practices used to treat what the Japanese called shinkeishitsu neurotics. People whose thoughts are stuck in a self-centered, somewhat narcissistic pattern to the extent it was sapping their motivation for living. He combined and modified the two for Western culture, and the result was Constructive Living.
Morita is based on the idea that you can’t change your feelings by force of will, but feelings follow behavior. So if you simply accept your feelings, move on, and do what needs doing, very often your feelings will move to a healthier, more positive place all on their own. ”Behavior wags the tail of feelings.” Morita is the active half of CL. Naikon is based on the idea that we tend to ignore everything that is going right, the ways that individuals and the universe support and provide for us, and only focus on what’s gone or going wrong. Naikon is the meditative half of CL.
Here are the general guiding principles of Constructive Living:
- You cannot control your feelings by an act of will.
- Because you cannot control them you are not responsible for them.
- You are always responsible for your actions.
- Your feelings are useful and can teach you about what you want and what’s important to you.
- All feelings fade over time unless re-stimulated.
- We are not separate; we “inter-are.” We are all interrelated.
- The Universe supports us in ways which we often do not see.
- The optimum way of living is to find your purpose, hold to it and act in a way which will lead you to it.
GTD is a great methodology for the HOW part of doing what needs doing. For me, CL has been a great means to unlocking the WHY part of doing what needs doing.
For me, I struggled with GTD because there was one big thing between me and actually working the system: motivation. I’d start out strong, but be unable to maintain my motivation to keep doing the next Next Action.
My neurotic, “the world is out to get me and my past sucks” thinking kept me stuck in “but I don’t feel like doing it!” land. And as an Enneagram 4 and an INFP (both “feeling” based types), it was really tough for me to get past “I don’t feel like creating right now!”
Naikon meditation makes you consciously, intentionally focus on the ways that God/the universe/reality/other people are supporting you. It corrects the skewed vision that we naturally fall into, where we hyperfocus on what goes wrong (the car that cut you off in traffic) and completely miss what went right (your alarm worked perfectly, as it does nearly every morning).
Keeping a small laminated card with the CL principles I’ve outlined above with me, whenever I would find myself getting bogged down in “I don’t feel like doing it” land, I would tell myself “You’re feeling tired/angry/lonely/sad. Okay. Now what needs doing?”
And invariably, I found that just doing something productive would end up vastly improving my mood, and creating the motivation to want to do the next task.
So if you’ve tried doing GTD (and been embarrassed by mostly failing to get things done), maybe it’s not you. Maybe you need something to clear the decks in your brain first. Constructive Living has worked really well for me. You might give it a try.
Here are a few resources to get started:
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