by Mac Bogert
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” begins Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall.”
Something there is that doesn’t love accomplishment describes procrastination. Whether it’s getting in shape, losing weight, starting our tax returns, emptying the dishwasher, or w-r-i-t-i-n-g, inertia holds us prisoner.
Yet inertia works both ways. Once we put a few simple ideas into practice, inertia moves us forward instead of holding us back.
Where does this ridiculous saboteur come from? Part of it is what Roger von Oech (A Whack on the Side of the Head) calls The Aslan Phenomenon.
The author arrived at this remarkable insight in an unremarkable way. Roger loves to run. When he moved to his new house some years back, he ran hither and yon. Exploring a new street one day, he found Aslan, a happy dog who was eager to make friends. So Roger began running by Aslan’s yard every day. One morning he was surprised to find no Aslan. He knocked on the door and discovered Aslan had died. The next day, he found himself running by Aslan’s yard even though the reason for doing it was no longer there.
Roger von Oech called this habit The Aslan Phenomenon. We learn behaviors and generate assumptions at a time and place when they make sense. Things change, but we retain the same habits of thought and behavior even though the reason for them is gone. My Aslan Phenomenon that generated procrastination grew from fear, reverberations from a time when my creativity met criticism or my contribution was scoffed at. I talked myself out of creating by focusing on the outcome rather than on the act.
All of us—myself included—have a deep-seated fear of failure. And of success. They’re really the same thing: fear of the unknown. As soon as something becomes known, the fear has no place to rest. And the first salvo in that campaign is to reprogram our brains to disconnect the creative act from approval.
So here are a couple of easy tricks:
- As author Liz Gilbert’s mother told her: Better done than good. Leave getting things right to your editor. Blurt ideas into your phone’s voice recorder. Carry a tablet of sticky notes and write something unrelated to food while you’re at the grocery store. Don’t brush your teeth at night until you’ve written in a journal. Jot down one thing you heard from someone during the day that gave you pause (whether you liked it or not). In other words, disconnect judgment from creativity. Let your ideas float like dandelion parachutes in the breeze.
- Understand your own preferences. My activity partner with privileges (her words) is a freelance writer and editor. She labors like a long-distance runner. I sprint. Don’t stand in the way of your natural rhythm by imposing someone else’s idea of WORK. Learn to associate creativity with your childlike default setting for play rather than work. Save the work for the rewrite.
- Take creative time first thing every day. Just do it. Two minutes. An hour. Anything. Since creativity is the default setting for the human brain, we don’t need to force the creative act, merely remove barriers to let it play.
- Ask yourself What am I afraid of? Write the answer in the voice of a character for a future story. Then say the important words: So what? None of us fears the creative act, we fear the feedback, which hasn’t—and may never—happen. And remember: Feedback is always about the giver. You’re an actor in your own creative life, so get out on the freakin’ stage, already.
If you still struggle, drive by an elementary school during recess and bask in the energy and love of unrestrained creative energy. Relax. Redefine writing as your recess!
Mac Bogert, (www.azalearning.com) after teaching high school English, touring as a folk and blues musician, acting in industrial videos and regional theater, and performing in puppet shows while crafting curriculum about health and drug issues, started AzaLearning in 1994. He provides leadership coaching to over 180 clients nationwide, focusing on communication, managing conflict, critical thinking and creative problem solving. His passion is, and always has been, education. “Learning Chaos: How Disorder Can Save Education” is due for release in January, and his podcast, Learning Chaos Podcast, offers insight for those of us interested in learning, leadership, and language. No character with an interesting story is outside LCP’s purview.