Sometimes, we lose track of what matters and find ourselves procrastinating only because the project we’re working on doesn’t seem like being worth it. When this happens, it is useful to remind ourselves not only of the final goal, but of what is at stake. Because every time we commit to something, there is a reason behind it, and this reason is the gratification we hope to get by the end of the task. It can be a pay raise, it can be a vacation, or something really small, like a piece of cake or a bubble bath. Some gratifications are built into the projects we decide to tackle. Some others are more difficult to spot, because the gratification isn’t material. When this is the case, we actually have not only to remember what the ultimate gratification is, but to built one ourselves. This way, going through with a project will become a much nicer process.
For me, my biggest project right now is to finish my dissertation. And every day I battle with procrastination, and procrastination wins almost every time. This is why I have decided to spend some time thinking about the reason why I got into this project in the first place and what my ultimate gratification is.
- First of all, there is the obvious gratification of finally finishing something you’ve been working on for years and showing yourself and the world that you can do it. It’s the easiest and the hardest reason at the same time. The easiest, because there is nothing worse than waking up one day realizing all the effort you put into a project was for nothing, because you didn’t finish it. All the time you’ve spent was for nothing, even though you’ve learned something in the process. Making mistakes only leads to failure if you don’t learn from them, but isn’t it better to learn from your mistakes while you’re still in the process? If you don’t finish your project, the mistakes you’ve made might become helpful once you start a new one, but isn’t it better to pick yourself up while you still have the chance and put your knowledge to use right now? Accomplishing something you’ve put your mind to is the best gratification there is, but it’s not easy to do the adult thing all the time.
- The ultimate gratification is completing the job itself. That means living up to your own expectations. Not in the sense of becoming something other people wait for you to become, although the fear of failure and shame works wonders for some of us. But in the sense of being able to tell yourself that you are the person you’ve dreamt of becoming. If you think of yourself as a writer but never write anything, well then, you’re not a writer. If you think of yourself as a successful businessman (or woman) but don’t put in the necessary effort to start up your own business, well then, you’re not a businessman (or woman). If you think of yourself as a scholar but never publish papers and let alone drag your PhD dissertation for years on end, well then, you’re not a scholar. It’s not about how people see you. People in the sense of your family and friends will love you no matter what, and people in the sense of people simply don’t care enough. But you care. You can hide for so long, procrastinate and find excuses and think that tomorrow will be the day you’ll suck it up and get the job done, but while you’re hiding, you’re not a writer, you’re not a businessman (or woman), you’re not a scholar, you’re just someone who hides and finds endless excuses. We are what we do and what we do defines us. And all of our actions are choices we make. So it’s not even about living the life you want to live, it’s about being true to yourself and constantly asking yourself the question: what kind of person does that make me if I make this choice instead of another one?
- When the (writing) project you’re working on is not your bread and butter, it becomes very easy to put it aside and concentrate on lucrative activities. But it’s not as simple. In my case, even if I don’t want a job at the University, having a PhD will be very useful, no matter what career path I choose. One way of looking at the bigger picture is to imagine what life would be like if you don’t get the job done. Of course, there are many ways to reach a goal (a better job, a bigger house, etc.), but isn’t it easier to follow the path you’ve chosen once and see where it gets you? This path might be a difficult one, but it’s nothing compared to what other paths may look like. So stick with it. And one day you might think back and realize that the project you though was your hobby (isn’t it wickedly fun to think of a dissertation as your hobby?) was, in fact, the most lucrative project you’ve even worked on.
- When you need a mood lifter while you’re struggling with your project, envision yourself having finished it already. It might be just a short fix, but it is a good way to get you motivated. Close your eyes and take a deep breath, and try to imagine yourself the day you put the final touch on your project. What do you feel? Imagine yourself sitting at your desk and pushing the “print” button, then waiting for all the pages you have written materialize in front of you. Do you feel content? Do you feel satisfied? Do you feel proud? Imagine now holding your manuscript, feel its weight on your hands, imagine, if you like, what you are wearing, how you look, feel the smile on your face. Imagine yourself after you’ve submitted your manuscript and got a green light. Feel the butterflies in your stomach as you imagine yourself in front of your jury (or your publisher) while the people in front of you congratulate you for your work. Imagine the earth-shattering mind-blowing hell of a party you will throw afterwards to bash in your own success. Imagine all your friends gathered around you, smiling at you, and gratifying you with their love. This kind of happiness is rare, it is overwhelming, it is the ultimate feeling we all live for. And the best part is, to reach this state of happiness, the only thing you have to do is to keep doing what you are already doing, just write.