Many people are dominated by a powerful fantasy and they usually have no idea about it or the way it affects their behavior. It often lies behind difficulties with procrastination, the inability to follow-through, apparent lack of motivation and many other problems. It has to do with the ideal life, the one these individuals feel that they should be leading.
How would you like to live on an island where anything you needed automatically came to you without effort, even before you recognized that you needed it? You wouldn’t have to strive for anything, or feel frustration about the struggle. The climate would be perfectly mild, too, never varying more than a degree or two in either direction. Virtually nothing painful could touch you because the island would be perfectly safe and hold no inherent threats, protected from the rest of the dangerous world by a buffering sea of tranquility.
Welcome to the womb. While the intrauterine world isn’t as perfectly serene as I paint it, compared to the shock of childbirth and everything that comes afterward in life, it seems ideal. The fantasy that one could have such a perfect existence during one’s lifetime, though unacknowledged, is widespread; the expectation that one should have such a life lies at the heart of many severe psychological problems. I’m not suggesting that people consciously think this way, but the internal demand that life be perfect often controls them anyway.
Have you ever started a project – felt inspired to write a story, paint a picture, take up a musical instrument – and found yourself unable to follow through? Often it’s because we expect the effort to be much easier than it actually is; once we confront reality, recognize how rudimentary our skills and how much frustration is involved in improving them, we give up. On that magical island of ideal, we’d perform brilliantly and with little effort, the words or notes or brushstrokes flowing with ease. (I’ve discussed related issues in my post on self-criticism and self-hatred.)
This unacknowledged fantasy often underlies problems with “writer’s block” and other kinds of artistic inhibition. I’ve had the privilege of working with a number of artists and maybe you’ll identify with them: the choreographer who felt compelled to go into her studio only to lie immobile on the floor, unable to work. The writer who awakened with enthusiasm, convinced he would do “brilliant” work that day, spent a restless half hour in front of the screen and ended up playing computer Scrabble for hours. In my work with these clients, I usually found an inability to tolerate the reality of hard work and frustration, and a refusal to accept the disparity between their actual output and fantasies of brilliance.
People often procrastinate because they hope on some level that somebody else will do the job for them, the way everything used to be taken care of back in the good old days. Some individuals can’t even set goals because they know in advance that nothing will ever live up to their expectations. Think of teenagers who drift into their twenties and never seem to find their way, continuing to live with their parents and having Mom do the laundry. “Slackers” – I think that’s the word we use today.
Time to get in touch with your inner Slacker.
Finding Your Own Way:
Are you a procrastinator? Do you have trouble following through on a resolution, even when it’s something you enjoy doing? Next time the situation arises, pay close attention to the way you lie to yourself.
I’ll just check my email and get right back to work.
I really need a break – just five minutes.
I’ll make a fresh start tomorrow when I’m feeling better. Too many distractions today.
The person talking is the you who pines for that magical island of ideal and hates life here on the mainland. He or she is a persuasive liar who’ll stop at nothing to undermine this difficult and frustrating work you’ve undertaken. Try hard not to give in but continue working. You may notice the pressure intensifies. Maybe you’ll become restless and distracted. It will feel harder and harder to resist going to the fridge for a soda, checking Facebook, sending off one(just one!) quick text message. The lies may get louder and more insistent.