Complacency and Procrastination

I’ve been wanting to write on this for a few months but well I’ve procrastinated doing so of course. A few months ago I read The War on Art (Not to be confused with the popular The Art of War). It is a book which personifies procrastination, which in doing so gives a great perspective into something we all can associate with and brought to light a lot of aspects of procrastination I had not realized I was doing. The second half of the book trails off and I won’t really touch on that much. After I finished the book I was amped. Ready to get out of my learning rut and start building new side projects and learning new things. However I quickly fell back into that rut I was in. Why was that happening? Why was I being such a lazy shit?

During this time I’ve been taking my weight lifting very seriously, I’ve made big gains in strength and size by consistently going to the gym and always pushing myself. I’m at my biggest size right now and lifting more than I have ever before. Why then am I not applying this same consistent behavior to learning and pushing my limits on knowledge when it is something I also enjoy doing?

It’s not really an easy answer and takes being self critical to assess yourself, even harder, taking action on the assessment. I think the main reason is that I just started a new job in December and after grinding as hard as I ever have at learning, studying, and preparing to get this job, I had this sense of relief followed by complacency after I got the job. I achieved my goal. I got the job I wanted and was no longer under any internal or external pressure to make a change. I find I only push myself really hard when I have a clear goal in mind. I work relentlessly at this goal once I have it in my head, but without one my mind feels fatigued and uninterested. My passions turn into work without a goal, and doing extra work on your own accord is difficult.

The last couple of weeks I’ve had a clear goal in mind and I’ve begun pushing myself to learn again outside of work. At first it was incredibly difficult. I was afraid to even read a blog about javascript because of the attrition in knowledge I’ve had since I started this job. It’s an odd feeling to be afraid to read something because you fear you won’t understand it, however without making that leap and just reading it, you will never learn. I don’t get many opportunities to use or write js in my current role so my knowledge has started to fade I feel. The anxiety I felt just thinking about this was almost too much to handle. The first couple days after I finally got myself to sit down and just read I found it so difficult to get myself focused and not wonder back to hacker news and reddit. Sites which allow to just vegetate reading mildly interesting, but not useful or actionable things. This is where that personification of procrastination feels real, as it was described in the book as Resistance. Resistance is a powerful force which if you do not control it, it runs wild and takes over. It was so hard mentally to just force myself to read something that I actually enjoy, reading this section back to myself this sounds like a paradox, but it’s really just that Resistance is such a powerful force. I love reading about programming, yet I could barely bring myself to do it because the anxiety and fear of reading it and not understanding something I previously learned was overwhelming.

The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear, then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome.

This quote from The War on Art is well noted in reviews because it resonates with most people. I was doing exactly this. I wanted to overcome this fear of not knowing the answers before I would read the first line. This is problem that perpetuates itself into a vicious cycle that gets worse.

I mentioned earlier that I have struggled with making progress without a clear goal in mind. This of course sounds like your typical sound bite from every motivation/business/self help book ever written. But that’s because it’s true, at least for some. When I look back in my history of learning web development I had the most progress when I wasn’t happy with where I was in life or my career, or my understanding of something. I would become obsessed with learning and pushing myself to become a better developer. However whenever I started a new job or really, after getting an offer after a job interview, I’ve gone into lazy mode where I stopped learning because I was in a comfortable position. Then a few months later I would find a fun project to work on and that passion would start up again.

Having a constant stream of new ideas and projects is key for me to continue my career growth. Because every time I’ve fallen into this rut it’s because I was in a lull of ideas or direction or goals. I have several projects I started and never finished before which I want to finish, however if I am honest with myself, I know that now is not the right time to pick those back up because it’s a project I already quit on and every time I quit on a project, it makes it that much harder to pick up again and commit to completing it. So my next project must be something new that I have not worked on previously. My next steps is to continue making small progress in knowledge while I come up with actionable ideas of things to work on and tie in new aspects of programming to learn while building. This is fairly obvious and has been written about countless times, but some times we just need to write it down and put in into the public space to make sure we hold ourselves accountable for these statements.