Ending a lifetime of procrastination
I was looking through some old computer text files when I came across one with the strange name of "tangerine induction". The file was about eight years old, according to the file date stamp. The file was well structured, in good English, nicely laid out in sections. And made no sense at all.
The instructions were to imagine a tangerine. The writer urged me to imagine a tangerine nestled in the palm of my hand. I was to imagine it as vividly as I could. Feel the weight, smell the aroma, feel the texture, really experience that tangerine. Then I was to throw the tangerine, in my imagination, from hand to hand.
As I was throwing it back and forward, it would allow any worries, doubts, or anxieties to just disappear. Just focus on the tangerine going from hand to hand and allow my mind to calm. Then I was to put the tangerine on the back of my head and start playing. Huh?
Ending Performance Anxiety
I did a bit more investigating, and worked out from the URL that it was from a music coach website. Then it made sense. It was actually designed to prevent performance fright. The reference to playing meant to sit at your piano or take up your guitar or whatever. Then imagine the tangerine, allow your stage fright to diminish, and just start playing. The idea of sticking it onto your head just means that it will be there with you all through the performance.
It seemed to me that this routine would probably work. What you are doing, in essence, is taking a mental problem, and visualizing your problem as an object. Then the imagined exercise of throwing the tangerine takes your mind off it. Add in a little suggestion of the fear getting smaller, and it does. In other words, by focusing on the tangerine you are not focusing on your stage fright. Believe in the tangerine and your performance anxiety will disappear.
I decided to try it. I noticed that while visualising the tangerine being thrown between my hands, I had entered a very light trance. So I decided to use that little bit of trance, and see if I could develop it.
Now I do not have performance anxiety. I am quite happy lecturing in front of a cinema sized audience without notes. What I do have, is a form of procrastination that I have never been able to get rid of. And I really don't understand it.
My Personal Procrastination Problem
When I am writing, or programming, I find that whenever I get to the point where I don't know what to do next I just feel compelled to stand up and get away from my desk. I usually go and make a cup of tea. By the time I've made the tea I have thought of what to do next, and carry on with it. Nine times out of 10 I forget about the tea and when I remember it again it's stone cold.
This would be amusing if it wasn't for the fact that I spent quite a lot of my life doing things where I don't know what to do next, such as writing an academic dissertation. This particular habit of mine must have wasted thousands of hours and made a serious dent in my productivity.
So I thought about that as I was mentally throwing my tangerine. I allowed myself to associate into the feeling that I have to get up and move away, the feeling that I get when I don't know what to do next.
Fear the Fear and accept it
To my great surprise, I began to get a much stronger feeling. And then a visualization. What I was visualising was a metal strap, the sort of thing that is used to hold large bundles of timber together, or as reinforcing around industrial cardboard boxes. This strap was a pale green colour. And I was trying to get the two pieces apart.
I have no idea what this strap represents. So I focused on when this was happening. I got a very strong feeling that I was young. This was happening when I was a boy. What I was feeling was a terrible anxiety about not knowing what to do next. And then I felt my head tilting back.
I got the distinct impression that I was a little boy looking up, the way children do at adults. And then I got this overwhelming fear that I was going to get punished for not having done something. I knew I was going to get punished because I didn't know what to do next about this strap thing.
In my mind, I was then running away and trying to hide in a corner, behind a wooden kitchen chair. And this unidentified adult was coming at me, going to hurt me, punish me. I was totally filled with fear and my only desire was to get away from there.
I had found the origin of my procrastination behavior. I actually did have a bad childhood, and got punished often. I have absolutely no conscious memory of this particular incident.
Then I thought to myself, "I'm a psychologist. Why don't I just get rid of this the way I would with a client?" Almost immediately, I imagined myself as an adult going into that room where the child was, finding that child and comforting him. I empowered the child to stand up and throw the chair at the adult.
I then filled the child with a feeling of power, almost rage, that saw the child sweeping the adult out of there. Then I found myself, the child, standing in the doorway of that house. I could feel myself with enormous muscles and strength. Looking outside I heard myself saying that "this will never happen again. I will not put up with this! And then the child giant went back into the house and cleared out every room and made sure there was no threat there at all.
Since then I have noticed that when I am writing, wondering how to develop my article, that old feeling is completely gone. It just isn't there.
As I reflect on my experience of this, sharing it with you, I suppose what I'm really thinking is that it really does not take a lot of time or effort to create the mental space in which to make significant personal change. All it needs is the ability to empathise with the child's feeling and then to rescue that child. I just wish it hadn't taken me 50-odd years to do it.