All the way from grade school to college I was able to pull it off. I could polish off my written assignments in one night—the night before my assignments were due. Then I moved to Denver to go to graduate school and tried out my normal routine…
Step 1) I waited until the last possible moment before I thought I needed to work on my assignments. Pack up my stuff and head over to the library to crush the assignment, with a belly full of Taco Bell.
Step 2) I opened up my laptop and stared at a blank Word Document.
Step 3) An invisible message slowly emerged on my screen and I would stare at it for a while because it scared the bejesus out of me. It read: “You have one night to write thirty pages of polished prose. Now go!”
Step 4) Eeeeesh.
Step 5) Panic.
Step 6) Then I managed to produce something: sloppy, crappy, emotionally volatile, sometimes I got lucky with a few gems of wisdom, but the whole argument was still logically disconnected and scattered.
Step 7) I turned in this piece of crap to my professor with my head held low. I knew I was much more capable.
Step 8) Repeat on the next assignment.
In college, this approach worked fine for me because the papers and assignments were smaller. In seminary (with thirty-page plus assignments) the game had changed. For the first time in my life, I turned in my assignments late. One day, one of my professors wrote on one of my papers that I turned in late, “A little bird told me this seems to be your M.O.”
Turning my papers in late was never my M.O. before.
This cycle repeated itself until I started to notice a trend towards the last couple of semesters where I noticed my procrastination kicked up to even another notch. I began to dread writing research papers. Rather than being excited about being in the wondrous world of the library, I hated the thought of it.
A war raged in my head:
“Tim, you are lazy, get it together! Grow up!”
“You are not lazy, this is not who you are!”
“Yes you are, look at your school work!”
Instead of motivating me to change, this message created a downward spiral of shame that was difficult to reverse.
But one day I finally mustered the courage to ask myself one simple question, “Why do you dread writing another research paper?” instead of “Why can’t you find it within you to get over your procrastination?”
The answer unlocked something deep within.
I found out that what I was trying to say, but I didn’t have words for it before was, “These papers suck because I am tired of writing a big paper like a research scientist! This isn’t me, so I refuse to do it!”
I have since learned that a refusal that is this adamant can actually be a good sign. The “barf effect” can be a sign I am ready for change, I hit bottom. (I love coaching people who have hit bottom on a motivational level, they are hungry for change.)
The truth is—I am not a lazy kind of a guy. I am energetic and lively and had already accomplished some significant things in my life, both in sports and school, leading up to grad school.
What I realized was that my teachers rarely helped me on a motivational level, to tap the deep well of creativity in me. I suppose it is expected that you have these things figured out before you enter college or grad school, but the truth is—most people I know who have a graduate degree can rarely articulate their learning style and how they harness this to get things done—and stay joyful. Most people push through the arduousness of the task and leave joy behind somewhere in the dust.
I have a distinct memory of a math teacher in high school. The guy looked and sounded like Ben Stein—flat affect. And—everyone loved him.
Why? Because he was brilliant at helping us step into our learning styles, without us even knowing it.
He made Algebra easy and fun!
The grades were so high in my class I thought something was off. But it wasn’t off. The students were able to grasp the concepts because he presented it to us from multiple angles to tap our motivation in our learning. I remember him saying, “Rrrrrrrr Rational Numbers” as a Mnemonic device to teach us that rational numbers repeat. The guy was brilliant. I grasped the topic and loved taking the tests. I remember the joy-level in the class was high too. People didn’t hate being in his class because they knew he was going to help them both in what they learned AND also in how they were going to learn it.
Later on, after I graduated seminary I became a web designer and developer and took on huge projects for clients, 150+ hours. I began to execute those on time, about every time. Why, because they were creative projects and because I learned how to honestly estimate my time well since I was motivated to do them. I have become a pretty good cook too. Why? Because I started using videos and visuals to learn from and learned rapidly how to cook—this is my “secret sauce.”
Before we slap a label on us or others and say, “They are lazy,” let’s ask, “Why are they lazy or why are they procrastinating at the deepest levels?” It almost always has to do with motivation, they are outside of their God-given design. If anyone is outside of the motivation of their heart they will spin their wheels (AKA procrastinate) to avoid the pain of engaging the task that looms on the horizon of their mind. Sure, there is a place to push through this and just do the hard thing, but if this is how we treat our heart the majority of the time, our heart won’t like it. Simply trying harder or strong-arming our heart denies the underlying desire that motivates or energizes us. For too long I denied that I was uniquely meant to process and engage the world visually, with color, creativity, and spontaneity often in the midst of a lively conversation. Since doing this my heart has rewarded me, I am more alive than I have ever been. May you find that joy too.