How to stop procrastinating and start writing

A little white lie to yourself can help you cease your lollygagging and get to work—and even enjoy the process.

I used to hate writing.

Twenty years ago, if you’d told me that I could tell myself a simple lie and—suddenly, magically—it would make writing easier and more pleasant, I would have leapt at the chance.

I no longer feel that way about writing, but I have lots of other things I loathe doing. Hated job No. 1 has always been my bookkeeping, even though I have a professional bookkeeper. (The part I hate is the tedious, boring job of rounding up all the receipts—especially, tracking down the missing ones.)

This year I finished the job in a flash, easy peasy, and submitted all my stuff to him by Jan. 22. Yes, my income taxes are already done! I’m amazed, and my bookkeeper is thoroughly gobsmacked. How did I do it?

It was the lie.

As I tracked down those hated receipts I kept telling myself, “I love doing this.” I didn’t, of course, but I quickly found out that the task wasn’t nearly as horrible as I’d feared.

I found the suggestion of saying “I love doing this” to myself on another blog (apologies that I didn’t make a note of the URL), and it intrigued me.

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I spoke with my husband and one of my daughters about it, and they were both deeply skeptical. “How could that ever work?” they challenged. “If you know you hate doing something, it’s not as if you’re going to fool yourself.”

I did, though, and if you hate writing, here are five reasons why I think it might work for you, too:

1. Even hated tasks are almost never as bad as we fear.

I learned this many years ago when my family had to go through a series of rabies shots because we’d been exposed to a bat. This involved an initial immunization with gamma globulin and then regular shots for six weeks or so. My son, who was about 5, went crazy every time. He wrestled and cried and shook his head, begging us not to let this happen. We felt we had no choice (rabies is fatal) and when the shot was done, he was fine. It was the anticipation of the shot that he dreaded.

When I used to hate writing, I felt a similar anticipatory dread. I imagined how difficult and boring and tedious the work was going to be. I remembered sitting and staring at a blank screen-among the worst feelings in the world-and rejected the idea of having to go through all that pain again. Of course I always forgot that as soon as I had a rough draft, I inevitably enjoyed editing.

2. Life is always better if we have a positive attitude.

Convincing yourself that your glass is half full rather than half empty not only will reduce your stress, but can also have lifelong health implications. According to Mayo Clinic, positive thinking can:

  • Increase our lifespan
  • Lower rates of depression
  • Lower levels of distress
  • Provide greater resistance to the common cold
  • Improve psychological and physical well-being
  • Reduce risk of death from cardiovascular disease
  • Improve coping skills during hardships

3. Loving a task creates a self-sustaining positive cycle.

If you can convince yourself that you love a task (even if you really don’t), you’re likely to finish it faster and with less stress. This will make you feel better about yourself and better about the same task in the future. I know, for example, that the next time I have to work on my books I’m going to remember how easily it went this January, so I’ll be less likely to procrastinate.

Remember: Self-sustaining cycles can be either positive or negative. Don’t get caught in the wrong loop. If there’s a task you have to do regularly, why would you want it to catch even a whiff of negativity?

4. Negative thinking narrows your focus; positive thinking expands it.

If you reflect only on how much you hate doing a task, you cause your brain to constrict or narrow. Conversely, if you think about how much you enjoy doing something, you’re more likely to become open and expansive—enhancing your creativity.

That is the conclusion of American researcher and psychologist Barbara Fredrickson who has become famous for her broaden-and-build theory. As I read about her premise, I was reminded of mindmapping, in which the objective is to become open-minded and receptive.

5. Saying we love doing something acknowledges a greater truth.

Sure, writing (or, in my case, working on my books) may not be a favorite task, but I bet you could identify something you like even less. What about moving bricks? Scrubbing toilets? Being screamed at by a bullying and unhinged boss (as I frequently was when I worked in a newsroom). Even if you don’t love writing as much as eating chocolate gelato or reading a juicy novel, isn’t it better than doing something you dislike even more?

Telling your Aunt Connie that her ugly dress looks pretty or suggesting to Uncle Jack you have no idea why he’s gained 45 pounds are both white lies to grease the wheels of family dynamics.

I’d put the white lie that you love writing in exactly the same category. It will make you feel better, it will make you feel like writing, and you’ll get the job done faster and more easily.

A version of this article first appeared on the Publication Coach.

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