One way to feel better is to push through and do the work. But if feeling better is what you’re really after, there are much easier, quicker ways to feel better. Those ways include but are not limited to:

  • checking social media,
  • doing (possibly necessary) tasks that aren’t as hard or boring as the one you know you really should do,
  • binge-watching television shows,
  • playing online dominoes, and
  • doing crossword puzzles.

Of course, as every procrastinator knows, procrastination doesn’t address the aforementioned bad feelings. It numbs them in the moment, but they come roaring back, with the added force of self-loathing. You can numb those feelings again with more social media and online dominoes, but eventually you’ll have to pay the piper, either by doing the work, or by facing some consequence for not doing the work, or by giving up altogether.

For a long time, I only wrote when the pain of not-writing got to be greater than the pain of writing. I wrote several books that way. But the time came when that approach just didn’t work any more. Perhaps my pain threshold got higher. Perhaps it was just the  weapons-grade mind-numbing and attention-stealing distractions that arrived with the Internet. In any case, no amount of self-loathing could motivate me to stop procrastinating and stop writing. 

Sometimes I find it helpful and perspective-giving to plug in the word “plumbing” where I might otherwise say “writing”–as in, “I plumb only when the pain of not-plumbing gets to be greater than the pain of plumbing.” Thankfully, plumbers don’t seem to regard plumbing as a kind of mood-management. If they did, we would all be wading in our own filth. Societal breakdown wouldn’t be far behind.

I’m quite sure that writing, like any other hard, good, meaningful work, will ultimately elevate your mood and contribute to your overall mental health. But in the short term, writing is a pretty unreliable means of mood-management. As I said above, if your goal is just to feel better, there are much easier ways to accomplish that goal. Your best bet, I suspect, is to decouple the whole idea of writing from the whole idea of mood-management. Sometimes writing will make you feel good, and sometimes it won’t. Write anyway.

In Episode 22 of The Habit Podcast last year, Maryrose Wood said, “You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I had a yoga teacher who used to say, ‘If you like the pose, you’re not doing it right.'” That sounds about right to me. If you want to write, get comfortable with discomfort. Press on. Tend to your business. Which is also a pretty good summation of what it means to be an adult.

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