Thank you so much for being here.
What is wrong with me?
First off, I want to say… there’s nothing wrong with you. Really. If you stay in bed all day and have a hard time doing anything else, then you have valid reasons for that. It might just not be obvious at first, and I believe that in this situation you might need a lot of self-compassion.
I have been in the same position, over and over in my life. Hell, I’m even struggling with this right now, stuck in this kind of cycle again when I have things to do, bills to pay, people to call and I don’t do any of this. And sometimes it blows my mind away to realize that I “just” have to take my phone, or send an email, or just start to do someting - anything! For me personally, when I am very stressed by something, it manifests by having a freezing reaction. Which means that I can literally lose days (welp… it can be weeks or months actually…) of my life doing nothing and living in avoidance of… everything. When I was studying, I was in the EXACT same situation as you. And it brought its share of difficulties at work sometimes.
It’s definitely more than just a matter of willpower and willingness. Fear can be paralyzing and let us miss many opportunities to live the life we want, even if it seems absurd at first (how many times I told myself: “but I just have to do that and I’m done with it instead of tortuting myself for weeks”…). Yet I kept being stuck.
You mentioned two things that are, in my humble opinion, very important: perfectionism and instant gratification. We have that in common. And both of them are a pit for anxiety and procrastination.
When you’re a perfectionist, you can have a hard time with even just starting something, because somehow in your mind you already think you’re going to fail. And starting is taking a risk. The risk to try… to eventually succeed, or to fail. For me it manifests in so many different ways, but I can recall a precise example: when I was a student, during exams I would make revision sheets… for hours. Because I would do them again and again (well, I guess it was my way to study after all ) as they weren’t how I wanted. Though those sheets would directly end in the trash after the exam - it had no particular value or importance except a pratical and temporary use. But that’s just how perfectionism was pushing me.
Maybe you have high standards for the things that matter to you, which makes it hard to even do the things you need. And… yes, if you aim perfection somehow, you are going to fail. Because aiming goals that are not relastic or too vague is a recipe for failure. There is a need for a change of mindset/perspective. Actually, this thought can be reversed: it’s the fact of not trying at all that brings us to fail. It’s a way to sabotage ourselves without even taking the chance to prove to ourselves what we’re able to do. But thankfully, that’s definitely something you can learn to change, and eventually to ask for professional help if you feel like it’s needed (a therapist or a counselor).
On the other hand, instant gratification is a real thing too. And in a time when we have access to Internet, that’s even more challenging, as you can literally be stimulated all day long just by being behind your computer screen. I’m personally super good at starting things when it’s exciting to me (and I generally don’t finish anything because it’s stressful to me - that even applies to books I’m reading ). And when it’s something I have to do: 1/ I have a hard time starting it; 2/ I have a hard time being consistent while doing it. I made schedules so many times, used way too many post it notes and made to do list. Sometimes it works, but never for a long time. I have to feel a burst of stress and energy (or literally have no other choice but doing the thing because there’s a due date). Though, there are some things that helped me through the years, especially when I was a student - hopefully some of those could be helpful to you:
Be curious about how procrastination works. You can even just educate yourself online if you don’t feel okay to see a therapist - articles, books, videos. When you feel like something’s wrong, you see why but don’t really have your grip on how it works, gaining on understanding can be a first step.
On this matter specifically, I highly recommend you to have a look at this TedTalk + the speecher’s explainations about procrastination and instant gratification - this one has helped me a lot to understand how my mind functions sometimes:
Write down all your fears and worries - even if it’s totally unrealistic and unlikely to happen. Take some time to acknowledge what’s in your mind and what’s holding you back. When I feel really overwhelmed, I have a hard time to identify why, as it’s generally the result of stress piling up with another layer of stress and so on… So take the time it needs to identify your fears, to have them in front of you and ask yourself what’s the worst that could happen. Oftentimes, you’ll realize that you are far away from those scenarios. You’ll learn to put those fears in perspective and set your priorities to what is essential to you at the moment.
Be kind to yourself. Pressure can be stimulating, but you are already past beyond your stress limits when you freeze. So it’s okay to remind yourself on a daily basis that you are doing as you can and that you’ll be fine. Be your very first encourager. It’s okay to encourage yourself actively. I know we’re in a world full of competition and there’s this belief that beating ourselves up should increase our willpower - well in many situations it doesn’t.
Learn to be a parent to yourself when it’s about focus and/or instant gratification. I often find myself having these automatic reactions: “I have to do this - Okay but before I want to drink a hot chocolate, chill on the couch and bingewatch Netflix”. The more you’ll learn to be more in tune with those thoughts, the more you’ll be able to say “no” to them at the right moment.
Make rewards a habit. Even plan a reward ahead: “After I’ve done that or spent X minutes/hours doing it, I will reward myself with…”. Of course, don’t make rewards a rule. But more something that gives you a fuel to keep going on, to have breaks and a timeline while you’re working.
Making changes in your physical environment and your routine. Change the orientation of your furniture if you can. It can help to feel like you are in a new/different environment and not the one in which you were stuck yesterday. Study in different rooms/places one day to another, depending on how you feel (and if it’s possible, why not even trying to go to the library?). Make also small changes in your routine. Being stuck in bed is a routine in itself. Try to make small changes, again and again. Even if at first it’s just about spending 5 minutes at your window during the morning and enjoy some fresh air - it is a change, and it’s okay to celebrate it! Just start with five minute. Set a timer on your phone, and put yourself in the mindset of being dedicated to what you decided to do during these five minutes.
Break down your tasks in steps or tasks. Example for writing an essay, there’s:
*having sources = searching for books and articles // saving them // reading them + notes and quotes // adding to your bibliography
*structuring your text = subject // problematic // plan (those will change and evolve all the time and that’s okay).
*writing = one sentence > one paragraph > one page (…) // reading again // editing // adding quotes and authors.
Instead of to do lists, at the end of the day list the things you actually did. And if it’s just making it through the day, that’s something! And again, it deserves to be celebrated. List the things you actually did to cultivate this mindset of accomplishments and realizing that you’re not out of life or energy. It’s just a matter of putting it, progressivly, in places you want it to be.
For your studies specifically: keep in mind that something done partially or a sloppy work is always better than nothing at all. It is always a way for you to be closer to your goal, despite due dates and everything else.
I just noticed: Casey (who is a Heartsupport staff member) is going to make a stream focused on procrastination next Thursday, on Twitch (twitch.tv/heartsupport) - (you can see the streaming schedule of the channel here to see the time with your timezone: https://heartsupport.simvoly.com/) - It would be awesome to see you there! Definitely a good place and time to share ideas and discuss about this topic specifically with the community. Just a good opportunity.
Welp, this is a long post, sorry! Hopefully this could help a little. You got this, okay? There’s some balance to create between true rest and productivity, I will probably take a long time, steps forwards and backwards - but I believe in you. Take it easy. Be gentle with yourself. And again, if you need someone to keep you accountable, a counselor can be that person. Hold fast.