How to become a good student (again) 4: Layer Yourself to Merge Yourself
Hello, fellow ex-good student!
Hide yo kids, hide yo wife and hide yo husband, cause I’m about to drop the p-bomb:
That’s right… p…p…pro…
I know. I know. The moment has come, man. Procrastination has cost me so many hours of my life that I will never get back and I guess it’s the same for you.
Here’s a bit of a secret - the first three posts so far? They were actually also about procrastination. Specifically, they were about WHY you or I might procrastinate.
1. Because you’re overwhelmed by choices
2. Because, goddamnit, it’s HARD to to start
3. Because you have a screwed up relationship with studying
Now, in this post, we will be tying these threads together by looking at the WHAT and the HOW. You’ve examined the roots, you’ve gotten rid of the pesky little bugs living down there, so… WHAT is procrastination really and HOW do you defeat it and actually start studying?
Procrastinaton, for me, is a state of mind, a surround sound and most of all: a place - it’s LIMBO. It’s physically being unable to do something. Being caught in a web (very often the world wide one). Drowning in water. Being pulled apart, gaining momentum, losing control, cotton in my ears, the heat of shame in my chest, a thousand voices in my mind that I try to silence.
“You should be -”
“You have to -”
“You must -”
“Do something, do something, do something, anything, anything, anything, anything”
“You loser, you can’t even -”
“YOU USED TO BE GREAT and now you’re just-”
I hate myself while doing it. I feel horrible. I feel useless.
But at the same time, at the very bottom of my mind, there is something that I’ve refused to acknowledge for the longest time: a sense of pleasure.
Why do I feel this weird sense of pleasure when I procrastinate? Why do I feel pleasure when I know I’m sabotaging my future through inaction? When I’m digging myself into a deeper and deeper grave? When I hate myself at the same time? Why do I procrastinate at all? Is it because of that underlying ironic pleasure?
Well, to find the answer to those questions, we first need to ask ourselves a bigger one: what is the OPPOSITE of limbo? If limbo is being caught in the middle of nowhere, floating, glitching, slowly imploding, then what is the opposite?
I’d say it’s movement, direction and action - you being in charge and moving things along, having agency, being alive and powerful and energetic and hot. I’d say it’s FLOW.
When I was a child, I had little to no problem syncing in and out of flow. It just came to me like second nature and I LOVED it. I loved the way my brain buzzed and I completely forgot about my surroundings. I loved disappearing into ideas, books, stories, video games, homework, a teacher’s lesson, a friend’s story, my own projects. I went in and out as I pleased and could turn it on and off like a light switch. It was so. much. fun. and I was so, so lucky to have had the privilege of such a talent.
Back then, I used to ache and hunger for a challenge. Things were smooth and easy and fun, but I wanted MORE - harder exercises, deeper questions, more challenging teachers. When I told my father about that, he smiled and said
“Be happy. You have put so much work into this. This is the moment it’s all paying off - you’ve turned and turned and turned your wheel and now it’s running smoothly along the street without even noticing how uneven the ground is.”
He was right, of course, but as time went on, I became more and dissatisfied with my smooth little wheel and started to procrastinate more and more. Why? And, again: where does the pleasure at procrastinating come from?
I’d argue that there are two main factors and one huge reason:
FACTOR 1: The wheel didn’t deliver on its promises
I already mentioned this in the very first post, but basically: disillusionment. I loved working hard, but I also expected it to pay off at some point. However, apart from the occasional pat on the head from a teacher or my parents’ smiles, there wasn’t all that much to be gained. There were no harder exercises, no special treatments, no big revelations - even university, my very last bastion of hope turned out to be a glorified bouncy castle.
I was just bored and the work I put into it wasn’t worth the outcome anymore. The system had failed me.
FACTOR 2: Suddenly, there were a lot of wheels
It is easy to glorify my younger self, but, really, child-me had it a lot easier.
Child-me only had one wheel to spin (school) and as I grew older, I realized that there were, well, many other wheels I had neglected.
I had a lot of catching up to do in areas like empathy, charisma, self-confidence and self-worth outside of academia, humour and fashion. And when I left school, there were even MORE wheels: suddenly, I also had to keep my job, my apartment, my much more complicated social life, my manifold hobbies and a somewhat healthy sleep schedule going.
I wasn’t prepared for this abundance of wheels. I’d grown up thinking that as long as I could keep the one wheel I was good at spinning (academia), I’d be juuuuust dandy. Well, I was wrong and I realized that, once again the system had failed me.
If only I’d had better teachers. If only I’d listened to the good ones. If only I’d worked the problem earlier. If only I was part of a better system that would recognize and foster my talents. Who knows how much I could achieve? Who knows how much I could have ALREADY achieved?
And that’s where the pleasure of procrastination comes from.
It is defiance. It is rebellion. It is a big “FUCK YOU” to the system that failed me. It is a “Look at me! I’m operating outside the system and I’m STILL getting semi-good grades. I don’t need any of you. I don’t need any of this. I’m playing by MY rules. I’m getting shit done MY way. Because YOUR way disappointed me. Because I am FREE.”
If, at this point, you’re starting to feel sorry for me (or yourself for being in a similar situation) …that’s exactly the problem. There’s really no way to say this nicely, so here we go:
PROCRASTINATION IS NO MORE AND NO LESS THAN A GLORIFIED VICTIM COMPLEX.
Let me explain.
When you procrastinate, doesn’t it feel like you HAVE TO do things? Like you’re being FORCED to do something? Like you’re POWERLESS? Like you’re STUCK? Like you’re SUFFERING? Like you’re AT THE MERCY of your negative thoughts, the system or you’re conscience? Like you’re being WHIPPED AROUND? Like you crave recognition of your SUFFERING? Like you don’t have a choice except RUNNING AWAY and not facing what you’re FORCED to face?
All of these thoughts and emotions put you in the position of a sufferer - a victim.
You see yourself as a victim of the system, the school, the state, the assignment you should be working on. You deliver yourself unto their power. You submit to a simple dichotomy: I HAVE to do this or I SHOULD FEEL like shit.
I HAVE to do this, so I MUST suffer and accept the infringement of my freedom.
Well, let me tell you something that just about changed my life when I fully, deeply and profoundly realized the truth behind these words:
…or a bit more eloquently put:
You’re the one in control.
No, honestly. You are.
If you wanted to, you could throw it all into the wind, take the next train to nowhere and see where life takes you. But do you want to do that?
And, the even bigger question: why do you feel SO powerless that this small, stupid act of rebellion against The System is enough to intoxicate you SO much that you keep coming back to suckle on its sweet, sweet bitter nectar?
It’s because you feel trapped. It’s because you feel lost.
It’s because you feel like you have so much potential and it’s all going to FUCKING waste and if somebody were to just give you a FUCKING hand you could really show everybody just how much you can FUCKING do and-
-let me stop you right there and let me ask you 4 questions:
You keep going on and on about how intelligent you are …but what’s the use of your intelligence if you can’t use it to improve your own life?
If you’re anything like me, you find it very easy and rewarding to help other people with their problems. You easily see the roots of problems and the ways that conflicts could be resolved. You’re an excellent trouble-shooter and a strategist in video games and for your friends… but what about your own life? Why do you ACCEPT playing the role of the victim in your own life?
Why do you accept this suffering?
Long story short: because you’ve grown used to it.
You’ve forgotten what it feels like to make active choices, to exert your full agency and to take full responsibility for whatever mess might come of it. Leading me to…
You keep going on and on about how intelligent you are… but what’s the use of your intelligence if you don’t take anything seriously?
Be honest: when was the last time you took anything seriously and gave it your all? …no? Nothing?
Well, if you’re anything like me, I’m sure you know the neat excuse of “eh, I was just winging it, but if I REALLY tried-” and do you know what that is? It’s cowardice and it’s self-victimization.
I know I’m coming on very strong.
But the truth is this: I know this. I know this because I’ve been living this. I’ve been living a second-hand life that I allowed to be ruled by “the system” and guilt and made-up obligations …and I almost lost myself in the process.
Maybe you can realize it with me: It’s some time ago, I wake up in the middle of the night and randomly feel like taking an IQ test online. I’m still half-asleep, I roll onto my stomach, I don’t even sit up, I meander my way through the questions. Shit. I realize that time is running out and I haven’t even finished ¾ of the questions! I panick. I feel guilty. I finally sit up. I start trying harder. I’m getting faster and faster - faster than I ever thought possible. And despite 5 minutes of good effort -
I fail. Hard.
And as I sit there in my dark room, my unbelievably sucky result glowing on the screen of my mobile phone and I look out of the window, I realize: this has been my life for the past 5 years. Winging stuff at not even 50% of my capacity and being hurt by the results. Honestly, when WAS the last time I took anything really seriously?
The next day, I get 8 hours of sleep, sit down in front of my laptop with a bottle of water, search for the most professional IQ test I can find and concentrate from the very beginning. I score 30 points higher.
Let me repeat that: I scored 30 points higher on an IQ test because I actually tried. Magical things can happen if you take stuff seriously.
Leading us to
You keep going on and on about how intelligent you are… but when was the last time your intelligence has brought you joy?
Maybe you’re familiar with the phrase “The burnt child dreads the fire”? When I thought back on my academic progress in the last years, I realized that there really hadn’t been much joy anywhere. Pretty much everything had sucked.
Of course I wouldn’t want to invest my energy into something that didn’t yield any good results … right?
Wrong. My lack of good results was only an indicator for the real problem: my lack of effort.
The simple truth is this:
We are smart. We enjoy doing what we are good at. We enjoy hard mental work, REGARDLESS of the results. But once I started to focus too much on the results and thought it was all about having a great CV and min-maxing my grades… I just didn’t have fun anymore. I didn’t allow myself to have fun anymore. To disappear into a world of thoughts like I used to as a child. To invest way too much time into a project, to have an absolute BLAST creating something complex and outstanding and super cool.
Bringing us to…
You keep going on and on about how intelligent you are… but can you really create something extraordinary?
See that’s the thing: when I was a child, I didn’t just take school seriously.
I wanted to go the extra mile.
And honestly? That was the whole secret. I wanted to create something that wasn’t just special but mind-blowingly special. It’s not like I knew I had it in me, but rather that I wanted grow to have more and more in me and I knew that the only way to do that was to challenge myself again and again.
That’s the difference between viewing your intelligence and your capabilities as stagnant or growing. There is no joy and no truth in regarding yourself as stagnant - the best of violin players started out sounding like a dying cat and the best athletes kept stumbling. If you want to create and become something extraordinary, you need to know that it will not happen overnight. You need to know that it will be a slow, hard and challenging hike up a hill and the only thing that keeps you climbing is your willingness to go the extra mile so you can see the view become more and more beautiful.
The real pleasure of studying is not getting good results and bragging rights - that’s just a cool side-effect. The real pleasure of studying is studying and that means working and knowing that working gets you one step ahead one step at a time.
So HOW can you change? HOW can you regain control? How can you consciously go from limbo to flow?
First of all:
1) RECLAIM YOUR RESPONSIBILITY AND YOUR PASSION
The first thing I tell myself in the morning is “My life is in my hands.”
That’s not always an easy sentence to start with, especially if I haven’t slept well or if I’m sick or in the middle of a fight or an existential crisis or just crabby.
But it’s always true. It’s MY life and it’s my responsibility to make the best of it.
One poem in particular has really helped me, so who knows, maybe it’ll help some of you guys as well:
No matter how deep the sadness or wide the pain,
I vow to live for a brighter day will come again.
No matter how many mistakes I’ve made in the past,
I vow to live and in the future avoid them, surefooted and fast.
No matter how many tragedies beyond my control take place,
I vow to live and stay my course within this race.
No matter how poor or rich I may ever be,
I vow to live and aspire to search for the dignity in simplicity.
No matter how much a lover may pierce the inner core of my heart,
I vow to live for like spring I’ll get a new start.
No matter how isolated and alone I may feel,
I vow to live and do something for someone else to heal.
No matter how hopeless my situation my appear,
I vow to live and reflect until my viewpoint is clear.
No matter what happens in this life – good or bad
I vow to live, do my best, and just for living – be glad.
– Malcolm O. Varner
If you want to find pleasure in studying again, you need to embrace your own passion.
I know it’s a lot “cooler” to be indifferent towards studying, to procrastinate, to do it almost out of spite and at the last minute. But is it really?
No one wins. It’s not rewarding. It’s not fulfilling. You’ll have forgotten it in a week. It just sucks for everyone involved. Love what you do. Love it like you would a lover. Be considerate, be tender and be patient.
It must not feel like an obligation. It must feel like a passion - a fiery want for new horizons, mentals fireworks and lightbulb moments. It must come from yourself, from your bowels, your fibres, your blood - not from some ominous outside force.
“I have to do this.” -> “I want to do this!” “I’m losing time. There is so much I have to do, I want to be done with this already.” -> “I want to give this my time. This is absolutely worth it. I really want to be doing this right now.” “Be fast. Be faster.” -> “Slow down. Be patient. Cherish this moment.” “This is hard. I hate it. I hate it so much.” -> “This is challenging. I love it. I love it so much.” “I can make this perfect, it has to be perfect! I could give this my all, I can give this my all. If I’m not giving this my all, I’m a complete and utter failure. Better not try at all rather than screwing it up. Again.” -> “This is a work-in-progress, just like anything else. I am sure I can improve it bit by bit, by devoting some of my time to it. Even if I don’t get very far today, I’m sure the experience will pay off in the long run and I might find some unrelated ideas for other projects!”
You must go from this:
2) MAKE ACTIVE CHOICES.
(Like, maybe make the choice NOT to wear that speedo)
Because that’s really what it comes down to in the end: CHOICE. Nobody actively chooses to procrastinate. Procrastination is the absence of choice.
Years of little to no success make you feel like your choices don’t matter -> you feel like you cannot influence anything -> you might as well not try -> you procrastinate.
But here’s the thing: your choices DO matter (DITCH that speedo!) and you must regain that trust in yourself.
We NEED to be able to make choices about their own lives. It makes us feel powerful and like we are truly alive.
It makes us feel like we are, you guessed it, in the flow.
Now, of course it’d be nice if I told you “Make conscious choices sweaty <3 ;*” and you’d go out and do it and that was it. But, truth be told, it’s hella hard to get there and it will take you at least a year of constant effort.
For me, this year meant constantly asking myself “Wait, do I REALLY want to do this right now?” and establishing a neat rule for all media consumption that goes “Always enrichment, never escape”. But, as I said, that’s a work-in-progress and something that you will have to work on in your own time and at your own pace.
Luckily, I found a shortcut :D
Now, the shortcut does not replace the year of constant effort, mind you, but it can help to make it a lot easier:
THE STUDY ROOM
What’s the “Study Room”? Well…
You might have been wondering what the title “Layer Yourself to Merge Yourself” is all about. This was my thought process:
- 1) I want to get from limbo to flow
- 2) And I want studying to feel like a reward in and of itself
- 3) And it’d be nice if I could concentrate on just spinning one wheel at a time, so I can really lose myself in it
- 4) I also want it to be a conscious choice, so I can train my decision-making process
- ….but how?
- …”fake it till you make it” or what, haha?
- ….I guess what that really means is that you have to act like you’re already there until you’re there?
- …so, like, you have to artifically induce naturalness?
- …haha, wouldn’t it be neat if I could do that and “transform” into my “study-form” like the Avatar or a magical girl or a superhero or something?
- …wait. Wait. WAIT. What if I COULD?
- What if there was a “me” that was specifically always in the flow and already loves and is good at studying and which I only access whenever I want to study?
- So I create a new “me”, so that, over time, we can become one again and I can change into that “me” whenever I want?
- …but how?
- I could always go to a special place, but that would limit me whenever that place wasn’t availabe.
- …..what if it was a place I could ALWAYS access?
- …what if it was a place in my MIND?
- …..holy SHIT.
And that’s how the “Study Room” was born. Below, I will detail the journey to my personal “study room”, but I wager that everybody’s study room will look a little different depending on what makes you feel most comfortable, rational and “in the flow”.
STEP 1 - DETACH FROM LIMBO
Close your eyes. Lean back.
Do it with me now. Consider this your tutorial. Bring yourself to a screeching halt, throw an anchor into the the ground of the stormy sea, pull the brakes, just - stop. Stop. Slow down. Close your eyes, lean back, keep your eyes closed for a good minute - god, how long a minute can be, right?- and feel your breathing consciously, slowly, feel how you are alive and full of hunger, feel how your heart beats, feel how much tension has built up inside of you, how much energy has been stored and how much you actually ache to do something meaningful. Feel it. Keep your eyes closed until you feel it. Then, come back to me.
STEP 2 - BECOME AWARE OF REALITY
I don’t know if you’ll need this step, but I live very much inside my head and limbo just makes that effect even stronger. So, I like to remind myself of my physicality, of my spatial realness, of my ability to perceive and interact with the world in this step. I re-connect with the world and it slows me down even more - it’s a bit like hooking myself into this world, so limbo can’t claim me so easily.
I drink a glass of water, I eat a carrot, I touch a cold tile, I feel the texture of a pillow, I play with my own hair - if I’m in public, like in a library, I usually just brush over my lips or grip the table unobtrusively. It’s a small step, one that usually doesn’t take longer than 10 seconds, but it’s one that has helped me a lot.
(When I’m really caught up in limbo, I usually lie down on the floor in my room. That works wonders)
STEP 3 - ENTER YOUR STUDY PLACE
At this point, I close my eyes again and visualize. I enter another world, the world of studying in my mind.
STEP 3A - THE DOOR
My eyes are still closed and imagine a dark, circular room: this is the entrance to my Study Room ™. I stand in the middle of the room - there is one door right in front of me, two to my left and two to my right. I have no idea what’s behind those other doors or why my imagination has conjured up a room like that, but hey, it works and here we are.
I gather all my concentration and repeat “My life is in my hands. I take on the responsibility for my own life. I WANT to learn. I CHOOSE this.” to myself. Then, I consciously choose to walk in only one direction, channeling all my thoughts into a straight line: towards the door right in front of me. I enter through it - somehow, I never have to actually open it, so it might be more like an open doorway?
STEP 3B - THE WATER
I step through the door and find myself in a space filled with water. I have absolutely no trouble breathing and I can easily swim, turn, glide and spiral like a dolphin. The water washes the last remnants of limbo off me, I feel my tensions washing away, my mind waking up, the wheel starting to move, my chest feeling lighter, my heart feeling hotter, my breathing going slow and steady. I swim in this liminal space for as long as I need to, I revel, I breathe, I wallow, I luxuriate until I feel ready to emerge from the water.
(wonder what psychologists would say about this little ritual - is it a literal re-birth? is this the womb? who knows? it works and that’s good enough for me right now …now that I think about it, that beach scene from Gravity might have been an inspiration. Man, I loved that movie already, but that ending?? Aaaaanyway, moving on…)
STEP 3C - THE WORLD
Then, I swim upwards and emerge from the water, head-first. The sun is warm and shines on my head and I step out of the water with bare feet, toes curling around grass and my lungs breathing in fresh forest air. Somewhere, a bird is singing, white clouds are languidly drifting by, all is warm, comfortable and good. I sit down on a giant mushroom by a tree (hey, don’t ask me, I don’t know), take a last deep breath and put pen to paper.
At this point, I open my eyes in the real world. I am completely relaxed, a thousand miles away from limbo, in another dimension even, calm and happy to engage with questions and wonders.
I’m in the flow.
In this world, I am a different me. A “study-me”.
In time, this me and I will merge again and we have already merged quite a bit. My walk through the Study Room process has become faster and faster and I am quite certain that, in time, it won’t take longer than a fraction of a second and it will seem like I can switch my flow on and off again like I used to. My study wheel is rolling again.
But if yours isn’t just yet, then …this is it. This is how, this is why and this is the very moment I re-connect with my “study values”, my passion and my agency, again and again and I choose to do it. Again. And again.
It is, really, all about choice.
And that’s the advantage I have over the old me. The old me studied because I didn’t know anything else and because I thought that I had to.
The me right now chooses to study because I want to. And that makes it ten times more effective, more freeing and more fun.
So run wild, enjoy, actively enter that world of studying in your head, no matter what yours might look like (rain? palm trees? other planet? go bonkers!), it’s about choosing this and wanting this. It is about YOU saying “Yes, there are other interesting things and wheels out there, but right here, right now, I want this, nothing else and I will give it all of myself for as long as I want to.”
As you might have guessed by the gifs, I really recommend watching Free! Iwatobi Swim Club if you’re interested in overcoming procrastination.
(I swear I’m not sponsored by KyoAni, but for all their other shortcomings, their characters always have amazing character arcs when it comes to professionalism and passions) Both Rin and Haru are caught in their own versions of limbo and following Rin’s journey in Season 1 and Haru’s journey in Season 2 really helped me realize a lot of things about my own life and about how I dealt with passion, talent and my career.
The last part of this series will include a Q&A, so if there is something you didn’t quite understand or are unsure about, something you’d like to add or recommend to others, something you’d like me to explain in more detail or demonstrate through other examples, please, just write me a message (my inbox is absolutely open!) and I will answer it in Part 5 :)
Thank you for coming along on this ride! I hope some of my thoughts could help you and please, do let me know if my methods work for you - I’d love to know! :D
Your life is in your hands,