Procrastination: Stop Waiting and Start Painting

Do you recognise this scenario? Your husband/wife/significant other buys you a beautiful box of watercolours, so you can start a new hobby. But the days, weeks and months tick by as procrastination takes over.

Eventually the box ends up in the loft or is given away in a raffle.

This can happen to a lot of us, and it doesn’t only apply to arts and crafts. Think about all those sets of golf clubs that never get used, the chess sets given away and bicycles languishing in the garage. It’s very common.

Why do we procrastinate or give up with new hobbies?

A lot is written about procrastination, caused by a fear of failure, or perfectionism.

But is fear of failure really the issue here?

That word failure sounds a bit final doesn’t it? It doesn’t offer much room for manoeuvre. However, one theory I have is we procrastinate because it’s probably easier to hold onto the possibility that we can succeed. We can start out with a perfect vision that we’ve conjured up in our mind of how we’d like things to turn out. That day-dream makes us feel good without us having to actually do anything.

And we would rather hold into our perfect vision, than get going and see our Nirvana/fantasy of being totally awesome destroyed. This leads us to never actually start in the first place.

But my view is the real reason why that box of paints never gets opened isn’t fear of failure …

It’s what I call the “and then what do I do?” syndrome. Or ‘All the Gear but no idea.’

Here’s an example of what I mean.

Here is a story about Jane (not her real name). I used to work with Jane in an office. Occasionally at lunchtime a colleague would ask Jane if she could pick up a sandwich, on her way back from the shops. Simple request you’d think, but Jane would get really anxious about this.

Here’s Jane’s response to a simple request to pick up a cheese and pickle sandwich:-

OK yes no problem. But what if they haven’t got any pickle?

“I’ll have tomato instead”

What if they haven’t got any tomatoes?” Jane would say

“Of course they’ll have tomatoes, but if they haven’t I’ll have ham and mustard instead”

But what if they haven’t got any ham?”…and so it went on, and on. Jane wanted options for every potential tricky scenario she might find herself in.

It’s this grappling with the unknown and new situations which caused her so much anxiety.

What if? What if? What if?

We throw boulders in the way when we don’t have answers, which could stop us from taking up a new hobby for example.

Some people want answers to everything, to know how to cope with every challenge that’s thrown at us. This could stop some of us from trying anything new. Ever.

Whenever I approach a new art project, I experience this feeling every time. This was vividly brought home to me when I was given a Wild Card to enter the Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year competition in 2015. At first I was excited about being part of the event, until I realised I couldn’t paint a decent tree! And fear an anxiety set in. I panicked and commenced a frantic tree painting fest. Long story. Didn’t end well.

When I first learnt to paint it took a while for me to absorb the terminology, the techniques and skills required to develop as an artist. What brushes to use, what paper works with what medium. Then there’s learning how to mix paints to create new shades. And let’s not forget composition, understanding perspective, painting clouds the list goes on and on… and on

But back to the sandwich dilemma. Our friend trotted off to fetch a sandwich faced with a similar dilemma, the “what do I do if they don’t have pickle? How will I cope?”. Lunchtime drama which happened every week.

Have you got a brand new set of paints the loft?

Are you at home staring at a set of paints/golf clubs/tennis racket which has been left untouched for six month? Feeling a bit guilty?

It isn’t fear of failure that’s stopping you from having a go, its more a case of not being able to handle the unknown. The curve ball, the unexpected. Or “what if I look a total prat on the golf course in front of my mates?” scenario.

What’s the answer?

When you’re starting a new hobby at 55 for example, you couldn’t possibly master it overnight could you? Be realistic. But relax there is a solution.

Do you try out your new hobby once, and then give up because your first attempt didn’t meet your expectations?

Or, do you ‘Feel the Fear and do it anyway’ knowing that for the first few months you’re prepared to be a student again? Are you willing to make a mountain of mistakes (which you will learn from by the way) and go through lots of disappointment?

If the answer is yes that’s a great attitude to adopt. Are you are willing accept that for a while you will be a total novice? Excellent. Here’s the best bit. Eventually once you’ve mastered the skill, most of what you will learn along the way will become second-nature. Now doesn’t that make you feel better?

Here’s a top tip.

Let go of your expectations. In the beginning remind yourself that with every failure there is a lesson for you to apply next time, and the time after that. This is basically what I did in the beginning when I started painting. Most professional artists probably have lofts full of discarded canvases that they wouldn’t dream of sharing with anyone except their cat/dog.

I’ve dozens and dozens of discarded attempts, drafts and total disasters stuffed into a carrier bag in my study. However, I’m willing to go through the process of trial and error. I’ve learnt from experts as I developed my skill. I reflected on what went well, and devoted myself to improving any weaknesses. And that process is ongoing. Every day is a school day for me.

Yes I have to feel the fear and paint it anyway, as there is always something that presents a challenge for every painting I set out to do. Then if it does become too much of a challenge, I break the task down into smaller parts. I focus on improving a specific skill before I launch myself into painting the final artwork.

And every so often things fall nicely into place, which justifies the previous failures.

To conclude then. Get over needing to know all the answers or being the instant expert. Your happy accidents on the canvas could eventually turn into a masterpiece one day. As they say, there is no such thing as an overnight success. Success is usually preceded by years of practise.

An old Chinese Proverb says: ‘The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now’

And according to Psychology Today if you’re taking up a new hobby and you’re over 50, you might think you’ve missed the boat and it’s far too late. But it doesn’t matter when you start, start NOW. NOW also includes tomorrow, and the weeks and months and years ahead that you can look forward to.

Feel the fear and do it anyway

Learn, fail, start again.

Rinse and repeat – a lot can happen in 12 months.

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