Okay, so Week 1 of the Yoga Journal Boost Your Willpower program was about choosing a focus/goal. I chose staying on task while working. Week 2 was about making a commitment to that focus/goal and choosing one thing to do that will remind you of said focus/goal. I chose "I will" statements. Week 3 is about self-compassion.
Now, self-compassion is going to sound a little squishy and New Ageish to many people, but what Week 3 is really about is dealing with setbacks. In a Week 3 Yoga Journal Chat with Kelly McGonigal, who designed the Boost Your Willpower program for YJ, McGonigal says that success with using willpower to meet a goal has less to do with how enthusiastic people are when setting out ("I'm going to write 7 hours a day!") then it does with how they respond to the first setback. ("Oops. I talked on the phone for half an hour this morning.") And the second ("I spent forty-minutes analyzing last week's episode of Downton Abbey in an e-mail I sent my sister during work time.") And maybe the third or fourth.
Because I tend to think in metaphor a lot of the time, I often compare managing the time for my writing practice to managing eating. What happens when we've been trying to control our eating and we eat something we feel we shouldn't have? We give in to what Yoga Journal called in one of its Boost Your Willpower e-mails "The What-the-Hell Effect." What the Hell? We might as well eat some more because we've ruined the eating plan, anyway. In for a dime, in for a dollar. And the same is true while trying to stay on task with work. If we are diverted from the task for a while, we can feel that the morning, the afternoon, even a big chunk of a day is shot. What the Hell? We might as well give in and continue to wander mentally. "This cycle--of indulgence leading to regret leading to greater indulgence--is one of the most dangerous to willpower," the Boost Your Willpower people state.
Think of competitive ice skaters who fall during competition, get up, and continue with their programs. Writers who have wandered from the task have to come up with a way to pick themselves up off the metaphorical ice and continue with their writing practice. How? I, of course, have a couple of suggestions.
1. That was then, this is now. The Zenny business about not dwelling on the past--even the very recent past of this morning or an hour ago--could be helpful here. That moment of slipping away from the task at hand is over, and I'm living in another moment in which I have an opportunity to stay on task. So I will. (Oh, I just made another "I will" statement.)
2. The unit system. Yes, I know. I'm treating the unit system as a freaking cure-all, but that's because it has the potential to be one. If we are accustomed to thinking of a work day as a unit of time that's broken into more, smaller units of time, then we are used to starting over again, over and over, during the day. So, if we've blown off some time, and we're able to put that behind us, we can then see that we have X units of time left in our workday--just as we would have had if we hadn't wasted some of them just an hour or so ago. Something changed in our very, very recent past because we didn't work as we'd planned to. But nothing has changed in our immediate future. The time we had planned for working is still there.
I actually used the unit system to get me back on task yesterday afternoon. While posting a link to the NESCBWI spring conference schedule in a blog post, I became distracted and spent what seemed like a considerable amount of time perusing said schedule, trying to determine which days I wanted to go and whether or not my computer guy should go for a day, too. My indulgence led to regret, because I'd had a good work morning and I believed I'd destroyed the whole day in the afternoon by doing something I hadn't planned to do, something I could have done in the evening after my workday was over. I was teetering on the brink of succumbing to greater indulgence. But I happened to look at the clock and realized I could do another 45-minute unit on the specific writing project I'd planned for that day. Because I am now used to thinking of 45 minutes as a significant work period, I went ahead and used it to work.
From this experience--and this week's Boost Your Willpower material--I'm led to wonder if learning how to get back on task is as important as staying there in the first place.