Oberlin Blogs

The Secret

February 13, 2012

Joe Dawson ’12

In college, it's not always easy. People often expect you to do things. You have to do these things to get grades, you have to get grades to graduate, you have to graduate to get a job, and you have to get a job before you die. How do you get these things done? Some of these things are HARD. Most are merely inconvenient. All are harder than simply staying in bed would be. You need motivation! Here is my foolproof system for getting your rear in gear, told in parable form:

On a certain day in January, I was responsible for getting my own ass out of bed. This can be easy. Some days, I wake up knowing what I have to do that day, ready to do it all. I'm convinced this is not a good idea. I think the burst-bust productivity cycle is much too strenuous, and a more moderate approach is what I advise. I also feel like people's expectations of me would go up if I did this too often. So since September 2009, I've embraced a new way of getting things done. It came through a process of trial and error, although 'trial' connotes a certain amount of effort, and as you'll soon see, there is very little involved. It's almost Zen in a way, that after so much time spent trying and trying, the true way is only found through not trying in the end.

So on this particular day when I knew I had to get things done, I got pretty philosophical. I thought about the state the world would be in if I never left the bed. I've heard people talk about how they like the feeling of being awake at 6:30, how they enjoy being the only one awake, how they love to look at the clock at 9:30 in the morning and think "Wow, look at all the stuff I've already done!" There's a different feeling associated with cocooning yourself in a comforter. I rolled over and looked out the window at the toiling masses and thought:

"Look at them, the lemmings.

The ants, working and working until they die.

Brushing their teeth, never truly appreciating the poetry of bedsheets.

Waking up to exercise before work, trying to stay healthy so they can live longer and have more of this terrible existence.

I pity them.

What need I with pants?"

People say you should be productive, say you should be out of bed before three in the afternoon. People also say you should want to do work, you should love the work you're doing. It's crap, it's not how you feel every day. Some days bed just keeps you there. The bed is warm, and you know that the outside world is cold. It's simple survival instinct. Why would you move when you're not in danger, why would you go someplace cold when you have somewhere warm surrounding you? I can comfort myself when I stay in bed until noon because I know I am winning the evolutionary race. I'm killing it, saving energy and keeping myself out of harm's way. I'd be a great caveman.

Some challenges: The sun, and guilt. My bedroom was in the northeast corner of the house I stayed in in January, so the sun came in the windows early in the morning. If I made it through this part of the day, past 11 or so, I could stay in a dark cocoon until the sun rose the next day if I wanted to. Challenge #1, vanquished!

Guilt is, eventually, the thing that made me take the next step. Guilt and disgust. I wrapped myself up in my blankets and worked on making a Joe-shaped imprint in the bed for a long time, but eventually I saw myself as an outside person would see me, a slug in cotton sheets. This kicked me in the butt enough to get out of bed.

The battle wasn't won, however. There are plenty of ways to waste time before getting to work. Eventually guilt made me get off a vicious Youtube cycle to open a blank Word document. This driving force, not necessarily to be great, but to not be a trash pile of a human, is quite strong. This alone can write papers and finish problem sets for you if you let it!

Don't let it! Not yet. At the moment when the guilt begins to be too much, this is when I have to tell myself to stay strong. I feel worthless at this point. This is when I pull out one more distraction. I generally open a game of Spider Solitaire and play until I win a game.

Occasionally I substituted the useless distractions (Youtube, Spider Solitaire) for something that could be construed as constructive, doing dishes or laundry, practicing guitar, learning how to use software programs. I had an agreement with myself that I would change my ways. I took Angry Birds off my phone. This is folly. It gets you in the mood to do productive things by easing you into the idea of doing actual work instead of keeping you firmly in the rut. If you are going to embark on this new style of non-motivation, there's no way to half-ass it.

Now the sun was setting. The starter's pistol for the ineffective. I had finally managed to spill some toothpaste on my sweatpants, and I was ready to tackle my work. But was I really prepared? Did I really hate myself? The answer was yes, and I focused that deep, biting self-hate, and used it! I unleashed it on all the work I meant to do that day, knocking out personal statements and blog posts like a bear probably knocks down saplings after hibernating, before it's very steady on its feet.

Sometimes you don't get your work done (started) the first day. No worries, resolve to wake up early the next day and get going. When you wake up the next day, you may not feel like getting out of bed immediately. Always trust these kinds of feelings, they will never steer you wrong.

Responses to this Entry

Great post man; highly relatable.
The "poetry of bedsheets" is perilously alluring indeed.

Posted by: Matias on February 17, 2012 10:15 PM

Your thoughts are so poetic. I wish my stream of consciousness had more structure.

Motivation and the cycle of procrastination are vicious. And as silly as it sounds, I found that putting on pants in the morning actually helps me focus. And also moving out of my bedroom into a kitchen or the living room worked wonders. But to each's own: I also used to procrastinate by writing blog posts. Ooops.

Posted by: Ma'ayan on February 20, 2012 12:26 PM

As much as it was meant as a joke, I think if one did the opposite of everything I describe here, you could actually get some serious work done. Put on pants, get out of the space you use to sleep/eat/play, and make a commitment not to get on Facebook for the next forty-five minutes. That's a theory, I've rarely carried it out successfully.

Posted by: Joe on February 20, 2012 8:49 PM

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