Monday, February 13, 2017

Turning Tricks

Let’s be straight from the outset: writing is hard work. Hard work and I have never gotten along. This is why, over the years, I’ve become a master procrastinator.

Take this morning. Yeah, I got a couple hundred words in. Then I looked out the window. One of the posts in my deck railing had come loose, the load-bearing one holding up the drain spout, leaving the pipe to hang at an angle. So of course I had to go out right then and nail it back into place. Then I had to make sure the tarp on the air conditioner was secure. Then, as long as I was dressed, I went out to the dollar store because I’d been planning to get light bulbs and paper towels anyway. When I got home, I did the dishes. Instead of finally getting back to my story, I’m now writing this blog. See how one thing leads to another?

Writing is the only time I feel an urge to do housework. Those women who publish a book a month either trained their kids as housekeeping staff, or have the best damn husbands on the planet.

And then there’s my more insidious method, the computer game addiction.

Since I posted my confession in January, I’ve had off-and-on success. I was “clean” for three weeks. I slipped up at the end of January, but vowed to kick the habit for February. That lasted three days, and culminated in an obsessive all-day marathon that kept me up until 3 in the morning. The only bright spot is that once I get sufficient sleep I wake up energetic and with no urge to play. Even so, I’ve had minor setbacks here and there.

Other people with different addiction problems have said this, and I’m adding my voice to the mix: will power does not work. It doesn’t make you weak or a loser. It’s just that determination alone isn’t sufficient. If you’re a food addict, clearing all the junk food out of the house might help, but you have to leave the house eventually. What’s to stop you from grabbing a box of Funny Bones while you’re out picking up the light bulbs and paper towels? Will power only goes so far.

In my case, the addiction is just another symptom. The underlying problem, the real problem, is procrastination. However, the addiction has become a threat to both my physical health and my chances of maintaining financial stability. I have to deal with the symptom directly while trying to root out the cause.

If will power won’t cut it, then I’ll have to resort to trickery.

One thing I’ve heard that does work, more or less, is replacing bad habits with better ones. This is why ex-smokers get fat. They substitute putting gum or something in their mouths instead of a cigarette. Is sugar better or worse for you than nicotine? You be the judge.

In my case, I’m trying a bit of re-programming. I’ve fallen into the unfortunate habit of playing wherever I set up the laptop, including out in public. The foremost danger zones are in bed and on the couch in front of the TV. If I stay off those, I’m halfway home.

This week I’ve designated my “office” (the second bedroom) as a no-game zone. When I sit at the desk in there, it’s work-related activities only. No games in the office from here on.

I know I can establish positive habits. I’ve already trained myself to do the dishes every night. The reward is waking up to a clean, empty sink in the morning. The office is where I keep my ancient desktop, the ‘90s-era Troglodyte 1000. That doesn’t have any games on it, so my brain’s already programmed to expect a game-free experience when I sit down at the keyboard. I just need to extend that mindset to include the laptop and I might be back in business.

As for the bed and the couch, well … I’m on the couch right now, and I’ve already jumped around several times between this blog and the games. I suspect aversion therapy—no more setting up in bed or in front of the TV—may be the only solution.

Next on the list will be training myself to avoid playing in public. Since I only set up outside the house to use public WiFi, I can distract myself with the Internet. Sugar or nicotine, pick your poison.

As for whatever it is that’s generating my procrastination in the first place, that’s going to take some digging. Maybe I’ll put that off for the time being, and just write instead. Replace bad habits with better, more productive ones. Isn’t that the point?

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