The situation is this …
You need to finish an assignment but you just can’t find the energy to get started. Quite frankly, you’re sick of this thing. So what do you do? You procrastinate.
Have you ever had this sort of experience before?
If this has happened to you, you’ve probably got something called Cook’s Mouth.
What’s Cook’s Mouth?
Writing coach Catherine Deveny explains Cook’s Mouth in the following way:
“Cook’s mouth is when you’ve been cooking something all day and you just can’t taste it anymore. People will sit at your table and eat the food you have prepared and exclaim that the lamb korma, minestrone or chocolate-chip biscuits are the best they have ever had. And you’ll reply, ‘Seriously? I’ve been cooking them all day. I just can’t taste them anymore. I feel sick of the sight of them’”.
A perfect example of where I’ve experienced Cook’s Mouth is with my PhD thesis.
I worked away on this 100,000-word thesis for close to 5 years before submitting it for examination. A few months later I received the news by phone: my PhD thesis had passed.
I was at the gym at the time and I couldn’t suppress my excitement. I jumped into the air and screamed with joy (Note: this is not something I’d usually do out in public!).
And for two days, I was on this massive high. But then I came crashing down. Why? Because as I carefully read through the 30 pages of examiners’ feedback I realised that I still have a fair chunk of work to do.
“Is this project ever going to end?” I spluttered out of my cook’s mouth.
My motivation tank was running low, which was a problem since I had only been given 90-days to make the corrections.
A week passed. I hadn’t touched my thesis. I thought, “What’s going on? Get a grip! I don’t have time to waste here”.
But I was procrastinating . . .
I can usually find a way to outsmart the part of me that wants to avoid doing work. I can usually trick myself into making a start. So when procrastination strikes (and lasts for a week), it’s never a good sign. Alarm bells were going off. One thing was clear: I needed help.
The Everest Philosophy
I contacted a wise professor who I had become friends with while working on my doctorate. I asked for his advice. He emailed me back straight away with this:
Think of yourself as climbing Mt. Everest in the Himalayas. You’re 29 feet from the summit. Your eyes are blinded by tears and your lungs are burning. Your body feels like it weighs a ton and every muscle aches. You simply want to give up. 29 feet seem like an eternity.
Except that the damned mountain is 29,029 feet high and you’ve already climbed 29 thousand of them. Despite your exhaustion, the hardest part is behind you. Reflect on what you have already achieved. Compared to that, the rest is truly nothing. So each day you work keep pushing on to the top, one foot at a time, until you finally stand on the summit triumphant!
He signed off the email with, “From your climbing buddy”.
Swinging into action to finish the beast
In Australia we have a saying that sometimes you just need a good kick up the bum to get started. Well, that email was the kick up the bum that I needed. I swung into action and created a plan of attack for finishing my thesis corrections. Did I then sit back and relax? No. I got stuck into making the corrections straight away.
For the next few weeks, I tackled a few corrections every day first thing in the morning. Once I completed 45 minutes of thesis corrections, I felt like I was off the hook for the rest of the day. It was such a great feeling (it certainly felt better than procrastinating). Before I knew it, all the corrections were complete. I had made it to the top of the mountain!
To sum up
So the next time you find yourself struggling to complete a project and you’re procrastinating, remember you’re probably 29,000 feet high up on the mountain. You’re really close to the top. You just need to keep going. Focus on the next thing you need to do. And then the next thing. And then the next thing after that. Eventually you’ll get to the top of that mountain. You’ll finish that beast of an assignment. And sweet victory will be all yours.