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Breaking Procrastination

21 May 2015

In the cliffside of the Paro valley is Paro Taktsang. This Buddhist monastery was built to honour the founder of Buddhism in Tibet, who meditated for 3 years, 3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days. Talking about perseverance. This story is about doing the things that we inevitably have to do, and how the Buddhist principle of Shoshin can help us out.

By focussing, you’ll achieve more. Through the use of strict limits, you’ll become more efficient. It’s a way of letting go of the things that don’t truly matter, and sticking with what does. What remains are the tasks that we impose on ourselves, but also the inevitable obligations we have. Motivating ourselves to start on those obligatory tasks is quite a different story. This story, to be precise.

An important quest

A couple of weeks ago, I started a search for ways to effortlessly start on those uninteresting but mandatory tasks. It led me to a simple but valuable discovery. If you’re somewhat like me, then you most likely have procrastinated on writing an essay because you felt discouraged by the amount of work. And just like me, you might have found yourself unwilling to start studying for an exam more than once, because you were certain that the subject was unbelievably difficult. During some of these moments, the Buddhist principle of Shoshin could have just made the difference.

Without expectations

Shoshin is most often translated as ‘The Beginner’s Mind’, with Sho meaning ‘first’ and Shin meaning ‘mind’. Shoshin can be defined as starting on something without former knowledge and expectations. At the heart of Shoshin lies the goal of forgetting. By opening up to whatever may come, experiencing becomes easier. After all, chances are that in many cases, your estimations of writing an essay or studying for an exam were more negative than was realistic. The amount of work needed to write a proper essay doesn’t need to feel as huge as you might think. Similarly, the subject that you need to study for a specific exam is most likely not as difficult anymore once you’ve finally started.

Lower thresholds

Shoshin is practiced by focussing on the first step to the end goal, instead of the end goal itself. For example, instead of intending to write an entire essay, try sitting behind your laptop to write a single paragraph. Similarily, don’t concede to the temptation to jot down ‘study for exam’ in your schedule, but decide to plan on reading the first chapter of your book. Or maybe even only the first half of the first chapter. I’ve noticed that it works for me, as I tend to procrastinate less. In the end, I’ve done more, although it felt like less. Small tasks are easier to start than large, demanding tasks. After starting, it’s easier to plan your next goal. Before you know it, you’ve completed the huge task you never felt like doing.

Last modified:29 November 2019 4.24 p.m.
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