Just Do It?

May 13, 2010

Posted by Deborah Atherton

Even before Nike adopted this phrase, it was extremely prevalent in our culture.

It has a nice ring – just do it – forget all your hesitations and second thoughts, stop procrastinating, pull yourself together, and take the leap!  Perhaps someone has even told you this about a creative project (or career) you’ve been thinking of undertaking, or a ritual you’ve been trying to establish.

Fine for Olympic skateboarders, but maybe it doesn’t work quite that way for you. It sure doesn’t work that way for me. And according to psychologist James Prochaska, who is perhaps best known for his statement that “change is a process, not an event,”  it doesn’t work that way for most people.  Studies done by Dr. Prochaska at UCLA have demonstrated that the process of actually doing something new—making a behavior change—begins in “pre-contemplation” – you aren’t even sure what it is you are thinking of doing yet—maybe you are asking yourself some questions, doing some self-exploration.  The next phase is contemplation – you’ve identified the action you are thinking of taking, but you are sitting on the fence about it, weighing the pros and cons.     If you can convince yourself to act, you proceed to preparation—take a few small steps. You go out and buy the watercolor set or camera; you get that new laptop you’ve been thinking about for two  years; you borrow a guitar from a friend and strum a tentative chord or two; you tweak your resume.  Or you meet with a new potential collaborator, file away or store all remnants of your last project to carve out some working space, and clear a little time on your calendar.

Then, finally, having thoroughly convinced yourself it is possible, you may actually be ready to do it.  Which doesn’t mean you will keep doing it—if you’re trying to do something like set up a daily writing or practicing ritual, for instance, the UCLA studies say you need 4-6 months to trust that as a real change.  Otherwise, back to contemplation!

This isn’t to say that you won’t wake up tomorrow at 3 AM with the greatest inspiration of your life, cast the covers aside, and start working on it immediately.  In that case, please, Just Do It! But I’m willing to bet that in the months before, you have already set the stage for that creative breakthrough, and the materials and resources you need in that moment will be mysteriously close to hand.