Forgiveness: the answer to writer’s block

New research indicates there may be an easy solution to beating writer’s block: forgiving yourself.

Leaving writing tasks to the eleventh-hour is bad for you and your reports. Other than causing unnecessary stress, last-minute scribbling raises the chances of making silly mistakes, especially when there’s no time to proof the final draft.

But beating yourself up about it won’t help; chide yourself and you’re much more likely to fall into the same writer’s block trap again.

An off-putting problem

Self-forgiveness as a cure for writer’s block may sound too simple to be true. But a 2010 study from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada suggests otherwise.

It found that people who forgive themselves for previously putting off writing tasks tend to get started more quickly next time around, and are more likely to perform better in future assignments.

The research team, led by psychology professor Michael Wohl, looked at one particular aspect of writer’s block: procrastination. They wanted to find out why some students could overcome the problem better than others, and whether this affected their academic performance.

To do this, they questioned 119 students before successive mid-term exams, to discover how much they put off revising, and how they felt about their level of dallying in between the two tests.

Overcoming procrastination

The researchers found that those students who admitted to procrastinating before the first exam, but forgave themselves for it, were less likely to put off studying for the second. Unsurprisingly, these students tended to do better in the second test.

The pupils who continued to be angry at themselves for putting off their work before the first mid-term – and therefore not performing as well as they could – continued their pattern of procrastination before the second.

Emotions that lead to motivation

Generally speaking, forgiving yourself for previous time-wasting and letting go of the associated guilt motivates us to begin important tasks more quickly and work harder the second time around. But why?

Feeling guilty can work in your favour, according to the researchers, because it can spur you on to mend your ways. For example, if your delayed report affects your client’s schedule, then you are motivated to make amends by not only making sure it doesn’t happen next time, but also by putting more effort into the next document.

But moving from guilt to self-forgiveness is important, too. Self-forgiveness helps us to associate challenging but important tasks – such as writing – with more positive emotions, which means we are less likely to avoid them in the future.

Reference: I forgive myself, now I can study: How self-forgiveness for procrastination can reduce future procrastination was originally published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences Vol 48 Issue 7 (May 2010).

Want to learn more? Read our white paper Forgiveness: the scientific cure for procrastination.

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