displacement activity is the result of two contradicting instincts in a particular situation. Birds, for example, may peck at grass when uncertain whether to attack or flee from an opponent; similarly, a human may scratch his or her head when they do not know which of two options to choose. -wikipedia

In Ashley's world, when Remy is taking a nap, and I am unsure as to whether I should start work on my children's book, or work on an essay I've been writing, I start to wash the dishes.  Then I check my email, then a I dilly around a little, then I pretend to organize, eat an avocado, sweep the floor.  The Remy wakes up.  I don't do this all the time, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't follow a similar pattern frequently.  It wasn't until Carl recently brought home an article talking about displacement activities and self-handicapping that I realized how much I do this.  

The gist of the article talks about how we set ourselves up to do less that we are capable of because we are afraid of failure.  Wikipedia explains self-handicapping as well:  ...the process by which people avoid effort in the hopes of keeping potential failure from hurting self-esteem. It was first theorized by Edward E. Jones and Steven Berglas, according to whom self-handicaps are obstacles created, or claimed, by the individual in anticipation of failing performance.

Art by Lucas Grogan, found on the Jealous Curator
In other words, we stop ourselves from being awesome because we are afraid we might fail.  Which we might.  A good example of this is procrastination.  Waiting until the night before to do something and then feeling great when we still do alright in that thing because in our heart we know that if we would have spent as much time as we had wanted on the project, it would have been really great.  We spread ourselves too thin and then tell ourself inside that "if I hadn't been doing all of these other things, I would have been able to focus and do great at this."  I think as humans we are all masters of these techniques.  When I taught freshmen english classes, a good portion of our time was spent talking about how to start something well in advance instead of cheating ourselves of a decent learning experience, and thus depriving others of something decent as well.  I am a master of displacement activities and self-handicapping, and honestly, I would like to not be anymore.  I want to tackle the things that seem most scary to me and I want to take some risks.  I feel ready.  I'm not sure exactly what form this will take on, and that is perhaps the most exciting part.  My head and my heart are ready to at least try the things that are hard. 


Heather said...

Thanks for the great post! Now you've got me thinking about the ways I sabotage things. And ohhh, do I ever relate to your example of trying to figure out what to start with when the baby naps. I would love to hear more about your process with this! :-)

Janet said...

Thanks for posting this thoughtful and interesting information. I'll be thinking about it and hope to soon be ready to apply the last sentence! Love your blog.

C-|-W said...

Wow. That was a call to repentance. Thanks.

Brooke said...

You are like NPR, but in an awesome blog form written by a dear dear friend!

This idea of "displacement activities" was so profound to me for some reason.. oh wait, it's because I'm reading blogs instead of starting tasks at work that will take mental energy. That's why. But really, thanks for giving me a constructive way to think about my behavoir instead of just "How did I waste this day!" at night.

Love you

Lizzy Lambson said...

I read a Shel Silverstein poem today that reminded me of this post. Thought I'd share it with you!

You've been up on that diving board
Making sure that it's nice and straight.
You've made sure that it's not too slick.
You've made sure it can stand the weight.
You've made sure that the spring is tight.
You've made sure that the cloth won't slip.
You've made sure that it bounces right,
And that your toes can get a grip--
And you've been up there since half past five
Doin' everything . . . but DIVE.

Shelly said...

I'm afraid that I'm probably the MASTER at all the displacement activities and procrastination that you've discussed here...it's been a life-long struggle for me! I've thought of myself as a procrastinating perfectionist -- and it usually ends up just as a procrastinator. I love your written thought process, Ash, and it's inspiring.

PNRBA said...

This is brilliant. Thank you. I'm excited to try "being awesome" today. It helped me to put a label on the stumbling blocks in front of me so that I can recognize them for what they are (displacement activities) and step around them to keep moving forward. On to Awesomeness! Thank you.

It's Not a Tuba said...

Unfortunately, reading random blogs about displacement activities can itself be a displacement activity. I'm simultaneously enlightened and ashamed (not to be confused with ashmaed).