Can we use a thought as a buffer?

I’m a PhD student, and I’m currently in the process of ‘writing up’; essentially, I have a year to write about 90,000 words of original research and analysis. Up to this point, schooling has always been easy for me. My superpower has always been writing. I’m able to research and write a 5,000-word essay in one night and still get a great grade, and so I walked into the PhD thinking, ‘What? Like it’s hard? This is going to be easy for me.’

I’m now three years into the process, and I’ve been required to write the whole time. (In the UK, there are no classes for a PhD student; all you do is research and write.) As a result, I’ve lazily made my way through last-minute writing, panicking each time that I come up on a meeting with my supervisor, for which I said that I would have 10,000 words. But I’ve always survived, sometimes with nothing but an outline and sometimes with a few thousand words. (Note: None of these words will show up in the final product; they’re more like exploring the topic and the research and practicing how it will all go.) Then, I feel guilty each time. I feel behind, and I feel mad at myself for not following through with what I had planned to produce. I think, ‘how am I going to get to 90,000 words written if I can’t even write 10,000 words?’

I’ve been doing models on this. For the most part, my thought is ‘this is too hard’ or ‘I can’t do it,’ which leads to feeling overwhelmed and then to the action of not doing the writing until I’m forced—anxiety and panic filled—to produce something…anything. But I think that there may be a layer beneath all of that. If I go a bit deeper I seem to find the thought, ‘I’ve always done it at the last minute before…I’ve always gotten away with it…I can just do that again.’ I’ll think, ‘I’m a great writer. I’ve been fooling people this way for decades. This won’t be an exception. I can wait until the last minute.’

Logically, I know that I can’t write 90,000 words in a weekend before it’s due, but I can’t get myself to work on it steadily. The thought that comes up when I sit down and try is (like a toddler), ‘I just don’t want to.’ Then, I’ll shift to something else that seems productive in the moment and is almost a sibling to the process I’m avoiding: working on my copywriting business.

So my question is: Can we use a thought as a buffer? My thought (that I’ve always been able to do this before) gives me peace in the moment, but comes with later consequences. Is it an excuse? Is it a challenge to myself? Is it a something that I use to hide what I’m actually thinking? Because this model goes:

C: There is a deadline for my PhD.
T: I’ve always waited until the last minute to write things, and I always do a good job anyway.
F: Empowered.
A: I don’t write. I procrastinate.
R: Nothing gets written, except maybe a last-minute jumble that doesn’t actually count toward the actual finished dissertation/thesis.

Doesn’t that seem like a strange model? It’s like my seemingly positive thought is acting as a buffer.