This scenario plays out regularly for me: have important work to do. Open YouTube to do some ‘research’. See a video about deep sea monsters in the sidebar. Put up a futile fight to resist clicking it. Give in. Fast forward an hour and I’m now reading a totally random article about how North Korea discovered a unicorn lair. What the hell happened?
Once you jump aboard the procrastination train, there are no stops in sight. You quickly spiral out of control down deep interweb rabbit holes. You’ve managed to spin your wheels by doing everything but the task you set out to do. Why is procrastination so tempting? And how do we get ourselves to do the important stuff?
Why Do We Procrastinate?
Most psychologists think that the reason we procrastinate is simple: we do it to avoid fear, pain, anxiety, or some other emotion associated with an important task. So, you might ditch your run to avoid heading out into miserable weather. You know you always feel better after a run and warm up quickly. But there’s Instagram feeds to check, coffee to drink, and cat memes to keep you busy.
Psychologists also have other ideas about why procrastination is so hard to stop. Some think that it’s linked to our deeper perceptions of time and how we think about our present and future self.
The idea is that we care more about our present selves than future selves. If given the choice of eating a doughnut now or being healthier in one year, we often go for the doughnut.
We know that our present and future self are the same, but we treat them as different people. We focus on our present selves because we care about how we feel right now. We get the reward (doughnut) and leave the unwanted weight gain for the future self to deal with. Here’s Homer’s take on it:
Why Is Procrastination a Problem?
I wrote this blog because I procrastinate (especially when it comes to writing). Just about everyone struggles with it. But is it really a problem? I think so.
When we procrastinate, we waste our most valuable asset—time. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, we all get 24 hours in a day.
“Anything lost can be found again, except for time wasted."
— Kevin Gates
Our time on this earth is limited. Every day that passes is another day you could’ve been doing that one thing you keep putting off. It could be planning to travel, learning a language, finding yourself on a walkabout, or losing some weight.
So, how do we tune out distractions to focus on things that enrich our lives? Procrastination is complex. And I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but here are some approaches I’ve found that can help.
Use Fear as Your Compass
We can group a lot of emotions under the umbrella of fear. These could include pain, stress, anxiety, vulnerability, and so on. To be able to stop procrastinating we need to do something counterintuitive—move toward the fear. This isn’t an easy feat, but like any skill can be learnt. As writer Steven Prefield explains:
“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.The best way to get comfortable with fear is by exposing ourselves to it in low-risk situations. Fear thrives in the shadows, but when we shine a light on it and face it, it loses its hold over us. Here’s how you could do this:
“Everything you want is on the other side of fear."
— Jack Canfield
Getting Started Builds Momentum
When we procrastinate, we turn our tasks into a storm in a teacup. The longer we push them off, the bigger they seem to get. But there’s a simple way around this that I learned through trial and error.
I’ve been writing weekly blogs and publishing them every Monday for a while now. You’d think I’d have a streamlined system in place. But the truth is that most posts are painstakingly hard to write. It’s a messy process. There’s usually a battle going on between the rational and emotional parts of my brain that plays out every time I try to write. It looks like this:
Image source: Pinterest
But I noticed that when I stop looking up YouTube videos of Steve Irwin catching crocs and just start one little part of my blog, I’m usually able to keep going. The resistance I feel is mostly to getting started. Once I do something (anything) I build momentum and it’s much easier to keep moving. This fits with the idea of the three-minute rule.
The Three-Minute Rule
Psychologists have found that we’re much more likely to complete a hard task if we can make a start on it, no matter how small. That’s where the three-minute rule—three minutes isn’t a hard and fast rule. There are also two- and five-minute rules that are based on the same idea—comes from.
Think about one big thing you’ve been putting off. Now think about all the tasks that you need to do to achieve that thing. If you’re like me, this gets overwhelming. Then, procrastination troll swoops in to save us from the pain with never-ending distractions.
But what if you only had three minutes to make a start on that big, scary task? Pick one three-minute action that you can do right now to move closer to your goal. It can be anything. Just pick something. Set a timer. And get going.
When you do this, you’re able to trick procrastination troll. You cut a deal with him: “look troll, we’ll just spend three minutes doing this task, then I promise we can go back to searching the net for the world’s deadliest animals.” Procrastination troll reluctantly agrees to leave you alone for a few minutes. But once you start your task, he buggers off and falls asleep. Suddenly you’re on the productivity train to getting stuff done.
The three-minute rule works because you can easily commit to it. It breaks down a complicated task into small pieces. Most of the time, you’ll find that as soon as you start, it becomes easier to keep going. Three minutes turns into 30 minutes, then an hour . . .
Here are some ideas to put the three-minute rule into practice:
Don’t Wait for Inspiration!
One of the best things you can do to avoid procrastinating is not waiting until you feel in the mood to do the task. When you ignore how you feel and just start, you’ll find what you need. As Timothy Pychyl, a professor who studies procrastination, explains:
“Most of us seem to tacitly believe that our emotional state has to match the task at hand. I have to recognize that I’m rarely going to feel like it, and it doesn’t matter if I don’t feel like it."
To make it easy to start, Pychyl suggests breaking down tasks into very small steps. For example, if you’ve got a 50-page report to write, open a Word document and write the heading.
Don’t Confuse Procrastination With a Lack of Clarity
Are you procrastinating or do you need more information and direction to start a task?
There are two areas of our brain that need to work together to create change. The limbic system or emotional brain and the neocortex or the rational brain. Our rational brain is responsible for analysing and planning. And if it’s not given clear direction or doesn’t have enough information, it’ll spin its wheels.
Whenever I try to write a blog without doing enough research it’s really messy. I’ll often write pages of notes and then scrap most of it. But if I spend more time up front doing a detailed outline and researching points, the process goes much smoother.
Make sure that you’ve got everything you need before you dive into a task. Give your rational brain crystal clear directions to stop it from wasting time. For example, every morning at 9 am make five cold calls to increase sales.
Don’t just consume information. If you’ve read this far, I’m assuming you find this post useful. You’ve now got two choices: 1) close the screen and think ‘that’s nice’ and move on with your day. Or 2) pick something you’ve been putting off and try the three-minute rule. Start with something really easy. And as Nike says, just do it! Decision creates action. Action creates results.
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BREAKING MENTAL BARRIERS: THE SCIENCE OF POSITIVE THINKING
April 30, 2017
It was 5:15 pm on a wet and windy day in Oxford on 6 May 1954. Roger Bannister, a 25-year-old medical student, was nervously warming up with his pacemakers at the Iffley Road Track. Bannister was about to become the first man to run a mile in under 4 minutes. It was a feat many people thought was out of reach.
Bannister scheduled his first attempt to run a sub 4-minute mile at a meet between Oxford University and the Amateur Athletic Association. He knew that weather conditions needed to be just right to break the barrier, but things weren’t looking good. Bannister had almost pulled out of the attempt because of strong winds and rain. About 30 minutes before the race, he looked at a nearby flagpole:
“It fluttered more gently now, and the scene from Shaw’s Saint Joan flashed through my mind, how she, at her desperate moment, waited for the wind to change. Yes, the wind was dropping slightly. This was the moment when I made my decision. The attempt was on. "
At 6 pm, the gun fired. Bannister was led by two pacemakers: Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway. Bannister tucked in behind Brasher as he completed the first half mile in 1 minute 58 seconds. Chataway then moved up to the front and led Bannister through 3 laps in 3 minutes 01 second. The sub 4-minute mile was in reach. Bannister could feel it. He would need to run the final lap in 59 seconds. Bannister went for it:
“I had a moment of mixed joy and anguish, when my mind took over. It raced well ahead of my body and drew my body compellingly forward. I felt that the moment of a lifetime had come."
With 50 yards to go, Bannister’s body had long since exhausted all its energy. His physical overdraft was powered by adrenaline and motivation. He now had 5 yards to go, but the tape seemed to recede. “Would I ever reach it”, he recalls. He leapt at the tape “like a man taking his last spring to save himself from the chasm that threatens to engulf him”. He’d made it to the finish line, and his body collapsed almost unconscious. He knew he’d done it before the announcement was made. The call came over the loudspeaker – “Result of one mile... time, three minutes...” – the rest was lost in the roar of the crowd’s excitement.
Bannister's time was 3 minutes 59.4 seconds. He was the first man in history to conquer the Everest of running.
Breaking Mental Barriers
Bannister’s record is cited as one of history’s greatest athletic achievements. But why was it such a big deal? After all, records are broken regularly.
For starters, Bannister was not a professional athlete, he was a medical student. But more importantly, his story is unique because he pushed the boundaries of human capability. He showed the world that many of our barriers are psychological. We make them and we can break them with the right mindset. Bannister realised that there wasn’t a physical barrier stopping men from running the 4-minute mile.
“There was a mystique, a belief that it couldn’t be done, but I think it was more of a psychological barrier than a physical barrier."
Bannister knew the 4-minute mile was possible. His positive mindset allowed his brain to focus on taking action.
Positive thinking gets a bad rap sometimes. When you hear the term, your mind might think of new age hippies meditating on a beach. But we can’t achieve our goals if we don’t break through mental barriers and then take action. Look at it this way, every single world first had to be envisioned before it became a reality. Feats as grand as putting men on the moon to something as simple as building the chair you sit in started in one person’s imagination. When we break down mental barriers and take action, we push our own limits. In turn, this provides a new reference point for others. Once Bannister had run the 4-minute mile, the world knew it was possible.
Just 46 days after Bannister set the record, it was broken by his Australian rival John Landy with a time of 3 minutes 57.9 seconds. Before Bannister broke the record, Landy had said “It’s like a brick wall. I’m not going to attempt it again.” But after Bannister had done it, Landy and the world now had a reference point. The mental barrier had been broken. Bannister opened the floodgates by proving the 4-minute mile was possible. The record has been broken many times since 1954, with Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj setting the current record of 3 minutes 43.13 seconds.
Let’s dig a little deeper into how your brain turns thoughts into reality and why positive thinking is essential to success.
How Your Brain Turns Thoughts Into Reality.
Have you ever bought a new car and then noticed the same model everywhere you went? Maybe you bought a new pair of shoes and automatically started noticing other people with the same pair.
We all have these experiences. But why do they happen?
There’s a small part of your brain at the back called the Reticular Activating System (RAS). Wait! Don’t go to sleep because of the boring name. This is going somewhere. The RAS is very important in all our lives. It acts like a filter for almost all of the information that enters our brain. It determines what you’ll notice and pay attention to.
We’re bombarded by huge amounts of information every second. Your RAS deletes most of it and focusses on what’s important. As a result, your RAS is responsible for the type of lenses through which you see the world. So, when you spent time and energy researching and then buying your car, you activated your RAS. Now your brain registers anything related to the car as important, so you notice it everywhere. So, we can start to see how thoughts really do shape our reality.
You can test this out yourself. Close your eyes for a moment and focus on the colour red, then look around the room. If there’s any red at all, you’ll pick up even the smallest occurrences of it.
So, when Bannister approached the 4-minute mile as a mental challenge. His RAS started looking for solutions. In turn, he practised, found pacemakers, got feedback, and was motivated by competition. Let’s take a look at how you can use your RAS to get closer to your goals.
Thinking Positively + Action = Results
Now, we need to be clear on something. I’m not suggesting that you can simply wish your way to a good life or think positively to become a millionaire. This post isn’t about some airy fairy, light some incense, think and you shall receive crap. But I can tell you that if you think you’re always going to work a shitty job, you will. If you think you can’t lose weight or be confident, you’ll act in ways that reinforce this thanks to your RAS.
Anyone can daydream. It takes much more to create something from nothing. To break through a psychological barrier, as Bannister did, requires both mental and physical strength.
To benefit from positive thinking, you MUST combine it with action. Here’s one way you could approach a goal you’re working on:
The answer is... No one exactly knows. Since this is a new product and people of all ages are using vape devices in a variety of ways, it is impossible to say with 100% certainty what the long- term effects will be.
Right now, however, we are beginning to see some startling short term effects. In this article a young girl describes her negative experience with vaping and the doctor explained why she nearly died:
"When you inhale, the moisture is creating the perfect environment for bacteria to grow inside your lungs and for infection to start,” she said.
The purpose of this article is to highlight that vape users should proceed with caution if choosing to vape. The most anyone can do is to make informed choices and this article aims to help do that. While vaping companies may promise clean and safe products, it's important that users do their research, and see what experiences others have had. This article is just one experience but something to consider.
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Brain Vape [Illustration] from: https://sites.google.com/a/jeffcoschools.us/healthy-schools/tobacco-free-schools-events/vaping--e-cigarettes
Mazziotta, Julie. “Utah Teen Will 'Never Touch a Vape Again' After Nearly Dying of Severe Lung Illness.” PEOPLE.com, 2 Sept. 2019, https://people.com/health/teen-vaping-nearly-died-severe-lung-illness/.