How to stop procrastinating

Procrastinate now, panic later

We know what we should be doing when it comes to our finances. Whether it’s by making more money through starting our own business or doing some freelancing, or planning for our retirement by setting up our investment accounts. Yet, we never get around to doing it. Why?

There’s always something that comes up, another “un-missable” event we want to go to. It’s easy to write it off as “you’re lazy” or “duh, everyone prefers not working to working.”. But in fact, there’s a very particular system in our brains that prevents us from working.

You’re not lazy, it’s evolution.

What is procrastination?

Research has proven that impulsiveness and procrastination are deeply linked. Our ancestral cavemen a 100,000 years ago lived in a dangerous world where saber-toothed tigers, woolly mammoths and giant cave bears roamed. Impulsiveness and procrastination helped us develop complex plans to hunt and survive in an era of monsters.

Say a caveman got hungry, impulsiveness was the part that made him act on his hunger. Impulsiveness would have the caveman grab his sharpened flint axe, and charge the bear head on to get that delicious bear meat. I’m over-simplifying but bear with me (haha) here, procrastination is the part that says, “Wait, maybe I should bring some buddies along, and we can all use spears to stay away from the bear’s claws. It’s too much meat for me alone and more people will increase the odds of success.”

From an evolution standpoint, both are very complex plans. Still, you may recognize that the second plan, with it’s highly reduced chance of bear mauling, is the better choice. This ability to recognize the better plan is what helped us become the dominant species on this planet.

Impulsiveness provided the desire to act on our hunger. Procrastination provided the pause that helped us figure out the better plan.

Procrastination and goals

“Procrastinators are also impulsive in large part because they fail to manage goals effectively to guide their behaviors”.

This study published by graduate student Daniel Gustavson, his supervisor Akira Miyake and their colleagues makes a very important point.

People who procrastinate are also bad at managing goals.

If you’ve read my previous article on the addictiveness of mobile games, you’ll know that achieving a goal makes us feel good, even if it’s completely artificial like unlocking a new digital costume for your online avatar. That’s because a chemical called dopamine is released when we achieve our goals. Our brain craves these chemicals as it makes us feel good.

In effect, we are all dopamine junkies.

The closer we are to earning a reward, the more dopamine our brain releases. Conversely, if we feel like the reward is a long way off, dopamine doesn’t get released. And we start procrastinating. If you’re procrastinating, it just means that your brain doesn’t think it can get it’s dopamine fix from this task. This means

  • Your end goal is too far off
  • You haven’t formulated a plan to get there.

Procrastination is a finely tuned evolutionary concept. We learned hunting before we started speaking. So when you’re trying to take on a task and you don’t have a specific plan or goal, your brain isn’t going to shout out, “Plan Rejected!”. It’s going to far more subtle.

Like giving you a lack of “motivation and drive” to get started.

It’s not a fear, it’s the lack of a plan

Remember all those nebulous goals you have?

Like losing weight, starting a business or even finding your dream job, you may think it’s something you really want to do but your brain is essentially saying you’re a liar.

It’s not a fear of failure or change. Like so many other articles seem to say.

Your brain simply isn’t seeing a convincing plan from you. That’s the scientific perspective behind your procrastination.

The solution: stop charging in blindly

The solution then is not to blindly charge into the bear’s claws, trying to force a win through sheer will power or “motivation”. Because that never works out.

Instead we should accept what our brain already knows, we need to work harder on our plan so that we feel ready.

Break up that nebulous goal we have into bite sized chunks

Based on what we’ve learned so far, we know we’re motivated by wins, these wins can be as big or small, it doesn’t really matter as long as we can acknowledge it as a win.

Second, you need a plan that your brain can acknowledge as workable. With these 2 facts in mind, you can design your goals to boost your confidence and start building momentum.

When you’re starting out, it’s better to successfully walk one km than fail to run three km.

We procrastinate because that we have no plan on getting where we want to go. There’s so much we have to do. Where do we start?!

So think of the smallest, possible step you can take to achieve your goal.

  • Walk once around the block
  • Talk to two people about your business idea
  • Write down three companies you wish to work for.

Treat procrastination as an indicator that we need to invest more time thinking before executing. Our brain needs to start buying into what we want to do. Start with a series of small wins and ramp up from there.

PS: If you want to learn more on how to increase your productivity

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