We all procrastinate.
You, me, Tony Robbins – everyone.
But in this article I’m going to teach you how to stop procrastinating.
How to stop procrastinating if you want a banana
Do you remember when you were in school and you had a big paper or project due?
If you’re like me, you probably waited until the night before to do it because you were AFRAID of actually getting started.
I used to do this all the time when I was in elementary school with book reports.
I don’t know if kids still do book reports these days, but when I was in school, these were the BIG PROJECTS that we were all afraid to do.
For those of you who somehow don’t know what a book report is, it’s where you read a book and write a report about it.
(Glad I cleared that up!)
Speaking from personal experience, I used to wait until the last minute to do my book reports. I’d read the book a few days before the project was due. Then I’d write up the book report the day before.
Looking back, I procrastinated because of one single reason: fear.
I was AFRAID that I wouldn’t be able to do the task, or that I would do a bad job, so I waited and didn’t do it.
But once I started, something crazy happened.
I realized that doing the actual work wasn’t that hard or scary at all.
I just sat down and did it.
However, without the additional pressure of a deadline and the accompanying real-world consequences that would follow if I didn’t meet it, I never would have actually gotten started.
If we take a literal look at what procrastination is, we can see that it’s really just a low-level fear or anticipated discomfort at doing something.
Sure, we can procrastinate on things that are ACTUALLY scary and cause more than a little discomfort.
But in reality, most of us don’t usually have many things going on in our lives that are REALLY scary.
- We’re not fighting lions in gladiatorial combat
- We’re not attacking neighboring tribes with spears and swords
- We’re not defending our city from a zombie apocalypse
- We’re not risking any of our limited resources for anything meaningful
Smart monkeys don’t have souls
Modern life is safer than its ever been. The human world is designed to be as soft and cushy as possible.
It’s perhaps because of this that we’ve developed this habit of procrastination.
We’re never more than a few taps away from immediate dopamine-filled distraction on our phones – it’s no wonder why nobody gets anything done these days.
So essentially we’ve got two choices:
- We can either do that thing that we anticipate will give us low-level discomfort
- Or we can choose from millions of comparatively more “fun” activities that are immediately accessible
The choice doesn’t seem that hard.
If we were rats in a cage, it’s obvious which one we would choose.
And at the end of the day, you have to think of yourself as a rat in a cage.
Yes, human beings are special. We’ve done unprecedented things in the universe.
We’re possibly even the first intelligent lifeforms to ever have existed.
But at the end of the day, we’re still lifeforms.
We’re just smart monkeys hurtling through space on a green and blue rock.
The difference between us an actual monkeys is that we’re capable of complex planning and future pacing.
Put more succinctly, the difference between us and the rest of life on this planet is that we’re capable of denying ourselves instant gratification in favor of delayed gratification.
Your level of humanity is directly proportional to your ability to delay gratification
One psychologist proved this in his famous Marshmallow Experiment.
He gave a group of kids the option of having one marshmallow now or two in fifteen minutes. He then left the kids alone with the marshmallow and a bunch of toys.
Some of the kids waited. Some didn’t.
They followed up with the kids 20 years later and the ones who waited to receive a second marshmallow were more successful across the board than the ones who didn’t.
While this notion of delaying gratification isn’t exactly procrastination per se, it’s remarkably similar.
- When we procrastinate, we avoid doing something that we perceive will give us an immediate negative emotional state
- When we choose instant gratification, we pursue something that we perceive will give us an immediate positive emotional state
Furthermore, when we procrastinate (avoid negative) we often choose instant gratification instead (pursue positive) in order to fill the void.
They’re really two sides of the same coin.
The best time to start was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.
So what’s the solution?
I don’t know about you, but I have a whole list of things I’m procrastinating on at any given moment.
These are things that I think to myself, Oh I’ll do that when…
But the conditions that are required for me to actual do the things I procrastinate on are never met.
For example, I’ve been telling myself for years that I would take adult gymnastics (tumbling) classes.
As a fitness buff, I’ve seen the value in learning gymnastics for years. You build strength, muscle, flexibility AND coordination at the same time.
It’s arguably the perfect form of exercise. And I’ve known this for years.
I’ve wanted to try this sport for years, but adult gymnastics can be expensive and can’t be done at any old gym – you need to find a gymnastics gym.
Not only that, but classes are expensive AND can be hard to find. Because most classes are for kids, you need to find adult classes.
So because it was hard for me to find, I didn’t even look for it. FOR YEARS.
Sure, I would look here and there. Maybe identify a gym, check their prices, but then never actually go for a class.
Did I have the money and time to do it over the years? Sure.
But I told myself that I didn’t.
This is an itch I could have scratched years ago.
What if – instead of procrastinating – you started doing that thing you’ve been meaning to do YEARS ago? You’d probably be pretty skilled at it by now.
Imagine if I had started taking gymnastics back when I first thought about it. How far advanced would I be now?
Chances are I’d be pretty damn good. And my life would be VASTLY different.
If you want to meet the devil, have white space on your calendar
At the time of this writing, I’ve been living in Las Vegas for about three weeks.
I came here for work during the COVID19 [fake] pandemic and have been working 6 days a week since getting here.
That changed a few days ago when the mall management told us that we were only allowed to put 2 people on the kiosk instead of three. What this means is that instead of working 6 days a week, we’re now rotating the days to do 2 days on, 1 day off.
Long story short: I have 1 day off every 3 days.
When you have a lot of time off and nothing planned, you will naturally choose activities that offer instant gratification.
That’s a lot of free time.
That’s a lot of time to procrastinate.
The problem with this (aside from the reduction in income) is that when I’m at work, I’m focused. I have a single goal and a clear path to get there.
I need to stop customers, show them the product, and try to sell them something.
I have a clear schedule: currently 11 AM to 7 PM.
For 8 hours a day, I know exactly what I need to do to be productive.
There is no procrastination. I work my ass off.
When you have a clear outcome in mind and a scheduled time in which to achieve it, you will stay focused on the task.
Days off are a different story.
Normally, because I work so hard during the week AND work 6 days a week, my days off are “free days.”
- I allow myself to do whatever I want.
- I spend money.
- I eat whatever I want.
- I relax.
- I go to the pool.
- I mess around on the internet.
In general, it’s a very unproductive day.
And that would be fine if I worked 6 days a week. I would need that one day off to recharge my batteries.
But now that my work week is effectively only 2 days long, I can’t really justify lounging around on my day off and doing nothing.
How to stop procrastinating by neutralizing your time off [with to do lists]
I realized this last week when I had my first day off after working for two days.
I tried engaging in my usual debauchery of doing and eating whatever I wanted and felt like pure garbage afterwards.
So instead of repeating my mistake, I resolved to make a list of all of the things I had been procrastinating on and knock them out one by one.
Here’s the list I made:
- Invisalign (probably around $4000)
- research surgical procedure I want to do
- gymnastics (will do $150/month)
- pickup coaching
- social circle coaching
- marketing/consulting business
- taking new tinder pictures
- taking new Instagram pictures
- buying nootropics
These are all things that have been swirling around in my mind for years and I never got around to doing. Or I would dabble in briefly and not do them.
On my last day off, I scratched 25% of these things off my list.
The feeling of doing not one, but SEVERAL things you’ve been procrastinating on for years is incredible.
You’ll feel so much better after you finally do them… it’s kind of unreal.
Not only is it a reward in and of itself, but it’ll give you a taste for avoiding procrastination in the future.
The “pursuing positive” (i.e. instant gratification) that is normally gained from short-term dopamine spike activities (like swiping on IG) can instead be gained from completing tasks and crossing them off your perpetual to do list.
Like anything else, the key to voluntarily executing specific behaviors is:
- associating pleasure to EXECUTING the behavior
- associating pain to NOT EXECUTING the behavior
This is commonly seen in many self improvement programs.
They’ll straight up ask you to fill out a questionnaire that’ll tell you do to things like:
- List the ways your life will be AMAZING if you do <insert goal here>
- List the ways your life will be AWFUL if you DON’T <insert goal here>
This sounds contrived, but it’s actually true.
The beauty of being a smart monkey
The reason we do certain things is because we use this exact same line of thinking. But most of the time we do it unintentionally.
The best thing about being a human being is that we can choose to think about whatever we want, whenever we want.
At any moment in time, you can choose to think about how your life will be amazing if you start that social media management business and how it will be awful if you don’t.
But if instead you choose the lazy path, the undesirable groove that has been greased from laziness and pleasure-seeking behavior, then we’re going to get an undesirable result.
By forcing your mind to think about the outcomes you want to achieve, you’re carving new pathways through the forest of your mind.
And the more you walk down those paths, the more beaten the path becomes and the easier it becomes to walk.
In his book “Be Obsessed Or Be Average” Grant Cardone reveals that one of the secrets to his success over the years is to write down his goals in the morning when he wakes up and in the evening before he goes to bed.
This is something that only takes a few minutes and isn’t hard at all – yet why doesn’t anyone do it?
Probably because they don’t believe that it could actually make a difference. That and laziness.
But by constantly refocusing your attention on where you want to go, you are naturally drawing yourself towards that destination.
Think of it like this:
If you think about where you want to go, you have a CHANCE of getting there.
If you don’t even think about it, you’ll NEVER get there.
(And yes, I realize that it’s possible to obsessively think about something and never actually take action. My friend Bobby Fisher has that exact problem.)
But what’s your alternative? Not to think about it at all?
“Where attention goes, energy flows.”
The bottom line is this: the more you think about and plan something, the more likely it is to actually happen.
Once you take that first step and realize that it’s not as scary as you thought, it becomes easier to take the second and third.
And then before you know it you become ADDICTED to taking action.
But it all starts with that first step.
So what are you waiting for?