I am an old procrastinator.
I have many excuses. I have too many responsibilities on my plate. I tend to push tasks that I don´t like to a later time. And I tend to do tasks that I like rather now than later.
Step number one for me was to overcome denial and to realize that I am a born procrastinator.
Step number two was to address this issue.
In short words, I became creative in outsmarting myself. If that works for me, it may also work for you.
Here is how it works.
Find Out That You Are a Procrastinator
Watch this TED talk. It has 22 Million views. I like it.
After watching this video, take comfort with admitting that you are a procrastinator.
That would be step 1.
What the Ted Video Says
You have two selves in your brain: your Future Self (the helmsman in the video) and your Present Self (his monkey).
Your helmsman makes plans and sets goals for yourself, such as losing weight, preparing the tax returns, or writing a book. When you think about your helmsman, it is quite easy for your brain to see the value in taking actions with long-term benefits. The helmsman values long-term rewards.
The problem is that only the monkey can take action. When the time comes to make a decision, we are no longer making a choice for our helmsman. In any present moment, our brain is only thinking about the monkey. The monkey reacts to instant gratification or punishment, not to long-term values.
So, the monkey and the helmsman are often at odds with one another. The helmsman wants to be buff, but the monkey wants a beer and a pork knuckle. The consequence of being fat, like a chronical illness or a cardiac arrest, are years away. Not today anyway.
Creative Ways to Outsmart Your Procrastination Habit
Ways to outsmart yourself fall into at least five categories:
- make the rewards of taking action immediately
- make the consequences of procrastination immediate
- put the task on auto-pilot
- make the task more achievable
- include the task into your daily routine
Weight Loss Example
This is what I do when I want to lose weight: I am applying the OODA Loop approach, see here http://bit.ly/OODAapproach
Observe: I have a task that is haunting me. I must lose weight, I am out of shape.
Orientate yourself: Measurement tells me that my current weight is 132kg and my relaxed waistline is 50 inches. All that at a height of 6´1´´. Well, we all start somewhere.
Decide: I will lose weight. Actually, I am an expert in losing weight. I lost an accumulated amount of about 200kg body weight over the past 45 years.
Attack: I get my trusted weight loss gear ready. My old hand mill and some mixed grains for making fresh oats for breakfast. My pocket kitchen scale in a hip pouch, and a calories counting app on my smartphone. And a bathroom balance for measuring my body weight. And a measuring tape for my waist line. If I am not doing any sports, I sign up for a training plan.
Now here comes the crucial part. My weight loss will not work without that: where do I put the outsmarting myself when losing weight?
There are myriads of ways to apply the above tactics to outsmart yourself.
And there is no silver bullet. You must become creative, using trial and error.
Option #1: Immediate Rewards
Applied to lose weight, there is no immediate reward or consequence for eating the right stuff or staying away from the wrong stuff. Tactics #1 (“Make the rewards of taking action more immediate”) does not work for me when it comes to weight loss.
What is good is that my weight loss standard breakfast – freshly made oats with full-cream milk, and a big cold glass of freshly pressed lemon water – tastes delicious. That adds only 350 calories to my daily calories balance sheet and this takes me all the way through to lunchtime, without me being hungry. I´m loving it.
Option #2: Make the Consequences of Procrastination Immediate
Now to the training. I am currently signed up with a personal trainer, for 3 times a week, for one hour each. I have to pay for lessons whether I show up or not. And the lessons are expensive. This forces me to pay the costs of procrastination sooner rather than later. This is a good example for tactics #2 “make the consequences of procrastination immediate”.
I could boost that by writing a cheque to a political party that I absolutely hate and give it to my personal trainer. In case I don´t show up for training, my trainer will send that cheque to that party. That works for me. The idea here is to put some skin in the game.
Option 3: Design Your Future Actions
Now that is a cunning option. Create a “commitment device”. A Commitment device aims at stopping procrastinating by designing future actions ahead of time. In very short words, this does not seem to work for me when it is about losing weight, but it may well be that I have just not yet found the right trick for me.
Just to give you some examples, you can stop wasting time on your smartphone by deleting games or social media apps. You can voluntarily ask to be added to the banned list at casinos to prevent future gambling sprees. You can build an emergency fund by setting up an automatic transfer of funds to your savings account.
These are all examples of commitment devices that help reduce the odds of procrastination.
As mentioned above, Option 3 does not really help in my weight loss case but it may well be that I have just not yet found the right trick for me.
Option 4: Make the Task More Achievable
As you will only know when you are a procrastinator, starting a behavior (the attack) is the most difficult part of completing the task. Once I begin, it becomes less painful to keep working.
This is why I split up my difficult tasks into little tasks. If my actual current task is small and easy to start, then I will be less likely to procrastinate.
In my weight loss case, I start by reducing my goal of losing 20kg weight into 20 steps of losing only 1kg. That is easy as I can lose 2.5kg weight overnight, just by sweating. The first 1kg weight loss in the first week of my weight loss program triggers a change in my lifestyle, essentially to replace my heavy western breakfasts by tasty self-made oats with milk that stuffs me well for the entire morning until lunchtime.
Option 5: Include the Task Into the Daily Routine
There are three things that I must not stop.
The first thing is my daily weight loss standard breakfast that has freshly made oats with full-cream milk, and a big cold glass of freshly pressed lemon water. If I miss this one, I usually will go hungry until lunch and I end up in an Italian restaurant, eating pizza and spaghetti until I am full. This is why I force myself to have this weight loss breakfast, day after day.
Second, my training sessions are always on the same days and at the same time. My co-workers know that I will leave earlier on these days and that cannot be changed.
Third, every Monday my coach and I record a new video about my progress of the week before, and I put it on Facebook and LinkedIn. Search for the hashtag #project15percent.
This routine goes on and on. It became natural for me. My entire life is currently designed around these events.
Further Option 6: Visual Cues
Another way to overcome the trap of chronic procrastination is to use visual cues to trigger my habits and measure my progress.
In my case, that will be a weight loss chart, together with a consumed calories chart.
But that is my last resort.
I have not yet activated this option in my current weight loss program.
Call To Action
Find out whether you are a chronic procrastinator.
Then admit it to yourself.
Apply the OODA technique.
Start from the above mentioned 6 options for creating new tricks to outsmart yourself so that you must change your lifestyle.
Martin “Mañana” Schweiger