Contrary to popular beliefs, procrastination is not a sign of laziness.Neuroscientist believes that all human behaviours like fear, anger, ego, pride including procrastination are built into us for a reason. And if procrastination is really that detrimental to a person, it should have been long be removed by evolution pressure. There is a real reason why everyone procrastinate at some point in their life despite their very best effort to stay productive.
This post is about understanding the exact mechanism behind procrastination. Only then can we better fight against procrastination and cure procrastination at its roots instead of superficial technique that make little differences in helping us to fight procrastination.
Firstly, procrastination is actually part of a mechanism that protect us, help us to survive better.
Procrastinating is about helping us to survive better. That’s also the reason why it’s so hard to resist procrastination. Nothing motivates us more than our own safety and survival. As such, we find ourself procrastinating every now and then.
Procrastination help our body conserve energy. Just in case we find ourself suddenly in a life-threatening situation, we will have enough energy to fight or flight.
Procrastinating on our job is just a way for our body and brain to conserve energy. And when a task appears to menial and with no obvious nor tempting reward, we tend to procrastinate. We are constantly weighing the cost effectiveness of our energy expenditure and if anything does not help us with our primal needs like survival or sex, we usually put it off to conserve energy.
Our body and brain’s need to conserve energy is definitely not uncalled for. Since we need energy and huge amount of energy for flight or fight just in case we find ourself in a sudden and potentially life-threatening situation. For example, many people tend to procrastinate on their morning run despite their promise on the first of the year to run and lose weight. After All, running definitely consume large amount of energy and when you are done running, your body is definitely very exhausted and not in a good shape to flight or fight in sudden and potentially life-threatening situation.
When you are wake in the morning and still trying to get out of your bed to do your routine run, your inner brain and outer brain is constantly fighting one another. Your inner brain is more primal and it’s main focus is your safety and survival and it’s goal in the morning is to keep you in your bed and force you to conserve energy. Whereas your outer brain is more modern, logical and goal orientated. Your outer brain wants you to go for a run so you can achieve the goals that you have set on the first day of they year. These two part of your brain have conflicting interests and constantly fight with one another.
For most people, inner brain is the most powerful compared to outer brain because human first evolve inner brain before evolving outer brain. And when you inner brain win the fight, you will find yourself procrastinating and continuing sleeping instead of going for a run. But for a small group of us, we have been disciplined from young and built a powerful outer brain that can win their inner brain and you will usually see them being very disciplined and wakes up every morning for their morning run.
Procrastinating keep our brain fresh and ever ready to tackle dangerous situation.
Do you know that our brain weight is just 3% of your total body weight but sucks up more than 20% of your daily calories intake? And if you compare the amount of calories consumed per kilogram of flesh, our brain definitely a energy drained. And even more so when we are doing menial brain task like accounting and studying. There are two reasons why our brain hate such menial task so much. First, it used up huge amount of energy which you could use it escape from dangerous situation and secondly, brain process churn out huge amount of garbbage that clogs up your brain circuit and prevent it functioning properly and help you tackle dangerous situation.
Our brain is amazing piece of highly evolved part of our body. It’s capable of taking in a huge mess of information from your sensory organs, process it and help you make sense of your surrounding. And when you are faced with dangers, your mind just immediately kick into high gear, secrete hormones that make your muscle stronger and faster, perform complicated calculation at neck breaking speed and coordinating your limbs to help you get away from dangers. Yes your brain is build to do those amazing thing and not some menial mental task.
It not too difficult to understand why you brain constantly shy away from menial office work or studying. It’s simple, you brain aren’t built for that, it’s build for amazing things that will keep you out of danger. But to do those things, your brain have to be relatively fresh and free of clutter but unfortunately menial task like number crunching actually piles up huge amount of garbage, making your brain less effective at keeping you out of danger. You might be able to motivate for awhile at menial task but after a certain threshold, the garbage inside your brain is just too much. Your brain flicks a switch and you start to procrastinate. Just to stop rubbish from piling up and keeping your brain fresh and ever ready to tackle dangerous situation.
We procrastinate on dieting because eating is survival and not eating go against your primal need to survive.
For a very long time, human have always been starving because of over-population and lack of technology to grow crop faster. Death by starvation is very real and not too far away. Long period of starving has made humans very wary of starvation and our brain too were strongly wired to constantly look for food. After all food meant survival and all animals including us are wired to eat whenever it’s possible and as much as possible. Furthermore, our body is well build to help us store access food in a form of fats, something which we can rely on for a few days when food became scarce.
It’s only in recent time where a huge improvement in agricultural technologies that given us a huge surplus of food. And since our brain are deeply wired to make sure we eat whenever it’s possible, it’s only natural that any attempt to cut down on calories is difficult and we tend to procrastinate on dieting. Dieting is something that goes against our instinct.
When your inner brain wins, you end up procrastinating.
Broadly speaking, We have Inner brains and outer brain. Inner brain is more primitive, more power and cause you to procrastinate. Outer brain is much more modern, logical and help you achieve your goal. Both are constantly fighting with one another. And when your inner brain win, you will procrastinate but for people with powerful outer brain, they will become much more disciplined and procrastinate less.
Broadly speaking, we all have an inner brain and an outer brain. Inner brain is something we all share with animals, and it’s responsible for our animalistic instinct like sex and survival. And it’s constantly seeking sex and worry about your survival. And it’s also responsible for making you procrastinate because like we have discussed above, procrastinating is a mean to help you survive better. In fact, we are very much more like animals when we procrastinate. For example, lions, monkeys, and almost all other animals only move when they needed food, sex or simply just running away from danger else they would be lazing around Sound like us isn’t it?
However, what really separate humans from animals are our outer brain. Our outer brain is very complicated and highly advanced. It’s responsible for higher level of thoughts like language, mathematics and creativity. It keeps us motivated, coordinate messages to outer part of our brain to help us achieve our secondary goals like wealth, social acceptance or passions. And the reason we are so different from animals is because of our outer brain. We all have the same inner brain as most animals but the reason why we don’t behave like animals is because of our outer brain. Our outer brain can overpower our inner brain and overwrites our animalistic instinct. For example, animals lazing around whenever it’s possible or men holding back their desire for sex when they meet desirable women.
But there are times where your outer brain get weaker than your inner brain. It happen when you lose motivation, sometimes you just lose sight of how critical the current task is to achieving your goal. And when that happen, animalistic instinct start to kick in and you procrastinate so you can survive better as discussed above.
For some of us, we have strong outer brain than constantly keep them away from procrastinating. But such amazing feats of discipline is only after years of hard work that causes your outer brain to be rewired and become more powerful. But for the rest of us, do not worries, there are simple techniques that you can do right now to fix your bad procrastinating habits.
#1 Get your inner brain to work with your outer brain.
Yes your inner brain is constantly fighting with your outer brain but you can coax your inner brain to work with your outer brain. When these two part of your brain work together, amazing things will happen. Your inner and outer brain no longer have to spend extra brain power to fight one another and instead, you can channel these extra brain power into producing top quality work.
And to do so, you ought to change the perceived reward of what you are currently doing, change it to something that your inner brain craves which is survival. Instead of focusing on entertaining your boss or getting past with today or simply just pass their boring test. Think of how your current work help you to earn the means to buy food with, think of how you would be less likely to starve and most importantly think of death. I know it’s sound alittle too extreme but nothing motivates people more than death. When you really think that you will die if you don’t finish your work, your animalistic instinct from your inner brain will kick in and work together with your outer brain. Motivation will naturally comes and procrastination will be a thing of the past.
In fact, most successful entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple INC and Li Ka-shing, Hongkong richest man mentioned before they actually have experience what’s like to starve during their youth. For example, Steve Jobs is so poor that he have to walk across the town to return coke bottle for 5 cents to buy food with. And for Li Ka-Shing, he was so close to death by starvation during World War 2 when the Japanese invaded China. Starvation is definitely not pleasant and their memories of starvation will definitely continue to remain vivid and play a role in keeping them motivated.
#2 Quiet down your inner brain.
Once a while, you lose motivation and your outer brain get weak and no longer have the power to suppress the animalistic instinct from your inner brain. You start to procrastinate because you want to conserve energy and keep your brain fresh and ready to tackle any dangerous situation. After a long period of work, your outer brain just get too tired. There is nothing you can do about it. But you can definitely do something about your animalistic instinct.
You can definitely quieten your animalistic instinct by giving it some reward periodically. For example, your animalistic instinct wants you to rest so your brain is ever ready to tackle dangerous situation. But when you are well-rested, your animalistic instinct is much quieter. And the way to stay well-rested is to avoid long bout of work. Take a short break periodically for so you can recharge your brain and keep it well-rested. When your brain is well rested, you give your animalistic instinct less reasons to kick in and you will find yourself more motivated and less likely to procrastinate.
For those who are trying to keep to a dieting plan, feed yourself periodically with small amount of food. Because not eating goes against your animalistic instinct to survive. And when your brain detect that you have not been eating and at risk of starvation, your animalistic instinct will simply kick in and cause very strong craving for food. Quell those animalistic instinct by dividing up your food into many small portion. For example, instead of having breakfast lunch and dinner, divide your total food intake into 9 part and consume them every 100 minutes or so. Constant food supply will definitely quieten down your animalistic instinct. give it less reasons to kick it and you will more likely to succeed with your dieting plan.
As for those who are focusing on exercise regime, remember that it’s not the run and bicep rep that your brain hate. It’s the exhausted phase after your exercise that your brain hates the most. During that phase, your body is definitely not in a good shape to avoid dangerous situation. And your animalistic instinct to survive will kick in and cause to procrastinate. One of the best way to overcome such procrastination is by gradually increase the duration and intensity of your exercise. And after several session of light exercises, you will be able to convince your inner brain that you will always be perfectly safe after exercise. After awhile, your inner brain will stop associating exercise with dangerous situation and survival and ultimately, quieten down or even stop animalistic instinct that is causing you to procrastinate on your exercise regime.
#3 Convince your inner brain that you are not in danger.
Your inner brain is evolved to keep your out of danger or at least make you can get out of any danger. Your inner brain would constantly get you to procrastinate so your can conserve brain power and energy to get out of danger. Or cause to you to overeat because so you can have exxcess food in the form of fats so you can last longer when food became scarce.
Your office cubicle is a really bad place for you to work. Not only cubicles are small, the wall are also blocking your view of outside world and prevent you from seeing any danger that might be coming your way. This is bad because it’s like trying to navigate around blindfolded, it put your brain at a heightened level of awareness because you can’t see and avoid any danger, comparing it to someone who can see the whole picture and they will be at more ease because the persons can easily navigate around danger zones. Whereas for you, your brain have to be it’s very peak since you are just waiting for bad things to happen. The same concept applies to your office cubicle, it blindfold you and prevent you from seeing what happening outside especially your boss. Your brain will constantly be on the alert for any trouble instead of focusing on the task. And worst still, the cubicle wall is low enough for your boss to pop his head into your cubicle suddenly, all this create unncessary stress and make your brain at its highest level of awareness. Instead of focusing on your work, you brain spend extra energy to remain alert for any sudden danger that might coming poping in and all these extra energy will cause you to procrastinate so you can conserve energy for such task.
What if in the first place, you can convince your inner brain to relax? convince your inner brain that you are not in any danger? Wouldn’t that be great? One way to convince your inner brain that you are not in danger is to find a relaxing place to do your work. Best if there is not too much human traffic and best if you can have a commanding view of your room or area and can easily spot any danger that’s coming your way. For example, your office cubicle is very bad example because you can’t really see who is coming and when they are coming. Your boss can easily pop his head over the cubicle wall and check on you anytime. Your brain perceive it as a threat that may come anytime and constantly spent extra energy to stay alert and prepares for it. Extra energy preparing for a perceived threat meant lesser energy for your work and procrastination. Simple.
The best place to work in have your back against a solid wall so you know no one can attack you from the back. Seat as far away from your door so that you can have sufficient space to react should an attacker walk into your room. Also, make sure you can see the door easily from your desk so you won’t get too surprised if an attacker walks in. All these precaution will help put your inner brain at ease and it will stop being such a bitch and sending out powerful signal to get you to procrastinate.
Alright, it’s being a lengthy post. I am glad I practiced these technique to stop procrastinating and were able to churn out such a long article in less than 6 hours. It worked for me and I believe it will work for you too.