Monday, January 18, 2016

Procrastination: It's Killing Me (And You)!

Ugh...  Procrastination.  Whether it's in the front of our minds or not, I think it's always there, at least often -- and to some degree -- affecting all of us.

Up front, you ought to know that I wasn't looking for help in that area when a link to a lifehacker article arrived in my inbox yesterday.  Actually, it wasn't the "Procrastination" part of its title that jumped out at me, but instead the hidden reference to Aristotle -- as in "The Akrasia Effect" -- that did.

Ya, Akrasia...  As the article states, "... ancient Greek philosophers like Socrates and Aristotle developed a word to describe this type of behavior: Akrasia."  And the author went on to describe it as "the state of acting against your better judgment.  It is when you do one thing even though you know you should do something else."  Mr Clear goes on to say that, "Loosely translated, you could say that akrasia is procrastination or a lack of self-control." 

What caused me to read even further was the author's suggestion that, "Akrasia is what prevents you from following through on what you set out to do."

Who me -- not following through? 

Ya, me, and you, too...

In what proved to be a well written, easy-to-read piece, James Clear goes on to explain that it's really not our fault, but more a matter of how the human mind works.  On the one hand, we picture some well intended long range plans, with every intention of attaining them.  On the other hand, Clear says that our brains -- kinda in the now -- prefer instant rewards rather than long-term payoffs.  If we're talking diet here, we might envision a slim, trim body, while our brain at the moment is craving a triple-decker sandwich.  Our long-term reasoning might also dream about the benefits of finishing a profitable project as soon as possible, while our thinking in the now undermines that with the urge to spend the next few hours on a computer game.

Does that resonate with you?  I know it describes my way of procrastination to a "T"!

All is not lost, though, because Clear offers an antidote to Akrasia, with 3 Ways to Beat Procrastination (which I'll paraphrase below)...

Strategy 1: Design Your Future Actions

In a way, I think this should have been titled "How To Undermine Your Underminers" -- :) .  In other words, if those huge sandwiches are your downfall, the wise thing might be to undermine such an urge by having only healthy foods available.  If you know that computer games are your undoing, delete them from your computer (hey, you can always bring them back as a reward for getting the most important work completed).

For sure, your aims and underminers might be different than I've mentioned, but they can be attacked in similar ways.  The main idea is to short-circuit the things you know hurt you, and to give them less opportunities to get in your way.

Strategy 2: Reduce the Friction of Starting

Clear begins this section by quoting Eliezer Yudkowsky, as in, “On a moment-to-moment basis, being in the middle of doing the work is usually less painful than being in the middle of procrastinating.”

Hmmmmmm...  Were truer words ever spoken?  I think not!

Of course, what Clear and Yudkowsky are both getting at is that the work isn't usually all that hard, but the getting started is.

With that, I'm going to refer to something I've written quite a bit on during my years in hockey coaching...  For, I tell other coaches that my springs and summers each year -- or my hockey off-seasons -- were all about retreating to my "bunker" to design the next season's coaching plans.

Interestingly, that's one area of my work where I instinctively knew the work was a blast, but getting started could be a headache.  So I purposely put everything I needed for that work in a shoulder bag that could be grabbed instantly, and toted to a place where my creative juices could ultimately really get flowing.  I went one better on the latter, too, knowing from experience that atmosphere was everything.  Some of my best coaching ideas came about while walking a beach, driving through mountains, lolling at poolside, or soaking in a hot tub.  Back home in Massachusetts, the everyday or every night bunker was a neat area I built in my backyard, while down here in Florida I prefer poolside or a quiet lanai.

My point, though:  Find a comfortable place to work if you can, and have an easy way to get to work almost immediately. 

Clear ends this segment by suggesting, "Put all of your effort and energy into building a ritual and make it as easy as possible to get started.  Don’t worry about the results until you’ve mastered the art of showing up.:    

Strategy 3: Utilize Implementation Intentions

Clear says that, "There are hundreds of successful studies showing how implementation intentions positively impact everything from exercise habits to flu shots.  In the flu shot study, researchers looked at a group of 3,272 employees at a Midwestern company and found that employees who wrote down the specific date and time they planned to get their flu shot were significantly more likely to follow through weeks later."

So, what he's suggesting is that we set things like a specific date, place and time to implement our future plans.   And he finishes with, "... implementation intentions can make you 2x to 3x more likely to perform an action in the future."


Then, four things in closing...

1) I'm going to add one more strategy to those outlined by James Clear -- call it:

Strategy 4: Tell Someone Else About Your Intentions

Beginning this January 1st, I decided to do something unique for the first time ever, this having to do with my so-called New Years resolutions.  Ya, what I've done is post something like the nearby photo every single day (that's not the specific new home I'm seeking, so I rotate several pics).  If you get what I'm really doing, I'm telling my 16,000+ social media friends what I'm shooting for, and I know I'll be rather embarrassed if I don't attain that portion of my dreams sometime during 2016.  You might not want to blast your aims all over the Internet, but even telling a friend or two could bring about the same effect.

2) Because all of our long-term goals are different, the above strategies obviously have to be adjusted to meet our own needs.  So will you have to analyzing your failings, or those things you know are delaying you from getting to work.  There definitely isn't a one-size-fits-all with the above process, but it doesn't seem all that difficult to adjust.

3) Interestingly, I think, is that just reading that article seems to have changed me quite a bit.  I mean, knowing what's happening in my brain -- or knowing that it's a human problem -- eases my conscience more than a little.  I especially feel helped by understanding my need to get over the typical delays and just get to it.

4) I'm re-introducing one of my favorite Internet gurus here -- Sean D'Souza was the feature of an earlier post having to do with attaining "happiness".  Below you'll find a link to an awesome audio about procrastination by Sean.  What I love about this one is mentioned in the title, "The 70% Principle..."  For, what he's suggesting is that, "If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing 70% right."  :)  That's right, because it's our search for perfectionism that's killing us a lot of the time, and it's also one of the reasons we put off starting -- as if we're not quite ready to do it perfectly yet.

Here's a link to Sean D'Souza's audio -- give a listen when you get a chance (it's worth it):   "The 70% Principle: Why It Knocks Procrastination Out of the Ball Park".


If you'd like to read James Clear's article in its entirety, just click here:  "The Akrasia Effect: Why We Make Plans but Don't Follow Through"