In today’s world, we are all seeking ways to stop procrastinating. Throughout history, humans have always been putting things off. Artist, writer, inventor and architect, Leonardo Da Vinci is a known genius who has the worlds most famous painting on display in The Louvre, Paris. Da Vinci’s creative production spans over a wide range of projects: illustrations, sketches, and human anatomy exploration. He never focused on one thing at any given time.
During Da Vinci’s lifetime, there are less than 20 surviving paintings attributed to him, and several of them are unfinished. Two of his most important works- the Battle of Anghiari and the Leda were not completed and only survived as copies. The Virgin of Rocks took him 13 years to complete, and the infamous Mona Lisa- as many as 16 years. Da Vinci gained a reputation for being unreliable. He consistently started projects only to abandon them, leaving a trail of incomplete paintings and sculptures behind.
It leads a lingering question: If social media, the Internet and television are just a modern way of us delaying tasks, why do we procrastinate?
The Science Behind Why We Procrastinate
The common assumption is procrastination is an act of laziness or incompetence. The truth lies in our biology, where there is a constant back and forth in our brain between the limbic system and prefrontal cortex. The limbic system is the oldest and more dominant part of the brain, automatic in its response. It’s the part of the brain that tells us it’s too hot to be outside, or the air conditioning is too cold. It also tells us to run from unpleasant tasks. A function which performs basic survival instincts.
The prefrontal cortext on the other hand, is the part of our brain used in our conscious decision making. It is the weaker part of the brain, where decisions are not automatic and gets tired quicker. Quite often, the limbic system wins, leading to procrastination. We need to use the prefrontal cortex to engage in tasks consciously. The challenge we face is retraining the brain so the limbic system reacts differently to tasks we undertake.
When we procrastinate, it’s often because our future self wants something different than our current self. The inconsistencies of time help us understand why we buy a gym membership and don’t go, or why we always go to bed late and wake up tired the next morning.
Future Self: Wants to have a clean kitchen without any dishes
Current Self: Wants to sit on the couch and watch TV
Future Self: Wants to lose weight
Current Self: Wants to eat bad food
The time required to achieve something and the time we want something is inconsistent. When we set goals for ourselves, we act as a future self—envisioning what we seek based on long-term rewards. Our current self, on the other hand, seeks instant gratification without the long-term payoff.
Ways To Stop Procrastinating
To stop procrastinating on something, we need to move the long term rewards and consequences into the present. Here’s an example: Imagine you’re working on a project for your boss. You have a deadline, and it slowly starts to creep up on you. You feel the anxiety and guilt build up as you continue to put it off each day. The night before it’s due, you start working on it and submit it before the due date. The pain of procrastination reaches a tipping point, where you finally begin to work on it the night before. Once you took action, the guilt and anxiety lets up and starts to decrease. When procrastinating, the course to action is always an uphill battle. But once you start on it, the path then becomes a ride downhill. The challenge is to reduce the gap between intention and action.
When we look for motivation, it means we are waiting for something to happen. The key is to act in a better way of feeling instead of finding the feeling to act. Here are three ways to stop procrastinating
Use Immediate rewards to take action. Bring your future rewards into the current moment. You can use temptation bundling to do this. It’s when you bundle a good behaviour for your long term with a behaviour that feels good in a short time. A couple of examples:
-Spend more time with friends and family. Include the person in a specific activity you enjoy. If it’s going out for dinner, choose a restaurant that you will regularly go to just with that person.
-Eating Healthy. Watch your favourite TV show while you’re preparing, eating or cooking healthy food.
-Spending less money. Every time you buy clothes or indulging items, price match the amount you spend into your savings account. Knowing how much you consume causes you to spend less and save more than you would have.
Commitment Device. A commitment device is a strategy you put in place today to lock yourself into specific action tomorrow. If you want to get healthy, you might remove all the junk food in the house. If you’re going to stop wasting time on your phone, you might delete all the games and apps that keep you from being productive.
Use the Pomodoro Technique. Use this method by setting a 25-minute timer while acting on a task. Complete as much as you can within the time. After the 25 minutes is up, you have a 5-minute break. After four cycles, have a 15-30 minute break. It works well if you’re an office worker, a student writing a paper, or just spring cleaning your house.
Stop Procrastinating Moving Forward
Irrespective of the strategy you use, motivation comes after action. The motivation is there to carry you through and build momentum. Every morning, do the most important thing to you and feel the momentum and motivation take you into your next task throughout the day. By being consistent, you begin to retrain your brain and the gap between intention and action reduces.