Why We Procrastinate

I gotta confess: I procrastinate, a lot.

Sometimes, I’ll let a whole weekend go by and wonder where all the time went. Or I’ll set the alarm to go run in the morning, only to snooze it endlessly and sleep even longer than usual.

Sound familiar? Do you also Netflix-binge to avoid washing dishes? Or worse: wash dishes to avoid working? 🙂

If you’re like me, then you might wonder if your parents dropped you when you were a baby. Or better yet, maybe the ones who were dropped were those who actually follow through on stuff. Damn overachievers.

But the difference between procrastinating and following through is quite simple actually, and has nothing to do with childhood accidents. You and I aren’t broken in any way. All humans are broken.

It’s just, some people have learned to control it. And learned is the key word hereBecause becoming someone who follows through is completely, 100% learnable.

And the most important step in learning to beat procrastination is to understand why it happens. It changes the way you see everything.

Then, armed with that knowledge, you can practice some simple tricks to get rid of it.

So, lets talk about the most important part: the why.

YOU’RE IN CONTROL ONLY 10% OF THE TIME

You know those moments of clarity? Those rare moments you decide to stop eating junk food or start running in the mornings.

You’re the CEO of your life in those moments. You’ve got the long term in view and a grasp on your real priorities.

Your life’s like a family business, let’s say a shop owned by an old woman on a wheelchair. She’s not your typical CEO I know, but she technically is “the CEO”. She keeps track of finances and always knows what needs to be done or changed at the shop. She sometimes rolls in on her wheelchair to check up on business, but she’s mostly away sick.

The store is run by her teenage grandson, working through the summer and earning pennies. He’s unenthusiastic, rebellious, and only interested in avoiding boredom before 5pm.

In those moments of clarity, your CEO has rolled in for a visit.

It’s clear what you need to do and why. You’re almost lunged forward by your determination. You stick your chest out, slam your fist on the table and yell out to the universe: “I will start running every morning ’till I’m in shape!” You set your alarm to an epic tune in your head and go to bed with a proud smirk.

But when the alarm goes off in the dark, who wakes up? The CEO is gone and you’re the teenager now. That determination from last night is replaced by… comfort? The only thing that matters now is the warmth of your bed. Forget health. Or wanting to look better naked. Waaaarmth. Yum.

As you can see here, you are not the same person. Almost literally. Your brain chemistry is completely different.

Your CEO decided what should be done but your teenager refused to follow orders, as he always does.

And the catch is, it’s always the teenager who has to do the heavy lifting. Nothing gets done by the CEO – she’s on a wheel chair, remember?

WHEN DOES YOUR CEO ROLL IN FOR A VISIT?

Do you see this applied to your life?

Everyone’s different, but my CEO rolls in about 10% of the time, on special occasions (listed below). Check if any of these apply to you as well.

  • The night before something is due
  • After exercising or accomplishing something for yourself
  • After facing the consequences of your actions
    • like…
      • getting bad grades or negative feedback at work
      • realizing you’ve hurt a loved one
      • getting a medical report with bad news
  • After mediation, yoga, or a spiritual experience
  • When challenged to prove yourself

When was the last time you felt determined to change something? Think about it for a sec… we’re all different.

And so the key to all of this is: you and I procrastinate because the CEO never sticks around long enough to make any changes. Once she’s gone, the teenager stops working and finds the next mindless distraction or pleasure.

And making changes requires effort over time. We need the teenager on our side because he’s in control 90% of the time.

Good news is there are proven ways to get the teenager in line. And anyone can learn these with some practice.

Let’s talk about the ones that work best.

HOW TO ACTUALLY FOLLOW THROUGH

The teenager is very rebellious, he will fight back. Be warned.

Once you recognize this alter-ego, you’ll be blown away by the stubbornness of your teenager.

So the question is: how do you control him? Imagine CEO trying to force her grandson into submission. What would she do? Roll over his toes until he taps out?

But the teenager isn’t the brightest bulb in the tanning bed. He’s easy to trick. And you can play mind games on him to get him to work.

Below are the best-known mind tricks. Each one of these is an article on its own, but we’ll go over the basics here:

  • Habits, habits, habits
    • The teenager will do anything he’s used to doing already. But how do you get him to start? Luckily, there are well-known tricks to beat his initial resistance.
  • Change the surroundings
    • Teenager does as teenager sees. Change the surroundings while your CEO is visiting and the teenager will change his behaviour (and won’t even know why 😉 )
  • Call your CEO in for a visit
    • Do you know what gets you into CEO-mood? Then do that more often! If proper breathing brings your CEO in, then do it when you feel your teenager resisting. Or go running, and as soon as you get back dump all the junk food before you lose your CEO clarity.

Finally, though it’s not strictly a trick, managing stress levels can help you stop procrastinating.

Stress keeps your CEO away. Things like meditation, yoga or exercise, and proper breathing will make your CEO stronger (wheelchair upgrade?) and your teenager tamer.

Each article above has a set of simple steps, plus references to studies and stories of famous people who’ve used them to get big things done.

And with a bit of practice, you’ll soon start following through more often than not.

CHANGE HOW YOU SEE YOURSELF TO CHANGE HOW YOU ACT

Knowing the why is the real key.

When you start seeing yourself differently, the rest falls into place with a bit of practice.

For example, what do you usually tell yourself when you don’t follow through?

  • “I’m such a slacker! Always wasting time…”
  • “I’m a bum good for nothing…” 🙁
  • “I’m destined to stay fat/lonely/dumb/poor forever…” :'(

Which one?

Whether you’re harsh on yourself or not, we all hear poisonous voices in moments of disappointment. It’s part of being human.

But now you know: it’s not you who “failed”. It’s your teenager. And that’s an important distinction.

Start looking for your CEO and teenager in your daily life, and a new voice will start becoming louder:

“My teenager’s acting up! Of course he is, that bum… I’ll trick him next time!”

Slacking is completely normal. Even expected. So when it happens, just step-up your mind games.

Check out the linked articles to learn and practice the best tricks. And once you’ve mastered them, the only thing you’ve gotta ask yourself is:

“What will I change the next time my CEO visits?”

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