Lifesaving Techniques from a Livelong Procrastinator
Throughout my life, I have learned and employed organizational techniques to make myself more productive. These techniques made me functional by countering my procrastination, but they did not eliminate it. Overall, my tendency to procrastinate stemmed from one or all of the following three factors:
A philosophy to not sweat the small stuff
As a result, I sweep nearly everything into my ‘to do later’ pile.
The avoidance of pain
Like everyone else, my mind is wired to take the path of least resistance, which is the “’I will do it later” mindset. The more overwhelmed I feel, the more I tend to put things off and do things that I find more pleasing.
Being a perfectionist
I have an obsessive need to put off a project until I have adequate time to do it perfectly. Of course, the adequate time never comes, and I rush the project at the last minute.
PROCRASTINATION CAN COST YOU YOUR LIFE
A sea change happened when I endeavored to study the nature of violence. Most of us think we know what violence is, but we do not. Even those who train for self-defense do not know true violence. True violence is unexpected, chaotic, quick, and often deadly. What most people think is violence is not real violence. Real violence catches people off guard because people do not understand the nature of predators.
Predators do not play fair. Predators play to win.
Predators do not square off to fight. Predators jump out of nowhere.
Predators do not strike and jockey into a fighting position. Predators attack with a barrage of blows - whether it be from their fists, a knife, or a blunt object.
Predators do not pause or stop their attack until their victims are either incapacitated or dead.
Want to know just how fast this happens? Then watch the following video of an unsuspecting woman who is killed by a predator in only seven seconds. By the time this woman realized what was happening she was dead. As hard as it is to watch, this is real violence. You should also remember that if you become unaware of your surroundings, ignore the instinct that you are in danger via a misguided social responsibility to be polite, or find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time, then this could be you.
WARNING: This video contains real life violence and may be disturbing to some viewers.
I equate violence with procrastination because in the self-defense world there is a phenomenon called the freeze. The freeze is the third reaction in the fight or flight triad of which we were never taught. Instead of running or fighting, freezing is giving up and putting yourself at the mercy of your attacker. People who are being beat, bludgeoned, or stabbed to death stand there and let it happen. They do not run, they do not block, they do not fight back, ofttimes they do not even scream. The freeze happens to everyone. It happens to police officers, trained street fighters, black belts; to thin people and to heavy people. It even happens to that indestructible looking bouncer that you see at the local nightclub. The deciding factor is how long it takes to get out of the freeze. Those who deal with violence on a regular basis condition themselves to break out of the freeze before it is too late – and that is often the difference between life and death. Put simply, the freeze is our primal brain taking over. If faced in advance with a threat, then the primal brain engages the fight or flight mechanism. If surprised with unrelenting violence, as with most violent attacks, then the primal brain engages the freeze mechanism. Our primal brains freeze our bodies until our civilized brains can figure out what is happening and devise a plan of action. The problem is that violent attacks happen so quickly that one is likely be dead by the time his or her civilized brain can react.
This is where procrastination comes into play. The freeze is your brain procrastinating until it can get all the facts. You know, therefore, who is more likely to freeze? Sure, you do. It is people who are more likely to procrastinate. The recommended method to reduce the chances of freezing is to get in the habit of taking immediate action – the opposite of procrastination. In fact, the day I started anti-freeze training was the day I stopped being a procrastinator.
Let us take a look at the common factors that contribute to procrastinating behavior and compare them to the behavior of someone who is frozen.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
This factor relates to the giving up and putting yourself at the mercy of your attacker. Your civilized brain does not see being beat to death as “the small stuff” but the primal brain that takes over does. Since the primal brain works on ancient instinct, it does not see a human attacking you. Instead, it sees a bear eating you – and it responds in a likewise manner. Your primal brain wants to give the appearance that you are dead buy freezing your body and making it go limp. Since most animal attacks start by gnawing an arm or leg, the primal brain will pull blood from your extremities to keep you from bleeding to death. This will be a problem when the civilized brain kicks in because you will not have the muscle strength to run as fast or strike as hard. To the primal brain, the “big stuff” is hoping your attacker's appetite will be satiated with an arm or a leg and let you live.
Not sweating the small stuff is still a great attitude to have as long as you do not use it as an excuse to procrastinate. Just because your mind should not worry does not mean that you should not physically try to meet that deadline or dutifully work to reduce your workload.
The Avoidance of Pain
As mentioned above, our brains like to take the path of least resistance. We often procrastinate to avoid a task that we see as painful or unpleasant. A popular anti-freeze training method is to develop the discipline to immediately jump into a painful activity. Self-defense guru, Sgt. Rory Miller, recommends engaging in activities that mimic your body’s response to sudden shock. If you are going to swim in a cold pool, then do it. Do not wade in slowly - jump in and swim. Do It Now! This is your civilized brain taking back the lead from the primal brain. This is how you train your brain to overcome the freeze. Make this attitude a habit, and your brain will overcome procrastination as well.
Being a perfectionist
Being a perfectionist is a textbook definition of the freeze. Your body is surprised by a violent attack of shock and awe. Your body takes damage before your brain even realizes that you are under attack. All this chaos bombards the senses of the civilized brain. The civilized brain does not know what to do, so it gives control to the primal brain. This happens because the civilized brain is a perfectionist. “What do I do? What do I do?” the civilized brain asks. Even the brains of those trained in self-defense are trying to decide which move to use as they are taking fatal damage. “This is happening too fast. It is nothing like when I trained at the dojo,” their brains say. The civilized brain struggles for an explanation and the perfect move to end this quickly. But this is real life, and there are no perfect moves. As a perfectionist, the civilized brain does not realize that if there are no perfect moves, then any move will do. So, it shuts down and gives way to the primal brain. There is a popular saying among self-defense and MMA circles, “If you are not moving, then you are dead.”
If you are not moving, then you are dead
You do not need a perfect plan, and you do not need to understand everything. You just need to move. It does not matter what you do, as long as you do it. Just doing something will allow your civilized brain to take back the reigns. Then, if it is not too late, your training kicks in. This is how you break a freeze. It is also how you break the habit of procrastination. Do anything as it relates to an unpleasant task – even if it is something small and minor. It does not matter what you do, just stop waiting for the perfect moment and do it. Act swiftly with everything that comes across your desk, every task that enters your life, and pick up the phone each time it rings. Do It Now.
Time is fleeting. Even people who think they have all the time in the world, do not have all the time in the world. Today is the only day to get things done. Tomorrow is not guaranteed - just ask the 150,000 people who die each day.
The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today
This comes back to the primal brain, which is lazy because, as Rory Miller likes to say, it is the monkey brain. The monkey brain existed before the civilized brain had evolved. The monkey brain has no concept of time; and, like monkeys, the monkey brain is lazy. Chimpanzees spend ten hours a night sleeping, ten hours a day resting, and they spend a scant four hours walking and gathering food. This unproductive life is what our monkey brains seeks for you. Contrarily, our civilized brains have a concept of time, and they have grand aspirations. They want to author that book, clean out that attic, paint that masterpiece, improve their career skills, and start that business. Those aspirations start as thoughts, but we do not get them done because we do not have the resolve. If you want to stop procrastinating, then you must have both the thought and the resolve to carry it out. Thought is in our civilized brains, and resolve is the action to make those thoughts realities. Procrastination is the act of relinquishing control of our civilized brain that have the thought to our monkey brains that want to do nothing. Procrastination is freezing because freezing is the act of giving control to your monkey brain and doing nothing. Resolve is what you use to break out of your freeze. How do you create resolve? The next time you are about to procrastinate, reverse course and tell yourself to Do It Now.
A thought without resolve is just a thought
– Michael Armocida
As mentioned above, if you are not moving, then you are dead. You do not have to complete the entire project, just start with a small piece of it. If you cannot take 15 minutes each day to author that book, clean a small portion of that attic, paint that masterpiece, or start that business, then your monkey brain is simply making excuses.
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun
– Pink Floyd
TAKING A BREAK
It is important to point out the behaviors of triaging tasks, following a disciplined routine, and taking some time away are not procrastination. Sometimes we need to take time for those pleasant tasks. Taking a break for such things is fine, just make sure you set a timer and get back to the unpleasant tasks at hand.
DIVIDE AND CONQUER
The more time a task takes, then the more likely we are to procrastinate. This is especially true with exercise. We want to get into shape but running that mile and hitting those weights takes time. My lazy monkey brain even fights against an exercise routine of one hour a week. This is where divide and conquer can help.
Divide and Conquer is a strategy to get things done by dividing projects into smaller pieces. Simply set a fifteen-minute timer on your smart phone and spend those fifteen minutes addressing a particular task. When the time is up, stop working on that task and set another fifteen-minute timer for the next task. Do this continually until you circle back to the first task. Then repeat. If you are working on a deadline, then allot more time for that particular task.
Divide and Conquer is also an excellent strategy for exercising. Take a few minutes each time you rise from your chair to stretch. Take five minutes a day to work a different muscle, then take two days a week to do aerobics. Similarly, you can find the resolve to exercise fifteen-minutes a day. I find that exercising fifteen minutes a day is far easier than finding time to exercise one hour twice a week. If you cannot find fifteen minutes a day for your health, then wake up and have your civilized brain take back control from your monkey brain.
DO THE HARD STUFF
Perfectionists get caught in the trap of having to complete A and B before they can move on to C. This is good thinking if A,B, and C are related. Even then, A, B, and C need not be sequential. Salespeople know this. We want our proposals to knock the socks off our prospects. But if our prospects have a deadline, or worse , our delay causes our prospects to gravitate towards a competitor, then we jump straight to C. We can always follow-up with A and B later. The problem with perfectionists is they have a first come first serve mentality. Doing so is a form of procrastination and freezing. This behavior lets the mind freeze by diverting attention to task-A because it does not want to deal with task-C, which is the threat at hand. You can avoid this by getting in the Anti-freeze-training habit of tackling the hard stuff first. Another way to tackle the hard stuff is to take all the tasks that you dread and give yourself a day of hell to get them done.
Do something everyday that you don't want to do; this is the golden rule for acquiring the habit of doing your duty without pain
– Mark Twain
Procrastination can cost you money, your health, your job, and even your life. The key to break free of procrastination falls within these three simple words: Do It Now. When you come home tired and throw your shoes in the middle of the room with the intent of putting them away later, then recite the words, Do It Now. When you throw that glass in the sink with the intent to clean it later, then recite the words, Do It Now. Time is fleeting. If you do not have the time to do it now, then when will you find the time to do it later?
If you do not have the time to do it now, then when will you find the time to do it later?
Stop Listening to Your Monkey Brain
I pulled the stepstool open to retrieve the infrared grill at the top shelf in the utility room. The grill lay with the cooking grate loosely sitting on top. As I reached for the grill a little voice tickled at the back of my head saying, "Take the cooking grate off first, and bring it down separately." This was my civilized brain. Then another little voice said, "That's too much work. You can balance it. You've done it hundreds of times before." This advice came from my lazy monkey brain, whose advice I followed. A laundry basket atop the washing machine tipped the grill as I was bringing it down and the heavy iron cooking grate slide off with the corner impacting the front of my head. I got a good bump and a mild concussion because I allowed my civilized brain to give way to my monkey brain. This is a lesson learned. For the most part, the easiest way (a.k.a. the lazy way) is not the best way, it is the monkey brain way. This is especially true if the easy way does not make sense, or it poses a danger that can easily be avoided. Monkey brain thinking can get you killed, and it is the most common reason people die, whether it be through violence, impatience, of just plain stupidity.
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