I was reading a post from Mark Manson today that I’ve read a few times in the past and enjoyed. Something stuck out that I hadn’t noticed before. Ponder this. The root cause of procrastination is that doing the task will change our image of ourselves either positively or negatively. As a consequence it is easier to do nothing.
What stayed with me today is an underlying idea. Mark’s suggestion is to think about your “self” less. Not to say how amazing or how awful you are, but instead to be more in the middle ground. Be a creator, or a friend, or a sibling. Not the most awesome, special, amazing, life-changing, earth-shateringly, wonderful person. But just a person.
While I like this idea, I think there’s a better solution.
This morning, while reading his article, I was procrastinating. I found an iPad game I’ve been enjoying, and rather than playing one or two games I was a couple of hours in. It’s Monday morning. I had an amazing weekend and went to sleep amped up about this week. But now it’s actually Monday. And I’m procrastinating.
So I read Mark’s article. And I played games. And then something changed.
I stood up to grab a snack and it hit me like a piano in a Looney Toons cartoon. I could CHOOSE my level of awareness about my procrastination. I didn’t need any kind of self-talk. I wasn’t scared that writing or continuing to learn iOS development would shake my world. Gaming was just easy. Moving into my day was hard. But, it was only hard because it was unconscious.
Ok. Back to the initial point that doing something could change your identity. Why am I writing this right now? It’s not because I sat down and started writing. It’s not because I said just do one line of code. These are common methods I’ve seen in the self-help world. Instead, I paused for 1 second. In this single second I let myself become aware. That’s it. I stopped thinking about all the things I needed to do, or who I was or who I wanted to be. I let it all go for an instant.
And what happened? It’s hard to describe, but I knew after that instant that it was time to get going on stuff. The stuff didn’t matter. I began to watch an iOS tutorial I’ve been working through, then realized I should begin my daily ritual of journaling and blogging. I started my pomodoro timer and began to write.
Here’s the amazing part. I currently feelzero resistance. No part of me wants to go back to gaming or reading. I’ve been getting texts, because I forgot to put my phone on do not disturb. Yet, I have zero urge to touch it, because that means that my hands would leave this keyboard and that’s exactly the place they want to be right now.
Why does this work? Why is this so powerful?
I’m not sure, but I have a theory. Let’s call it Nick’s Inertia Theory (thanks Mark). A large part of the reason that sitting down and beginning a task works so well is that it breaks inertia. One push up or one line of writing is something and once something exists it’s easier to do more of this. Part of the fear leaves. I think we all have experienced this, whether in relation to cleaning our bedroom, doing the dishes, exercising, or creating. My theory is in relation to the instant before we begin this single line. Here’s the theory:
“The more you care about the results or the reasons you’re working on a project, the harder it will be to begin. And the easier it will be to continue once you gain any momentum.”
This makes logical sense even though we don’t want it to. We want to believe that our life-changing business idea will be easy to start. But as soon as you believe it to be life-changing, it becomes difficult to begin. The inverse is true. Finishing the last half hour of a movie is pretty easy, but if we have other tasks we care about more they begin to nag at us five or ten minutes in.
Let’s get back to the instant before we feel the inertia. The one second of space you can create to begin moving the heavy object forward on a path.
I have two steps to take the moment you realize there is something important that you want to be doing instead of whatever you are currently doing. The caveat is that I believe you need to have this level of awareness first or you’ll just numbly continue with whatever you are in the midst of.
- Take one, single deep breath.
- Stand up – physically move your body.
That’s it. If you are watching tv and remember you need to do the dishes, try this method. If you are checking email instead of writing, try this method. Here’s why it works.
By taking a breath you force momentary awareness. Breathing is 99.99% unconscious throughout our day. But forcing a breath short circuits brain activity for a split second. Moving rewires your brain, again for a split second. Even if the task you intend to do allows you to be in the same physical position as you’re currently in, you need to move.
Give this process a try. I am shocked that something so simple worked for me this morning. The best part is, that I stood up to get a snack. I wasn’t intentionally getting off the couch to move, I just happened to stand up right after I paused for a breath.
Let me know how this works for you!
Mark’s Article: [http://markmanson.net/procrastination]