The Instant Procrastination Struck

LighthouseI 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.

  1. Take one, single deep breath.
  2. 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: []

The Other Option Than Failing

For those of you who know me well I’m pretty obsessed with learning new things. There’s rarely a time where I’m not spending at least a few hours a week on some new online course or workbook. I’ve discovered that this process, at least how it was taught to me, has some major flaws. I want to talk about the biggest trap, and how to overcome some of the minor flaws.

The trap I alluded to is the watch/read/learn/do everything mentality. It’s the drive you get to watch every course and take every lesson. Before you can be good, you’ve gotta learn it all. This obviously isn’t true. When you think about it with even a shred of logic it falls apart immediately. Yet so many people I know, myself included, fall victim to this. We believe we will somehow become qualified to create once we’ve taken all of these courses. Or once we have the proper certification. The solution to this trap is the same as the flaws I’ll discuss, and why I wanted to write this article.

The first flaw in learning is the expert myth. We think our work isn’t worth doing until we become an expert. Of course this means we won’t do anything, because if you need to do work in order to become an expert, but can’t do work until you’re an expert… You get the picture. We tend to think more knowledge will make us feel more secure. The reality is that we have to make the leap of faith and try creating at some point. There’s no other way around it – you have to try.

The second flaw is that failing is good. I linked the title of the article to this flaw because I think it’s so pervasive in society right now.

I’ll summarize – you should make a ton of mistakes and fail a lot because then you’ll get good. The underlying idea here is that failure is what makes you good. And lot’s of it makes you great. I disagree with this completely.

My belief is that intentional creation from a place of passion is how you get good. I’ll dig into this more shortly. It’s not about failing or making mistakes though. I think these are the byproducts of intentional creation. I don’t think they should be the goal. To me, you are striving to make something better every single time you try. This is how you learn. This how you get good – regardless of whether it is a new language, or drawing, or dancing. You have to spend time trying, and wanting to get good. This is where the intention comes in. If you WANT to get good, it will happen. On the other hand, if you want to make mistakes, this will happen. You might get good, or you might get good at making mistakes because you believe this is what you should do.

The reason this thinking irks me is that it’s similar to the connection made when looking at people who are successful. We try to find what they all have in common and determine this is the path to embark on. Maybe it is the right path, but maybe 99% of people attempting the same skill took the exact same path and never succeeded. It’s pure selection bias. We think, Michael Jordan shot basketballs for 6 hours every morning, so to be good we must do the same. We don’t know what he thought about while shooting those baskets, where his mind was, or what his goal or attitude were. I think these things are just as important, if not more so. What was he thinking about on his off days? What did he dream about?

I’m clubbing the idea here, but it’s frustrated me for a long time. I put the 10,000 hour rule into this category as well. Why did these people do what they did for that long? Why didn’t they spend more time watching tv, or napping, or hanging with friends? These are the questions I want to know the answers to.

I believe that being intentional and passionate about whatever you undertake is the key. I think we all learn this lesson as children, and then again from children when we are adults. As a child, you make. You don’t judge, you are proud just to have made. You want to show everyone what you’ve made because you made it. Then we become adults and we don’t want to show anyone what we’ve made because we are terrified it isn’t good. It doesn’t matter in either instance. What matters is the act of making with passion.

Take this as a challenge. Try whatever you’ve wanted to begin learning, but with passion and intention. Go speak to people in another language and bumble around, but try really hard. Do it with a huge grin on your face because you love it. Enjoy the entire process. And have the desire to get better, find a way to track it, ask others how you are doing. Finish things and compare them to your previous work. Most of all, remember what it was like to be a child anytime you sit down to learn and create. Your brain still has that capability if you let go of other’s expectations you’ve internalized.