Each of us has the voice inside our heads, or the feeling that says we ought to be doing something more fun, something more pleasurable. We shouldn’t focus on anything that requires work. We might fail and then we would have wasted all that effort. Better to just take it easy and focus on pleasures now. It is the voice that is sabotaging your long-term goals!
The voice inside our heads is the lizard brain, the part of our brain that is only interested in our genes surviving. It is The Resistance, as Seth Godin calls it. The lizard brain is always telling you to avoid things that aren’t immediately pleasurable.
The lizard brain prefers pleasure. Pleasure is the choice of the lizard brain every time. It tells you to avoid focusing on your long term goals; one more cat video, and then maybe some cake. You are really sleepy, maybe hit the snooze 12 times before getting up. No use in reading any books, since they might be boring and online comics are way more fun.
The lizard brain is obsessed with keeping things as they are. Change is stressful, and it could be dangerous. It is better to remain unfulfilled and complacent, than to risk altering something and maybe getting ahead. Things might not work out.
That’s the deal with things you are procrastinating on. You are changing something. You are prioritizing long-term benefits instead of defaulting on instant, hollow pleasures. You are thinking of stepping out of the hedonic treadmill. That is scary for the lizard.
Don’t listen to the voice whispering or shouting inside your head. The lizard brain will grow stronger every time you listen to it. And it won’t let you do anything truly fulfilling.
Defeating the lizard brain and preventing it from sabotaging your long-term goals!
The most effective way is to make it impossible for yourself to procrastinate.
If you know you will be tempted, change your environment. Get into an environment where you can’t fool around online. My preferred choice is to walk to a café, getting some movement on the way, even leaving my smartphone and laptop behind. Since I have fewer distractions I will be defaulting to work on the stuff I want to most of the time.
When I have to work online, I will limit my browsing options with Leechblock for websites. Leechblock is handy, since you can set it to be impossible to deactivate. I allow only the sites I know I need to work on and block everything else, and changes until the set time.
If I am working offline but with my laptop, I block my internet access with Cold Turkey. Couple of hours is plenty for most tasks. It is surprisingly effective to know that you can’t go online; you kill the cravings, since you know they are no longer even an option.
I have the browsers blocked on my phone to eliminate needless distractions of browsing. I have used Applock for that for couple of months. Sure, it might be a bit inconvenient some times, but I get distracted far less and save my willpower for important things.
Acknowledge the lizard brain. Once you acknowledge that seeking distraction is only the lizard brain seeking comfort and pleasure you will be far stronger at resisting the temptations. You will be aware that you have no real reason to procrastinate; it is only the primitive part of you trying to sabotage your best efforts. You can talk to your lizard brain, even out loud (don’t do that if in a crowded place). Think about the pleasures you will achieve by accomplishing the task you are trying to focus on to calm the lizard brain.
Use the power of habits and routines. You eliminate need for willpower and the fear of change, by creating stable routines. Start small. Work for 25 minutes without distractions on an important task. Take a break for 5 minutes. During your break you can do whatever relaxes your focus: Refill your coffee, read a fun article, get a cookie. Repeat the work-break as many times as you need to. While you are building habits, you want to focus on getting the pattern stabilized before going nuts with quantity. Use set times or other cues to make starting a new habit easier. Examples would be “At noon I will X” or “first thing when I get home from the office I will Y”.
Schedule fewer things. Willpower is finite. You can do only so much heavy lifting with it. Focus only on getting the most important things done. You won’t get everything done, and that’s fine. Concentrate on the few things that have the most impact and let everything else be of secondary importance. Think of one to three things that are the most important things that need to happen that day. Those should be things that make everything else irrelevant or easier. Focus on those. Schedule them and refuse to do anything else during those periods. Relax and reward yourself afterward for a job well done.
Be a human. Create a compelling future with your daily actions. Defy the lizard!
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