Life Coach Magazine

Procrastination Kicking Your Ass? Kick Back With Controlled Rewards

By Gjosefsberg @gjosefsberg
Angry Face

This Is Your Inner Procrastinator. He Doesn't Want To Work, He Wants A Nap!

Gal’s Note – This post started out as another part in the Diamonds or Dogs series, but it became something a bit more than just about that.  Specifically, it became all about how I deal with my inner procrastinator and handle two blogs, a start up and a full time job.

First, let me be clear, procrastination isn’t something you are dealing with alone.  Every one procrastinates.  In fact, I would say that the natural tendency of the human brain is to procrastinate.  Why?  Because we’re short sighted creatures more interested in right now than in tomorrow.  It’s not our fault, evolution has made us this way.  Evolution has taught us not to spend energy that we don’t need to spend. That’s really good strategy for a creature that lives day to day, minute to minute and needs to think about short term survival, not long term success.

In fact, if you think of us as a species, it’s only in the last five thousand or so years that we’ve had to think long term.  We had to harvest fields and keep some of the seed for next year.  We started living in large communities and needed to think about waste disposal and not pissing off the neighbors.  We even started trading our extra goods for someone else’s, which made us think about producing more than we ourselves needed.  Still, these were relatively simple plans with very obvious benefits (do this or die is a really good motivator).  It’s only in the last 100 or so years that life became really complicated for most of us.  Now we need to restrain ourselves from eating too much, produce work that is usually completely unrelated to our day to day life and navigate an increasingly complex social web.  Is it any wonder that we would rather sit home and watch TV with a pile of potato chips?

Every day, our primitive little brain is yelling at us “stop wasting energy!  Eat more!  Have sex with that person!  Drink that!” and it’s really hard for the logical part of our brain to control it with “no, we should be healthy so our lives are longer.  We should not have sex with that person because we’re already married.  We should not drink that because it’s bad for us”.  And this is especially true of procrastination.  Your primitive brain doesn’t care about business plans, career goals, a good education or cleaning the house.  All it wants is to eat, sleep and procreate with minimal energy expenditures.  Procrastination is so attractive because it’s so short termed.  Why waste energy now when this homework isn’t due until later?  Why workout now when you can sleep some more?  Why do this report when you can play games?

Why Indeed

Your logical brain tries to beat that primitive side down with a variety of arguments but it eventually fails because those arguments are usually long term.  They’re things like health, education, income, career or marriage.  As wonderful as all of those things are, they’re a bit ephemeral.  It’s hard to quantify the benefits of better health, especially right now when you’re arguing against the short term and very obvious benefits of napping on the couch.  Again, our brains are very short termed thinkers.  You can try to overpower that with will power but you’ll eventually fail.  The short term and obvious will always win out against the long term and vague and you’ll go on procrastinating and hating yourself for it.

But Wait, There’s A Better Way

So rather than this futile wrestling with your primitive brain, why not recruit it by offering some concrete, short term rewards?  Think of the primitive side of your brain as a 4 year old.  The 4 year old isn’t interested in work or exercise, it wants to play, eat and sleep.  Understand that and work with it, rather than against it by giving this 4 year old very clear rewards that are immediate and applicable to its goals.

For example, I came to the office today with 20 different projects to do and about 50 emails to deal with.  I’m also trying to eat healthy and not give in to my tendency to binge on candy.  I suppose I could try to willpower my way through all of that but I’d probably fail.  Instead, I set up a number of short term goals.  I told myself:

  • If I cut this down to 10 projects and 20 emails, I will treat myself a Chipotle Burrito Bowl
  • If I cut it down further to 5 projects and 10 emails, I will treat myself to a coke zero and a 45 minute break at the book store

These are very concrete goals.  Even better, they appeal directly to the primitive brain’s wishes to rest, eat and play.  I planned them out ahead of time so neither of these rewards will “break the bank” in terms of money or being unhealthy and they’re both very achievable in just a few hours.  That’s important because the primitive brain’s time horizon is very short (again, think 4 year old).  A promise of a reward tomorrow is going to be ignored, but a reward a few hours from now is going to be heard and understood.

Additionally, I talked myself into seeing these as really cool things.  I know this is going to sound a bit weird, but your primitive brain is really primitive.  It’s easily fooled and if you tell yourself “wow, this cup of coke zero is going to be AWESOME!” your primitive brain will listen and believe.  The logical part of your brain my find it laughable but that’s not the part of your brain you’re trying to convince, is it?  So yes, I know it sounds silly to talk to yourself like a 4 year old but it really works.  Get hyped up about these rewards, talk about them in your head like they were the best thing ever and keep reminding yourself that you’re dealing with emotions and urges that have the maturity level of a 4 year old.  Would you deal with a 4 year old by laying out carefully planned rewards that are weeks or months or years away?  Or would you deal with a 4 year old by telling them “if you clean up your toy box I will give you this AWESOME red balloon”?

That’s it.  That’s my sure fire way of being more productive and avoiding procrastination.  All it takes is an understanding of your urges and a willingness to work with them rather than against them.  That, and the ability to deal with an angry 4 year old who’s prone to tantrums



And now I’m going to go reward my inner 4 year old by taking a walk!  That’s what we agreed we would do after we finished this blog post


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