As human beings we fall prey to malevolent temptations everyday. We tell ourselves that we won’t have junk food today, but screw that we had a rough day at work today and no one but the lord can keep this vehicle from pulling up to the Taco Bell drive through. We’re not very good at sticking to what we say we’ll do. Our thoughts and actions often diverge without us having much control over it.
In fact, in a book called Blink by Michael Gladwell he studies a group of people at a speed dating event. He describes a young girl named Mary who set a list of traits she looks for in a potential partner. However, after meeting a young man she fancied that did not encompass the traits she described, he preferences had changed. Turned out that Mary didn’t actually know what she wanted in a partner. Her thoughts would suggest one thing but her actions suggested another. This study shows us that we have little control over what we do or feel like doing.
Say you’re in college and you have an essay due next week. You’re probably thinking “Whatevs I have plenty of time!” But then you realize that you tend to procrastinate till the last possible moment, thus making a PAINFUL essay writing session at two in the morning and the quality of your essay plummets. You want to start writing your essay early so you put in your planner to being writing tomorrow evening. Guess what? Tomorrow evening arrives and you totally don’t feel like writing your essay at all.
You’re sleepy from classes and you just realized that a new episode of the Walking Dead is airing tonight. Stuff happens and your will to do what you planned is influenced by many conscious and subconscious factors. So there’s really not much you can do about it. Sometimes you’ll actually do what you said you’ll do and sometimes you won’t. When procrastination sets in hard, you’ll find it almost painful to do what you’re supposed to be doing. You may even convince yourself to stop doing it mid-way!
You never really “overcome” procrastination. If you get rid of it one day, it’ll be back to crash at your place the next day. Whenever I feel really lazy and don’t feel like doing anything, I let myself feel lazy. I don’t try to fight that feeling or make myself feel bad about feeling lazy. It’s natural. However what helps me get stuff done is to prime myself.
I don’t go do something super fun and awesome right before I know I have to finish something lame like an essay. You can prime yourself by beginning to plan your task in your head. Imagine yourself finishing the task and try to find something fun about the task. Prime yourself by imagining that you will finish your task with ease and will have plenty of time to spare for other tasks. If you’re trying to get yourself to do chores imagine how much better you will feel once the area is clean and stuff is un-cluttered. If you’re trying to get yourself to plan a date to hang out with someone, imagine that you are having a wonderful time with that person and gaining a valuable connection.
Priming is actually backed by science! In a study conducted by two Dutch scientists mentioned in Blink by Gladwell, they had groups of students answering 40 difficult questions from the game Trivial Pursuit. Half of the group was asked to think about and write down what they think it means to be a professor. The other half was asked to think about and write down soccer hooligans. The first half of the group answered 55.6 percent of the questions correctly. The second half answered 42.6 percent correctly. The difference between those two numbers is enormous and a testament to the power of priming.
Because the first group of students put themselves in a professorial frame of mind, they were able to channel their inner scholar, thus making these trivia questions a bit easier to answer. They were able to imagine themselves as professors.
If you don’t take away anything else from this post, take away the point of simply priming yourself to do the work. When I say priming I don’t mean psyche yourself up. Just imagine yourself accomplishing the task and then imagine some good thing that will result from the accomplished task. And don’t beat yourself up if you slip up from time to time! It happens!