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We’re Born To Want To Put Things Off But Here’s What You Can Do To Get Over It

We’re Born To Want To Put Things Off But Here’s What You Can Do To Get Over It
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We all know the feeling of having to do something and putting it off. 'I'll do it tomorrow', you say to yourself, but you said that yesterday. That book you meant to write, that running habit, getting to work on time. Whatever it is, you can change it. And here's one idea that might help you change your behaviour so you can get to doing what you really want to do.

Akrasia

Akrasia is a word created by ancient philosophers, Socrates and Aristotle, to describe that dissonance we feel when our higher self is telling us to do one thing, and our immediate self is vying for another activity. (It's that feeling when you hear the words in your mind 'Don't eat the chocolate cake' when you've already had a piece.) Our desire in the moment for the temporary reward often overwrites the deeper desire to be healthy and to choose fresh and juicy fruit and veg instead.

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This is simply how humans work, for the most part. But there are some strategies we can incorporate into our lives when dealing with Akrasia. So what can you do about it? You could try the 'if… then' strategy.

'If… then'

Using this strategy can help clarify what you are going to do, and to ensure you are focused on it. When there is no other option than doing what you have planned, it becomes extremely likely that you will do it. This is because then there is no deliberation, it becomes a certainty, so procrastination doesn't get a look in.

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To use this simple strategy, plan what you are going to be doing in a certain situation, time or place:

'If it is 8am, then I will get up and do some yoga and meditation.'

'If it is 10am, then I will begin writing my novel.'

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The 'if then' strategy has shown to increase levels of productivity 200-300% on average. That's some pretty good stats.

This is because it cuts out any thoughts that mean you can listen to the many excuses your mind will come up with to get you to put it off for a bit, or to think of the reasons you might change your mind and do something else instead.

Another practice that helps with this is trying cold showers, in which you hear all of your excuses not to do it, and do it anyway. Becoming aware of these thoughts is the first step to getting confident in the art of just doing it and being aligned with who you really are, and being able to do what you were brought here to do.

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Setting up a new habit is challenging, so don't be too hard on yourself about whether you make it to the gym every single time. Just the fact that you are trying to change is enough for now. And the easiest way to begin is to make starting as easy as possible. Once you've gotten over that hurdle, and have done so consistently, the habit will begin to feel more natural. If you begin to make it a part of your identity as in 'I'm a runner now', then you know you have won most of the battle.

Maya Angelou said that success is "liking yourself, liking what you do and liking how you do it." Hopefully this little tip will allow you to be more of yourself and to contribute more of your time to enjoying the fullness of life, instead of worrying about what you have not done. That's pretty powerful stuff, and it all starts with your habits.

For more tips on creating healthy habits, check this out.

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Daniel Owen van Dommelen

Coder, Director, Writer, Human

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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