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How do I Get Over My Bad Habit of Procrastinating?

How do I Get Over My Bad Habit of Procrastinating?

Procrastination is a topic we have covered many times on Lifehack, it’s a bad habit and an unnecessary evil, but this answer found on Quora by Oliver Emberton has become one of the most popular and upvoted answers and we just had to share it with you…

someday is not a day of the week

    I’ll answer your question, but first I need to explain all of human civilisation in 2 minutes with the aid of a cartoon snake. Humans like to think we’re a clever lot. Yet those magnificent, mighty brains that allow us to split the atom and touch the moon are the same stupid brains that can’t start an assignment until the day before it’s due.

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    We evolved from primitive creatures, but we never quite shed ourselves of their legacy. You know the clever, rational part of your brain you think of as your human consciousness? Let’s call him Albert. He lives in your brain alongside an impulsive baby reptile called Rex:

    rex

      (Rex is your basal ganglia, but that’s not very catchy so I’m sticking with Rex).

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      Rex evolved millions of years ago – unsurprisingly enough, in the brains of reptiles – and his instincts guide and motivate you to this day. Hunger. Fear. Love. Lust. Rex’s thoughts are primitive and without language.

      Here’s the bit you’re not going to like. Rex makes the final call on all your decisions. Every. Single. One.

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      rex2

        We like to think of Albert as “our true self” – the conscious part of your brain. He’s the talking, reasoning part. When we decide to go to the gym or write that term paper, Albert made that decision. Rex does listen to Albert. Like a child, he will do a lot of what he’s told, as long as he wants to. But if Rex prefers to crash on the sofa to watch Survivor and eat Cheetos, that’s what you’re going to do.

        The incredible ascension of mankind that surrounds us is largely possible because we’ve developed systems to nurture our reptilian brains, to subdue, soothe and subvert them. Much of this system we call “civilisation”. Widely available food and shelter take care of a lot. So does a system of law, and justice. Mandatory education. Entertainment. Monogamy. All of it calms Rex down for long enough for Albert to do something useful – like discover penicillin, or invent Cheetos.

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        albert

          Now let’s look at your procrastination.

          You’re making a decision with your conscious mind and wondering why you’re not carrying it out. The truth is the real decision maker – Rex – is not nearly so mature. Imagine you had to constantly convince a young child to do what you wanted. For simple actions, asserting your authority might be enough. “It’s time for dinner”. But if that child doesn’t want to do something, it won’t listen.

          You need to cajole it:

          • Forget logic. Once you’ve decided to do something, logic and rationale won’t help you. Your inner reptile can be placated, scared and excited. But it doesn’t speak with language and cannot be reasoned with.
          • Comfort matters. If you’re hungry, tired or depressed your baby reptile will rebel. Fail to take care of yourself, and he’ll wail and scream and refuse to do a damn thing you say. That’s what he’s for. Eat, sleep and make time for fun.
          • Nurture discipline. Build a routine of positive and negative reinforcement. If you want a child to eat their vegetables, don’t give them dessert first. Reward yourself for successes, and set up assured punishments for your failure. Classic examples include committing to a public goal, or working in a team – social pressure can influence Rex.
          • Incite emotion. Your reptile brain responds to emotion. That is its language. So get yourself pumped, or terrified. Motivational talks, movies and articles can work, for a while. I use dramatic music (one of my favourite playlists is called Music to conquer worlds by). Picture the bliss associated with getting something done, or the horrors of failing. Make your imagination vivid enough that it shakes you. We use similar tricks on children for a reason: “brush your teeth or they’ll fall out”.
          • Force a start. The most important thing you can do is start. Much of Rex’s instincts are to avoid change, and once you begin something those instincts start to tip into your favour. With enough time, you can even convince Rex to love doing the things he hated. There’s a reason we force kids to go to school or to try piano lessons.
          • Bias your environment. Rex is short sighted and not terribly bright. If he sees a Facebook icon, he’ll want it. It’s like showing a child the start of a cool TV program immediately before bedtime. Design your environment to be free from such distractions: sign out of instant messenger, turn off notifications, turn off email. Have separate places for work and fun, and ideally separate computers (or at least accounts).

          Once you know what to look for, you’ll start to recognise the patterns and control them.

          There’s an impulsive baby reptile in your brain, and unfortunately he has the steering wheel. If you can be a good parent to him he’ll mostly do what you say, and serve you well. Just remember who’s in charge.

           

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          Last Updated on September 20, 2018

          8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

          8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

          You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.

          Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.

          When you train your brain, you will:

          • Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
          • Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. No problem for you to pick up a new language or new management skill.
          • Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. Alzheimer’s will not be affecting you.

          So how to train your brain and improve your cognitive skills?

          1. Work your memory

          Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:

          When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.

          If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.

          The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.

          Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.

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          Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.

          What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.

          For example, say you just met someone new:

          “Hi, my name is George”

          Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.”

          Got it? Good.

          2. Do something different repeatedly

          By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.

          Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.

          It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.

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          And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!

          But how does this apply to your life right now?

          Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.

          Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”

          Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.

          So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?

          You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.

          That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.

          3. Learn something new

          It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.

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          For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).

          Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.

          You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?

          4. Follow a brain training program

          The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.

          5. Work your body

          You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.

          Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.

          Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.

          Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.

          6. Spend time with your loved ones

          If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life.  Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.

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          If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.

          I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.

          7. Avoid crossword puzzles

          Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.

          Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.

          Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity

          8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included

          Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.

          When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.

          So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!

          The bottom line

          Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.

          Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!

          Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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