As the world continues its Great Pause, there’s also a widespread disruption of normal routines. Schedules are in disarray. Activities and commitments canceled. And people are finding more free time than they’re used to.
For those looking for some optimism in this global crisis, this newfound free time is a chance to do something productive. It’s an opportunity to try out new hobbies, revive old goals, or start new ventures.
However, with free time also comes unlimited interference: social media, television, streaming sites, and video games. It’s an all-too-familiar sight: you open your laptop, hoping to finish that business plan today, only to be sucked for hours into a black hole of memes and cat videos.
With the current situation, we’re more susceptible to distractions than ever before. It’s as if we’re on the verge of a different kind of pandemic: the pandemic of procrastination.
While the coronavirus poses a grave danger to the body, the procrastination bug is dangerous to hopes and dreams, preventing us from achieving progress and leading a life of success.
Simply put, procrastination is but a creative form of sabotage. It is a story, a series of mental calisthenics we make up, so we can rationalize avoiding change.
Procrastination is not entirely our fault. Our bodies are simply reinforcing old habits. But we can’t let it control us, either. What we can do is reduce procrastination to a minimum, enough so we can continue moving forward.
An Uphill Climb
Let me frame this within a personal endeavor I just started. Last April, I decided to do something about my health and overall fitness. I took up hiking and made a personal pledge to complete 10,000 steps, daily.
Turned out to be easier said than done.
Make no mistake, I consider myself a workhorse. I enjoy working. I could spend eight straight hours at my desk doing nothing but work. When it comes to our industry, I’m a machine.
But hiking? Let’s just say it was a literal uphill climb. Starting didn’t go as smoothly as I hoped. It was a struggle getting to the 10,000 mark, and I struggled, even more, trying to accomplish this feat every single day. There were days when I would avoid it altogether. My April calendar was peppered with missed goals. May, even more so.
Needless to say, I was procrastinating big time.
Though it will only take a couple of hours to get to 10,000 steps, I kept missing it. I’d rather work than work out. It’s bumming me out.
But… it also piqued my curiosity. I began paying attention, not only to my new fitness challenge but more so to my resistance to it. I became fascinated with the fact that, even with all the free time in the world, even with my work ethic in one field, I still can’t effectively maintain a habit in another.
It’s surprising how creative our minds are when rationalizing procrastination. And trust me, it can get pretty convincing. Many succumb to it. In the industry of network marketing, this has a potentially devastating effect.
Procrastination, if left untethered, leads to missed deadlines, missed meetings, missed promotions, and missed success.
I began to explore the psychology and biology behind procrastination. Here’s the deal: we procrastinate not only because we’re lazy. It’s not that simple. It has something to do with the way our brains are wired. Specifically, there is a very important factor at work here: our endless pursuit of pleasure.
Doping on Dopamine
Biologically, humans are constant pleasure-seekers.
Often, we derive pleasure from things that prolong our survival: nourishment, personal growth, social interaction, or reproduction. We seek it in the food we eat, the careers we pursue, and the relationships we cherish.
Dopamine, the “feel-good” hormone produced by the brain, plays a vital role in how we perceive pleasure and reward. When we reach a goal (be it scratching an itch, getting a hug, or closing a deal), the brain triggers a release of the hormone. It creates a sense of satisfaction: we feel accomplished, our focus is heightened, and we have increased levels of attention and enthusiasm. In short, we’re experiencing a natural high.
This is how habits are developed.
Habits are a product of a process called the motivation-reward-reinforcement cycle. As we seek pleasure, we are motivated to do certain things. Once achieved, we are rewarded with a surge of dopamine. Over time, our minds reinforce these actions as pleasurable. We continue doing them, and a habit is formed. The cycle continues as we seek out similar activities.
Ever wonder why athletes and performers spend their entire days just practicing, honing their craft? Not everything about that is voluntary. The amount of dopamine released when they are performing is enough to cause an addiction. Their bodies are craving the work. They are craving the motivation-reward-reinforcement cycle.
I feel that’s what’s happening to me when I’m at my desk. I’m in my element, and I enjoy the work. I’m getting a healthy dose of dopamine as I do the grind. I work out of habit. But dopamine is present in bad habits as well, probably even more so.
Let’s admit it: bad habits are so much harder to break because we get so much pleasure from them.
That’s a reinforcement for you. And that’s why when starting a new habit (or ending a bad one), we procrastinate. Procrastination is akin to withdrawal.
Creatures of Habit
Humans are also designed to be habitual. Like pleasure, our brain prefers routine and familiarity for the sake of survival. The caveman who walks the beaten path will more likely avoid the sabretooth hiding in the woods. Recognizing patterns and following familiar experiences increase our chance of living another day.
Notice that procrastination often happens during the early phases of habit-forming. We feel uncomfortable since the body isn’t sensing a pattern yet. There’s no beaten path.
Our body’s current state is a culmination of habits—both good and bad—we acquired throughout life. When we develop a habit, we are replacing another. Most of the time, the correlation is inverse: good habits replace bad ones and vice versa.
For example, imagine you’re trying to diet. This inversely affects your old habit of eating junk. As the body tries to consume something new, say a salad, the brain senses a disruption of the status quo. It takes no pleasure from this green leafy thing, and so it sends out alarm signals.
These signals can take many forms: anxiety, discomfort, mood swings. Suddenly, you “don’t feel like” eating salad: it’s too bitter, or too tough. It can wait for later. Pizza sounds awesome, though. You revert to your old ways and avoid change. You procrastinate.
Now that we know the workings of pleasure and habit, we can come up with a few ways to deal with procrastination. The goals are to 1) make our brain see the task as a pleasurable activity; and 2) develop the habit quickly.
Starting on hiking was hard. Walking a couple of miles in the morning heat? Not a pleasurable experience at all. It’s something I was NOT looking forward to each day.
My body was freaking out. It’s asking me: what’s this new gimmick? Why do you want to get tired and sweaty so early in the morning, with knees hurting and calves sore? Why do all these, when you can just relax right here in the comfort of your home?
But then I came to an understanding that all these are just signals, creative forms of sabotage. My body mistakenly perceives a threat to my survival and uses procrastination to pull me back to the familiar.
With understanding came a plan. My long experience as a network marketer and personal development coach suddenly became the very tools that willed me out of procrastination and into this productive, rewarding habit.
It took a while. Slowly, but surely. June was the turning point. I began to adapt to what my body is telling me. I recognize the signs of withdrawal and looked for ways to circumvent them.
Finally, by July I was able to complete 10,000 steps every single day. I was walking over hills, pathways, and hiking trails. I feel energized. I even had the energy to occasionally go for a few rounds of golf!
All it took were some simple lifehacks. You, too, can follow these lifehacks and apply them to any endeavor you have, be it in your business, health, or personal relationships. These tips are adaptable to any situation and require minimal effort.
Take Baby Steps
We know procrastination occurs often at the start of habit-forming, and so it’s where we should be at our most attentive. One small mistake and we slide down a slippery slope.
One thing you can do is to break down your goal into smaller, bite-sized goals before you even start. This makes the tasks look less daunting, and each smaller goal will require less time and energy. Frequent rewards will also mean more dopamine surges, triggering the motivation-reward-reinforcement cycle much faster.
When I hike each morning, the ultimate goal of 10,000 steps is always at the back of my mind, but I also engage myself with smaller milestones. For example, I’ll make an immediate goal of getting to the tree across the field as fast as I can. Once I get there, I’d look for another landmark, and repeat. It almost becomes sort of a little game. It’s enjoyable, and before I know it, I’ve covered a few good miles.
You can apply the same with your networking projects. How hard is it to talk to at least two potential clients, every day? You can do this in maybe 15-30 minutes. Just two people, two conversations.
Do it consistently, and we’re looking at 60 potential clients in a month, 120 in two months, and 720 in half a year! I’m pretty sure 720 potential clients will move your business further compared to, say, zero.
Incorporate New Habits to Existing Ones
To counter the urge to procrastinate, you can also piggy-back your new habits onto existing ones. Old habits don’t require much effort to maintain. You avoid procrastination because your brain is too busy following a familiar routine.
Since I am more comfortable with working than exercise, I did some work while hiking. While outside, I set up online consultations and meetings. I also started a Facebook Live series where I have casual talks with my followers each morning—called Daily Dose of Salt.
As soon as I did, the hike itself felt more natural. The hiking trail became my office. I got consulting work done, and also created regular content my followers like. I was able to transform a hated chore into an extremely productive use of my time.
Motivation Now, Habit Later
Finally, nothing will make much sense if you don’t have the motivation to do the work.
Motivation is the backbone of success. It is the most important aspect of any endeavor and an enemy of procrastination. Without the proper motivation, anything you start will just fizzle out sooner or later.
Motivation is a limited resource. It needs constant upkeep to continue feeling motivated for long periods. Fortunately, you don’t need to will yourself all the time. Once you have your habit going, there’s no need to. Your biological urges will naturally compel you to do the work.
The secret, always, is to just start. Stay motivated, even if only in the beginning. Try to understand what your body is saying. You can follow my tips here, or come up with your own set of lifehacks. Trigger your own motivation-reward-reinforcement cycle. Sooner or later, you’ll get to your goal, whether it’s just to reach 10,000 steps, or building your empire.
And the pandemic of procrastination will hardly affect you at all.
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