4 Strategies to Stop Procrastinating and Start Living

Keeping the “Instant Gratification Monkey” at bay to make goals happen.

4 Strategies to Stop Procrastinating and Start Living | Keeping the “Instant Gratification Monkey” at bay to make goals happen.

This article is by Goodness Exchange, an online platform celebrating the wave of goodness and progress well underway all around the world. View the original article here.

Let’s be clear from the start: as much as society likes to tell us the opposite, productivity does not equal happiness. But why then, when we’re unproductive and putting things off, are we so unhappy? What is the real root of this feeling of dissatisfaction that comes when we procrastinate? And if we understand why we procrastinate, can we use that knowledge and understanding to stop procrastinating and ultimately live happier and more fulfilled? 

Tim Urban, whose research on the procrastinator in all of us has launched his TED Talk to the podium as the 4th most viewed TED Talk of all time, has a humorous answer to this question.
Inside the mind of a master procrastinator… 

When 34 year old Tim Urban was asked to do a TED Talk in early 2016, he thought and thought about what his topic would be. He realized that after writing a humorous and light-hearted blog post about procrastination on his blog Wait But Why, he received responses from people who were deeply affected by procrastination. 

So, what better to write a last minute TED Talk on than… procrastination? 

As of the date of writing, his humorous TED Talk discussing the very real impacts of procrastination on our lives is in the fourth most viewed TED Talk of all time, with 58.9 million views. The popularity of this talk is for good reason: its humor and insight is relatable to everyone, and if you let it, can truly improve your life. 

We can’t fix a problem if we don’t know what the problem is, and much less so if we don’t even acknowledge that it’s there. When we are conscious of the reasons we are procrastinating on life’s big (and small) circumstances, we can take action to change our feelings and live better. 

In our video, here’s Tim Urban to tell us more about the funny characters who control our brain, and how understanding them can help us be happier people.
The Decision Maker, the Instant-Gratification Monkey, and the Panic Monster

As Tim explains, for chronic procrastinators there are three main characters at play in our brains when we try to take on a task: the Rational-Decision Maker, the Instant-Gratification Monkey, and the Panic Monster. While the Rational-Decision Maker is supposed to be in charge, it is often thwarted by the Instant-Gratification Monkey who is much more interested in steering us in less productive directions. The only way to get the Instant-Gratification Monkey to let go of the helm is with the Panic Monster who usually comes around when there is the imminent possibility of very real consequences. It’s only then that we can start to be rational and productive.

But what about the situations when there is no deadline; when there is no hope of a Panic Monster on the horizon? Situations like reaching out to a friend or family member, changing our habits, starting your dream business, starting to exercise, getting into or out of a relationship, or finding a more fulfilling job? As Urban explains:

“It’s this long term kind of procrastination that’s much less visible and much less talked about than the funnier, short-term, deadline-based kind. It’s usually suffered quietly and privately. And it can be the source of a huge amount of long-term unhappiness and regrets. And I thought that’s why these people are emailing, and that’s why they’re in such a bad place. It’s not that they’re cramming for some project. It’s that long-term procrastination has made them feel like a spectator, at times, in their own lives. The frustration is not that they couldn’t achieve their dreams; it’s that they weren’t even able to start chasing them.”

When you stay aware of the instant gratification monkey and make an effort to understand your habits, you can combat them. You can say, “Not today, monkey!” and do something that future you will really appreciate. 

So, with this knowledge and understanding of what’s going on in our heads, how can we actually move towards changing these habits?

Change the emotions that have created the “Wall of Awful” you’re facing
Have you ever heard of the “Wall of Awful”? This metaphor by Brendan Mahan can help us understand the emotions in our way that are preventing us from starting a task. Be it fear of disappointment, rejection, or judgment, worry, self-doubt, impulsiveness, or any combination thereof. No matter which way you look at it, the Wall of Awful is built of negative emotions, and to climb the wall—or take a shortcut through it—we need to find healthy ways to adjust our emotions. 

The way to climb or make it through this wall is “about sitting with the emotion that built up our wall and understanding what’s stopping us – it can often look like staring at the wall, but it’s more about gearing yourself up to get over the wall.” Understanding what’s keeping you from getting going (in my case, understanding why I pushed this very article back on our schedule and didn’t actually write it until I had no other choice – ironic!) can help you start. 

Climbing the Wall of Awful and getting past our procrastinative nature is about finding ways to change our emotional state, be that by playing music (my personal favorite is a Spotify playlist titled “mario kart music make brain go fast”) a novel experience (like writing in a coffee shop or other new location), a time limit (waking up the panic monster, like Tim Urban told us about), setting clear and bite-sized goals, exercising… anything that gives us dopamine or changes our emotional state. So give these strategies a try next time you find yourself procrastinating on a deadline-less task, and who knows, they might just help. 

Have compassion for yourself & exchange perfectionism for joy
A key piece of this puzzle is compassion. It’s being kind to yourself and understanding that it’s impossible to be perfect at anything 100% of the time, and by no means do you have to be. 

“Anything worth doing is worth doing badly” G.K. Chesterton

That is, brushing your teeth for 30 seconds (instead of the full 2 minutes) is better than not brushing your teeth at all on the days when you need to take a shortcut. Stretching for five minutes is better than sitting on the couch when going to the gym feels impossible. Standing on the porch for a bit is better than staying on the couch when you’ve been inside all day but don’t have the energy to go to the park. 

And might I add, we’re living in troubling times. We’re living through a global pandemic, rampant division, and terrible news almost daily. Even though there is so much getting better for our world, you’re allowed to feel frustrated and angry about the things that aren’t. These are crazy times, so be kind to yourself. My rule of thumb when it comes to self-talk is if you wouldn’t say it to a friend, you shouldn’t say it to yourself. 

Reframe the task and do future you a favor!
Start thinking differently. While it may not work for everyone, my favorite way to reframe unpleasant things is as a favor for future me. This can be with big things or small, but it all boils down to “Tuesday me will really appreciate it if Monday me does the dishes right now.” or “Saturday me will really appreciate it if Thursday me does the laundry.” Clearly I have issues with household chores, but this can work for anything, be it at work or at home. Whatever you struggle with, tomorrow you won’t want to do it either, so do tomorrow you a favor! 

Continue to make efforts to understand yourself and adjust your habits accordingly
One great way to understand why you’re feeling a certain way is to take personality quizzes (we promise, not the type that will tell you what pizza topping you are…but hey, if it gives you some self-insight maybe knowing you’re a pepperoni is helpful, too). 

It’s all about finding what works for you. Not all of the above strategies to curb procrastination will work for everyone, and there are tons of others out there that might work better

We can only fix a problem once we acknowledge that it’s there and understand where it’s coming from. So keep an eye out for that monkey and develop strategies to shoo it away when you need, because we can develop the skills to be happy even when the panic monster isn’t there to keep us in check.

10 Feel-Good Affirmations for Kids
5 Work-Life Balance Tips to Optimize Your Life
How to Develop Creativity