One Trick to Beat Procrastination Forever
The TLDR; is: meditate.
You probably thought I was going to say start small and get momentum. That’s a fine answer.
But meditation is a better answer.
A couple of years ago, I was a guest on Tim Phycyl’s podcast. He’s the world’s top procrastination researcher.
Tim described the most common form of procrastination as short term mood repair. Essentially, you have a small amount of anxiety about your upcoming task and in order to reduce that anxiety you go into an avoidance pattern.
When Tim says small, he means really small. The problem is that we normally aren’t very aware of our anxieties. They sit right below our conscious thoughts. If we try, we can identify them. But for most of the day they’re popping up and driving our decisions without our being aware at all.
This is explained really well in the book, Thinking, Fast and Slow.
The book’s central thesis is a dichotomy between two modes of thought: “System 1” is fast, instinctive and emotional; “System 2” is slower, more deliberative, and more logical.
So the great opportunity for overcoming procrastination is in bringing thoughts from System 1 (emotional) to System 2 (rational).
The best and only way I know to train for this is meditation.
Most people know that meditation can help calm you. But it also helps you practice an awareness-focus loop.
In a breath-based mindfulness meditation, you’ll catch your mind wandering and then bring your focus back to your breath. Your mind is expected to wander, so don’t feel bad when this happens.
Every time you catch yourself with a wandering mind is a chance to practice awareness of your thoughts.
That’s a skill that you can use outside of your meditation session. So next time you’re procrastinating ask yourself, “What are you so afraid of?”
I try to answer in a complete sentence. That ensures that you’ve brought the thought fully into System 2. “I am aware that doing my taxes is boring.”
Quite often, doing this exercise will eliminate the anxiety. Doing the work might be boring but it’s not that boring.