Beat a monkey and stop procrastinating!

I wanted to follow up on my presentation this Friday. We talked about things that we do to procrastinate and ways to fight those things but I would like to take a more general look at how to combat your procrastination. I recently read a two-part article about procrastinating that I liked a lot: The first part is about why procrastinators procrastinate and the second part is about how we can beat procrastination.

The author breaks our brains down into a few parts. The first two are the rational-decision maker and the instant-gratification monkey. Their purposes are relatively self-explanatory. The monkey thinks only about the present, while the rational decision maker can make long term decisions. The difference between procrastinators and non-procrastinators is that the instant-gratification monkey has a lot more say in procrastinators.

Just you and a monkey driving a giant head

What happens when we give the monkey control when we have lots of tasks that we need to complete is we go to a place that the author describes as “the Dark Playground.” This is the place we talked about a lot on Friday. The place where we do tasks that we do not really need to do just to keep from doing our work. And we feel bad for doing these tasks, so even if we are watching a TV show that we really enjoy, it does not make use feel good because we know we should be writing our Motivation and Emotion blog posts. What eventually happens is we meet the third character: The panic monster. Sure we get things done when the monster is around, but we do not feel good while doing it and when it is all said and done it is pretty shoddy work.

Wow, this is the coolest theme park I’ve ever seen!

The other thing they monkey does is that he keeps us from doing things that we want to do but that take some time and focus to complete. Maybe you want to learn a new language. Well, at first it’s fun but it soon becomes boring. So the monkey stops you and you go do something else and before you know it you have not made any real progress and have to start over. You feel bad because you cannot even finish something that you really want to finish.

And this cycle continues. Procrastinators feel bad for procrastinating and then, if they finish, they feel bad about the work they do complete. The procrastinator is almost addicted to, as the author put it, “letting the monkey win.” They do it so much that they convince themselves that it will always be this way. They lose their sense of competence towards getting things done on time. Without this sense they feel terrible about themselves, feeding the cycle.

So, how can we beat procrastination? According to the author, it starts with planning. This is something that procrastinators actually do a lot of, they are just really, really bad at it. As the author describes planning, it is essentially goal setting. So he goes through several steps that are very similar to how we described good goal setting: Focus the goal, make it clear, and break it into manageable parts. These are all things that we talked about in class, and several people mentioned similar things when talking about how we can overcome procrastination. Procrastinators usually do not do these things. They have many large, vague goals which make it very hard to move onto the next step: Doing.

Doing is the other part of goal setting: Implementation. The author talks about how hardest part of this is just starting the task. This is the part where you just have to slog through, force yourself to start on time, and stick to it. As you do that you begin to enter a state of flow, another piece of the need for competence. This flow feeds the instant-gratification monkey, and so you get your task done without having to run into the panic monster. By completing the task that you set out to do without rushing, you feel good about it. You build your sense of competence and help to teach yourself to not give into the monkey.

At the end of the article the author gives a few ways to try and help you “beat the monkey.” Use other people to help keep you accountable, by either telling them about a task you have and a deadline you have for it or by asking them to check in with you about it at a set time. You should also try to minimize any distractions that might feed the monkey. (Laptop, cell phone, TV, etc.) You could also create a panic monster for yourself if you have to, although that seems like it would have some other negative side effects.

The author finishes with two other points along with beating the monkey. The first is to remember that you are not a slave to your procrastination. You have a choice about whether or not your change and changing now is always better than changing later even if it is not the perfect time. The second is that you cannot expect to see drastic results immediately. If you are a procrastinator, you will not be able to quit overnight. If you are, please tell me what you did because I need to do the same thing drastically. Until then I will keep trying to avoid the dark playground and get my work done on time.

While I know I just summarized these two articles, they are a very entertaining read and I found them to really help me begin to deal with my procrastination. I think it is very interesting how many things in them link to topics we discussed in class, even if they do not use the same wording. I hope that they help anyone who takes the time to read them, or at least give you a chuckle. If you have any tips or tricks about avoiding procrastination that I did not mention, please share them in the comments!

Sources: Why Procrastinators Procrastinate and How to Beat Procrastination by Tim Urban

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