We all have a hard time doing certain things: a report, studying something or having that difficult conversation. We’re experts at postponing the uncomfortable or procrastinating, as they say more precisely; and we entertain ourselves with anything, like surfing the Internet or checking the WhatsApp if there had been a message in the last ten seconds. Well, the solution is to replace the habit of procrastinating with a healthier one, according to Barbara Oakley, a writer and professor at Oakland University. The goal is not to make a radical change in habits or bury the old ones (among other things, because old habits are not forgotten, like good songs that stay in the memory until we hear the music again), but to modify part of them. To achieve this, Oakley proposes the following four keys:
First, we need to identify the motive that leads us to procrastinate. This is the most difficult step, because we’re not usually aware of it. We get on with the task that costs us and then everything that entertains us appears, even if it’s the flight of a fly. Well, this phase consists of becoming aware of what distracts us from our priority objective: is it the Internet? Are mobile phone calls? Everyone, moreover, has their favourites.
Second, we need to create a new routine. We insist: old habits are not forgotten (and if not, tell an ex-smoker when he or she tries a puff one day). So, since we can’t park our habit of wasting time on Facebook or YouTube or wherever, we need to create something different for the brain to get its act together. To do this, you need a good plan. It could be to leave the mobile in some remote place, disconnect from the Internet (the world does not end by doing so) or repeat and repeat that simulated conversation that costs us. This step is perhaps the most difficult and the one that requires the most patience until the brain gets used to what is new.
Third, we need to reward ourselves. Let’s face it: procrastinating gives pleasure. So we need to compensate for those brain cravings with positive ones. The rewards must be put according to each one’s tastes and achievements. If you manage to finish that report within an hour, you can eat a little chocolate or make yourself a present. If what you get is too big, you can increase your reward. In those moments, miserliness isn’t worth it because neural connections are at stake. As long as your brain knows that something good is waiting for it when a boring task is over, it will activate more quickly. So be generous with yourself and go for it.
And finally, we have to believe that we can. According to Oakley, self-confidence is a fundamental key. We’re filled with a thousand and one excuses or justifications that keep us from successfully meeting our goal. But we have to remember that our brain is plastic and that we are able to stimulate it with new challenges. One way is to find a support with other people or to challenge ourselves with others. This is the case with sport, for example. It’s easier to start going to the gym when you’re going with friends than when the goal is to go running alone.
In short, stopping procrastinating requires generating new habits, which do not abandon the old ones. The first steps are the most difficult, until our brain gets used to it. However, if we are able to identify the stimulus, create a plan to generate a new routine, reward ourselves if we succeed and believe we can, we will be able to get our act together and do what it costs us.