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Procrastination: Why We Fall Back

Procrastination: Why We Fall Back

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Published by Mark Mifsud
Learn why bad habits, especially procrastination, come back quickly and what you can start to do about them!
Learn why bad habits, especially procrastination, come back quickly and what you can start to do about them!

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Mark Mifsud on Apr 04, 2009
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05/10/2014

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Why we fall back
(into procrastination & bad habits again)
 By
Mark Mifsud
Why is it hard to keep overcoming procrastination and other bad habits, three days after having successfullylived without them?Can anything be done to prevent such weakness from overcoming us? Can one make THE positive behaviour acontinuous norm, without any relapse whatsoever, either immediately or eventually?I'm sure that even the most die hard procrastinator in the world has, at some point, exerted self control and sawsome task or project through. I would even say with certainty that it felt much better than procrastination too!Why doesn't that new behaviour stick even when we want it?This may shock you, but you don't have one mind, you have many. Shocking as this may seem, it is somethingyou are familiar with, especially when you're under a procrastination attack and you know it. One mind wantsto finish up a task, the other wants to avoid it, they disagree and more often than not the mind that favourslaziness wins!This is an over simplification of the fact that there are parts of the brain dedicated to different priorities but itillustrates a point; they can end up in disagreement!Unfortunately the mind that wants instant gratification is strongest; let's call this
The Instinctive Mind
.Politicians, convincing lawyers, advertisers and marketers all know this, and they talk directly to appeal to thatinstinctive mind in order to get others to do what THEY want.The other mind that wants to do what is best done; we will call
The Disciplined Mind
!So our minds are in a constant tug of war! Instinct against Discipline, Gratification against Achievement,Comfort against Productivity and so on... Now here's the other clue...
Whenever the Disciplined Mind gets exercised it is stealing satisfaction fromthe Instinctive Mind, who will rebel as soon as it can.
Roman Emperors knew this very well. They used todispose of soldiers who had already fought hard because after a war, these soldiers would end up demanding payment, recognition, gold, women, wine, meat and they would generally spiral into a habit of spoilingthemselves to the extent that they became incapable of the discipline required to be a soldier.The Instinctive Mind at some point tends to over power the Disciplined Mind. They both have their ownimportant agendas; and they do conflict at times.Let us make another analogy in order to understand this phenomenon better. Professor Roy F. Baumeister of Florida State University and his college Kathleen D. Vohs have theorised it as follows. Will Power is like amuscle that consumes an amount of energy and once that is consumed it has to be filled up. Viewing it in thismanner does provide new ideas and suggest new approaches to do valuable research. Their conclusions seemto indicate that for every thing you accomplish with effort you’ll have to be undisciplined with three things.However, what I’m interested in is how we can be productive and efficient no matter how our minds work. Ionly care about a reservoir of will power energy if one can tell me how to enlarge it and keep it filled upconstantly as much as possible.While in principle I’m saying the same thing as the respectable people mentioned above, I want to use theanalogy of multiple minds simply because it provides me and the people I coach with a model that allows us toempower ourselves. It is more helpful to see two minds that both have good intentions for us rather than a
 
limited reserve of energy that depletes and leaves us doomed. Scientifically, this model may not be as accurateas that of Professor Baumeister, we may never know, but in terms of practicality, I certainly prefer the twominds! Simply adopting this more positive model is already an improvement. OK! Now how can we keep the Disciplined Mind in power? How can we keep the Instinctive mind fromrebelling? Is there a way to get the instinctive mind to collaborate rather then distract?Let us start with some good news first: It can be done. Keeping the disciplined mind in power for longer, bringing it back to power quickly, balancing between discipline and fun, harmonising the two of them; all of these are possible! It is a skill that becomes better with practice and can be mastered.
How can we tell this is possible?
It is possible because there are people who do it.I have known people who were chronic procrastinators and changed.Many people have overcome chemical addictions.Conflict between two priorities in our mind can be resolved with a very simple technique.Sometimes energy for will power just comes back, we will see why and how. Sometimes a single thought caninspire and provide energy from apparent nowhere. Not only is it possible, but it is also fun. Now that you’re aware of the two minds you will start paying attention to how power shifts between oneanother and this is helpful. The first requirement to control which mind is in power is to become aware of the power and its ability to shift from one mind to the other.Watch out which mind is in power. See how different you feel when one mind is in power instead of the other.Learn to distinguish between the mental state of discipline and that of instinct. Notice the shift. Notice howgiving power to the instinctive mind tends to create a downward spiral into procrastination.That’s your task for now, just notice with curious awareness!What is the next step? When your ability to observe the two minds is good the next step is to act on what youlearn.As I was writing this, I came to realise that a great deal can be written on how to keep the Disciplined Mindfrom being over run. So the following are only the quick and easy steps you can take to get a relief from thetendency to fall back into procrastination.
1)Expect it
After you have exerted your discipline be ready for the Instinctive Mind to start its usual siren song with lyricsthat say "
 I deserve a good break now, I’ve succeeded quite a lot already compared to usual 
".
2)Talk to your minds
Remember how I told you to observe the minds. Guess who is observing? It is another mind! This mind canalso talk to the Instinctive and Disciplined minds. This process is as easy as play; you just make a discussionin your mind where you ask your minds questions and come up with answers. Imagination is a great, powerfultool for self development, use it!
3)Reach an agreement between the two
Ask both of them what they want for you. Check to see why they are acting the way they do. You will find thatthey both have good intentions for you and this means that an agreement can be reached. Continue thediscussion until an agreement is found. You may find that during such discussions new insights and solutionscome up so I suggest you keep pen and paper to take notes of these. Also, when the agreement is reached (or astarting point for it), the wisest thing to do is to write it down.
 
4)Give space and balance to both minds
When there’s work to be done, find ways the instinctive mind can enjoy it, visualise your goals in the most beautiful ways, add music while you work if you can. Reward yourself for tasks well done. And when you’renot working, just unwind and have a good time!
5)Be aware that after relapse there’s a downward spiralto avoid
The Instinctive Mind tends to get carried away when left torun the show. This tendency to over indulge is what makesthe relapse work against you not the Instinctive Mind’s wishto have fun. Do allow the instinctive mind to have fun whenthe tasks for that day are done to your best ability. However,remind it, with a degree of conviction, that overdoing it willcost more hapiness in the end.
Take it as a rule – Know when enough is enough and that's finally enough!6) Keep the agreement properly
You've been disciplined? Well done- now get a reward for the Instinctive mind because it deserves a prize for givingdiscipline a space.Make this a routine and later on it will even start gettingrewards for sticking to the schedule - it will even start likingit!To this day I have people teasing me because I reward myself with chocolate. I am a big believer in rewarding my own discipline!7)
Learn to teach the instinctive mind to enjoy what the Disciplined Mind wants
This can be done by playing around with something called submodalities which students of NLP or readers of my book will be familiar with.For the rest, a simple method would be that of making the task really fun in ones imagination until theinstinctive mind starts to buy into the idea that the task and its outcome are desirable. Again; imagination is agreat, powerful tool, use it!This is how energy will come out of apparent nowhere.
8)Use only healthy rewards
I use sugar-free dark chocolate as a reward. Alternative I also use are good time with friends, good music,visualising my dreams achieved in detail, walks in nature and video game sessions!Don't use alcoholics, smoke or gambling as rewards even in small amounts. It's a really bad idea, since theseitems have built in factors that favor the very downward spiral you need to avoid at all cost. Chemical rewardslike alcohol, nicotine, caffeine or other less politically acceptable alternatives mess with the brain and will ruinthe balance between fun and effectiveness you are trying to create.Speaking of chemical intakes; sweets should be taken moderately and only if your health can afford it.Make sure the rewards are healthy for you. If you have no idea what rewards are possible ask around and letyour imagination fly wild. I've had some of my students suggest things I'd never have thought of. Long baths,aromatherapy massage, buying freash mp3s on iTunes and even forming a clique of friends that enjoy their timeout together simply to compensate for completing tasks!

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