Today in want to make a special post with 3 lifehacks that changed my life, my productivity and the way how I learn new things. This post is to everyone who suffers of procrastination, believe that can boost your productivity or have any problem with your studies.
1 – Stop with your procrastination
C’mon, how many times you know what you have to do, but you don’t start it? How many times this happens in your life? How many times you started something and stopped it in the middle? How many times you felt discouraged along the way? How many times did you even started the task? What should you be doing instead of reading this post?
Normally we believe that this is caused because we are this way, it our problem and we won’t change. Wrong! Stopping with procrastination is possible and, with a little bit of knowledge, it becames much more easy.
Why do we procrastinate?
Did you know that when we are facing a task that we don’t want to do, that don’t gives us pleasure, that gives us fear, or something like, in 0.03 second we decide that we won’t do? What happens in this short period of time is that our amygdala interprets the situation as a threat.
So, our limbic system (the place of the mammalians brains where the amygdalas are located), do the necessary to take us back to safety, giving us a mood boost, as Carleton’s University psichology professor, Timothy A. Pychyl explains. This mood boost just take us to a more pleasant task, like facebook, youtube, stop for a snack, chit chatting, or something like that.
For this reason is so easy to procrastinate: in our brain everything happens very fast.
The problem is that procrastination is very addictive. Dr Barbara Oakley explains in your MOOC, Learning How To Learn, that we start with a small dose of procrastination and, when we realize, this became a habit.
This happens, among other factors, because of a neuromodulator called dopamine. This dopamine is responsible for mood and reward (future and immediate) in our brain.
“Every time something enjoyable happens, you get a dose of dopamine, which modifies the neurons in your brain, making you more likely to repeat the behavior.”, as explains this video from AsapSCIENCE channel on youtube.
So, when we procrastinate one time, we are modifying our brain in a way that makes us procrastinate again later, because we had a some kind of pleasure. At this point, procrastination is very similar to drug addiction, where we have a temporary relief from a possible painful reality.
1 – The discomfort
To stop procrastinating, the first thing we have to understand is that this initial discomfort, this feeling of threat interpreted by our amygdala, that happens so fast in our body, also go away very quickly when we decide to face the task. It’s like when we have to create a report, and we know how much boring is to do that report, if we start doing it, soon this feeling goes away.
Working right when this feeling arises, we have more chances to beat procrastination.
To do this, you need to believe that this discomfort leaves and you need to face the task. You need to remember that if you procrastinate, this feeling will be worse. This is how we feel when we let our addiction win.
But, to make everything easier, I’ll give you some other hints.
2 – The power of habit
What is the difference between this report and change clothes? The first task is a little new for us and, the second, is usual. But, if we look coldly, changing clothes is very complicated, we must make a lot of movements, many thoughts flow through our brain just to change clothes.
The difference is that changing clothes is a habit, we already know how to do this.
For some of us, procrastination is a habit. How this happened?
A habit have 4 parts: the cue, the routine, the reward and the belief. To explain this 4 parts, I will take the example of a person who has the habit of procrastinate when receive a message on mobile phone.
The cue is the trigger for the habit. Like when you receive a whatsapp message. The cue is neither good or bad, it’s just one part of the habit.
This is where danger takes place. The routine is the reaction to the cue. In our example, the person automatically stop what is doing to check the message. At this point the procrastination started, because the person is not doing what is needed to do something else.
This is the part of the habit that makes dopamine flow in our brain. This is what modifies our neural connections to take us to procrastination again. The reward is something good that happens when your habit is completed.
In our example, the person receives a funny image in whatsapp. He laughs and answer a “LOL”. So, this person see a facebook notification and decide to check it (this is another cue, with another routine and another reward).
The habit exists because we believe. To change our habits we need to believe it is possible.
How we change a habit?
“Rather, to change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine.”
― Charles Duhigg, The Power Of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business
It’s just change the routine. You keep the cue, keep a reward and change the routine. In our example, a whatsapp message come to the mobile phone (cue), you just face down your phone (routine change), and finish the task you were doing (reward). After finishing the task, you give yourself 5 minutes to check your phone.
Note that in our example, you got two rewards instead one. As you got an unexpected reward, dopamine do her job and you start changing your habit.
3 – The process and the product
Another important hint to help us stop procratinating is to keep our focus on the process and not on the product. How is that?
Backing to our boring report, which is easier, focus on what we have to do or think something like this: “I’ll do 25 more minutes of this report and, after that, I’ll stop for 5 minutes”? Obviously everybody feel better when focus on 25 minutes and, after that, a little reward.
The report is the product and the 25 minutes of focused work is the process. When we keep our focus on the product, we don’t get motivated to do the task, when we focus on the process, we change our thinking.
Thinking of several of these aspects, Francesco Cirillo created the pomodoro technique. In this well known technique, you work for 25 minutes, without distraction, and after this you rest for a few minutes. This gives you all the necessary to stop with the procrastination and get things done. If you don’t know this technique, I recommend you learn more about it.
2 – Sleeping
What Winston Churchill, Napoleon Bonaparte, John Kennedy, Thomas Edison, Ronald Reagan and Salvador Dali have in common besides their success and fame?
They liked to take good naps. Some of them denied it, others talked widely about this, but the truth is that all of them liked and commonly did this.
How this is connected, if it is, with their success?
To understand this, we need to understand how our brain works when we are awake and when we sleep.
Just the fact of being awake creates toxic products in our brain that make harder to create new synapses and new moemories. When we are awake, our brain have different taks that when we sleep. Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, from University fo Rochester Medical Center explains that “the brain only has limited energy at its disposal and it appears that it must choose between two different functional states – awake and aware or asleep and cleaning up”.
This is one of the reasons why these man was so successful, this cleaning and consolidation processes worked fine and frequently, although some of them tried to give the impression of being man who slept little.
Besides that, the lack of good sleeping is related to a series of other thins: productivity loss, rise of the number of accidents, less performance on sports and a lot of other situations: anxiety, headache, chronic pain, depression, PTSD, obesity, heart attack and the list goes on…
3 – Tests and repetition
How to ensure that what you’re learning will be in your memory for the time you need? With the union of two memory related concepts: spaced repetition and testing.
According to Alan D. Baddeley, “spaced repetition is a learning technique that incorporates increasing intervals of time between subsequent review of previously learned material”. This means that you revisit constantly the same subject, giving, however, more space between each repetition.
Spaced repetition allows the necessary neural connections for learning something.
A useful way to ensure that you really learned something and aren’t fooling yourself, is testing. You revise the concepts, assure that you understood what you’re learning and make this more ingrained in you memory.
William James wrote, back in 1980, that “a curious peculiarity of our memory is that things are impressed better by active than by passive repetition. I mean that in learning (by heart, for example), when we almost know the piece, it pays better to wait and recollect by an effort from within, than to look at the book again. If we recover the words in the former way, we shall probably know them the next time; if in the latter way, we shall very likely need the book once more.”.
Earlier, in 1917, A. I. Gates wrote that one of the reasons retrieval practice leads to increased performance is that retrieval causes students to organize information more than does reading.
Joining two concepts
When we join the spaced repetition with testing, we’re creating the ideal scenario for learning. This will make in a way that you will never forget what you’ve learned. You’ll constantly test yourself, first more frequently and, later, with more distance.
A great tool for this is Anki (available for web, Android and iOS). If you don’t know this tools, please search for more information about it. It is very useful.
4 – Bonus hint – Learning how to learn
The biggest part of this content I learned in a MOOC that I’m taking for the second time. The name of this MOOC is “Learning How To Learn”, with dr Barbara Oakley and dr. Terry Sejnowky.
In this course I learned how to learn new things, learned how to change my old habits, stop procrastination and a lot of other important stuff about my brain and memory.
If you wish to understand a little more about what I wrote, feel that could be better in learning, or understand the need to stop with procrastination, I recommend you to do this course.
Your Brain on Procrastination – http://www.meetmb.com/2012/11/your-brain-on-procrastination/
Timothy A. Pychyl, The Procrastinator’s Digest: A Concise Guide to Solving the Procrastination Puzzle
Dra. Barbara Oakley, Learning How to Learn – https://class.coursera.org/learning-003
The Science of Procrastination – And How To Manage It – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1nBwfZZvjKo
Charles Duhigg, The Power Of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business, página 62
Francesco Cirillo – Pomodoro Technique – http://pomodorotechnique.com/
Parihar, Mordhwaj, Brewer, Gregory – Amyloid Beta as a Modulator of Synaptic Plasticity – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3079354/
A Night’s Sleep Cleans Brain of Harmful Toxins – http://www.livescience.com/40510-sleep-cleans-brain-harmful-toxins.html
Xie L1, Kang H, Xu Q, Chen MJ, Liao Y, Thiyagarajan M, O’Donnell J, Christensen DJ, Nicholson C, Iliff JJ, Takano T, Deane R, Nedergaard M. – Sleep drives metabolite clearance from the adult brain – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24136970
11 Surprising Health Benefits of Sleep – Improve memory – http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20459221_2,00.html
Division of Sleep Medicine at
Harvard Medical School – Sleep, Performance, and Public Safety – http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/consequences/sleep-performance-and-public-safety
11 Surprising Health Benefits of Sleep – Be a winner – http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20459221_6,00.html
Sleep Related Diseases & Conditions – http://www.medicinenet.com/sleep/related-conditions/index.htm
Sleep Habits: More Important Than You Think – http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/important-sleep-habits?page=2
Alan D. Baddeley, “Human Memory: Theory and Practice”, 1997
William James (1980).The principles of psychology. New York: Holt.
A. I. Gates – Recitation as a factor in memorizing. Archives of Psychology, 6(40)
This post is part of my assginement for Learning How To Learn MOOC.