Scientific Way to Combat Procrastination…

Procrastination is a beast many of us fight daily and unfortunately lose out to. We may have will power that allow us to gain small victories but the war ends up being lost via abandoned passion projects and other dreams. So how do we win this ongoing struggle and become more productive like the people we aspire to be, whether that be Oprah, The Rock, Kevin Hart, Tyler Perry, Maria Menounos or even AfterBuzz TV creator Keven Undergaro? The answer is simpler than you think and it’s scientifically proven to work through a technique called implementation intention, which empowers the prefrontal cortex and hacks the limbic system thanks to procedural memory. Join me (Phil Svitek) as I take you step by step through the entire process so you can take action and accomplish more of what you want in your life. I’ll help you identify growth tasks vs maintenance tasks among other things. Don’t worry. It’s all simple – it just takes work, like all things. Comment below with any thoughts, questions or opinions you may have for me or Juliet Vibert.

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Today I’m going to discuss a scientific way for you to combat procrastination. Procrastination, although a mental demon, has real world effects on your work, regardless if that’s paid work or just passion projects of yours. Just a heads up, what I’m about to share I learned from one of the best articles I’ve read recently, from I’ve included a link to it in the description. You’re welcome to skip my lesson entirely and go directly to the source. However, my aim is to help you parse out some of the finer details and relate them more specifically to creatives through my own experiences as well as others. So here I go.

To begin with, we have to set a foundation and gain a basic understanding of a few things. First off, there’s two types of tasks you do in your daily life: maintenance tasks and growth tasks. Maintenance tasks are in essence required. Keven Undergaro, creator of AfterBuzz TV, talks about this a lot. His example is if you have a dog, you don’t get a choice whether or not you feed the dog. You just do it, or else you’re the world’s worst dog owner. So that means no matter what you have in your day, you find a way to feed your dog. That can be via an automatic dog feeder like I have, a dog walker, or a friend. You get the idea. But you don’t get a choice on the matter. It has to be done. For clarity, you always have choices, however the choice was made when you first decided to get a dog. Once you have the dog, you must feed it.

Anyway, other such maintenance tasks include grocery shopping, eating, taxes, showering, your job, etc. These are tasks you do somewhat regularly, just to maintain status quo. Which is great because you have to do all these things. Imagine if we at AfterBuzz TV didn’t upload shows for our fans. How upset would they be? Very upset. Which is, again, why these tasks are required. But they don’t allow for growth. Instead they continue business as usual. Growth tasks are the ones that help us grow in our careers and personal lives. Interestingly enough, maintenance tasks are generally tasks that people don’t have a problem accomplishing. They do however have much trouble with growth tasks. And there’s a specific reasons as to why, which I’ll highlight in just a little bit.

The article says that maintenance tasks are categorized as “musts” while growth tasks are “could” task. Meaning I must feed my dogs but when it comes to my novel, I could do it but I don’t have to. Therein lies the problem. We don’t have to do these tasks. We know we’re excited by them and want to do them. That’s not the issue. We know in many instances they are tasks that could help us with our larger ambitions which could be financial gain, popularity and so forth. Recognizing the benefits is not the problem either.

Most of the people my hosts at AfterBuzz TV look up to are examples of people who exemplify productive people. Such people include Oprah, The Rock, Kevin Hart, Tyler Perry and our course our very own Maria Menounos and Keven Undergaro. The latter two of course I know personally and can say first hand they are extremely productive people. Well, all these people, and whoever else you may think of that you admire, are people who focus on growth tasks.

Allow me to clarify be reading from the article directly.

“Indeed, exceptionally productive people understand a simple truth: being more productive doesn’t mean getting more done. It means getting more of the right things done. Unfortunately, most professionals, even relatively effective ones, manage to execute a depressingly small number of growth activities. Not by choice. They try to take on more. However, a pernicious tendency stands in the way: procrastination.

They tell themselves that tomorrow they’ll start their online project management course, meditation practice, investment portfolio. But when tomorrow comes, they find themselves unwittingly putting it off until the next day, and the then the next day, and then the next day. Until eventually they abandon the growth activity altogether.

That is until months later when the cycle repeats. In the face of this procrastination, professionals tend to blame themselves. They uncharitably berate themselves for lacking the drive, the resolve, the inner strength.”

Does that sound familiar to you? It does to me and it does to a lot of people I know. Whenever I vent to people or they vent to me it’s because of a frustration that we feel like we’re not getting enough done. Things we’d like to get done.

Don’t worry, though. There’s good news. There’s a scientific reason why you’re procrastinating and a scientific solution. Let’s go deeper.

First off, the reason we procrastinate is even though we as humans have evolved and done tremendous things, our brains haven’t fully caught up yet and so we’re working with a primitive system, one that doesn’t align with some of our priorities aka our growth tasks.

Let me give you a concrete example that many of us probably share. I block out time for myself to work on growth tasks. In my case it’s writing my novel. I sit down to do it when suddenly I remember all the emails that I haven’t yet responded to. Or a task that’s due tomorrow so I work on that instead. Or sometimes I’ll sit down and say to myself I have plenty of time, I’ll knock it out quickly so watching a quick YouTube video or Netflix show won’t hurt. Doing this once is bad enough, but it becomes a constant pattern. Better yet, a constant battle I must fight. There’s days where my will power over powers my urges but more often than not, I lose. I don’t accomplish my goal of writing. And it’s strange because I enjoy the act of writing. No different than some of you enjoy it. Or perhaps it’s editing videos or taking photos or creating graphics or even designing website. Whatever the passion, we all face the same problem. We’re sabotaging ourselves. We may be aware enough that we’re doing it and yet we can’t fight it. As I mentioned, will power only gets us so far.

This is because science has shown that our rational, logical brain is part of the prefrontal cortex. Here is where we come up with our growth ideas. We understand why it’s good for us, even if there is a delayed gratitude to many of these tasks. The prefrontal cortex many times in opposition of the limbic system. The limbic system is described as primitive and emotional. Part of its duties include rapid response towards any potential threats in our environment.

To help explain, I’ll pull directly from the article again. “To make sense of this puzzle, we need to go back hundreds of thousands of years to a time when our singular priority wasn’t to thrive. It was to survive. In an incredibly dangerous primitive world, early man couldn’t afford to spend his precious time and energy on activities that delivered delayed rewards, such as saving food for a rainy day or practicing proper running technique. By the time the payoff for these activities arrived, he might have already been devoured by a giant hyena. Instead, he was better off spending his limited time and energy on activities that promised to deliver immediate rewards. Presently available ones like food or sex.”

That means that those with a stronger preference for immediate rewards were more likely to pass on their traits to the future generations. Which is quite unfortunate for us, isn’t it? Today, it’d be ideal if the two were reversed but they’re not. We still operate primarily from our limbic system rather than prefrontal cortex. And this means that our growth activities are seen as threats to ourselves because they don’t satisfy us immediately. The gratification is delayed. We can rationalize it well enough but we can’t act on it.

At this point you might be thinking, well that’s grim. What’s the fix? The solution, I find, rather brilliant. We hack the system.

What does that mean? It means creating the proper circumstances to bypass the limbic system’s input entirely. See, when I’m in a situation where I’m just thinking without any pressures, the idea of writing a novel is non threatening to the limbic system. But as soon as I get closer to the activity, it becomes a threat which is why we sabotage ourselves and beat ourselves up over these forms of sabotage. We knew hours ago our growth activity was the smartest and best thing for us and the fact that we failed at it sucks, right? Our goal is to prevent the fear sensor of the limbic system from going off so we can freely do our growth tasks without its input.

This is where procedural memory comes in, a relatively new scientific discovery. I’ll go directly to the source one more time. “It’s hard to convey how extraordinary this discovery is. Granted, we’ve long known that procedural memory is the domain of lots of automatic behaviors, namely habits. Procedural memory is what allows us to brush our teeth every morning, turn off the lights when we leave the room, or throw our computer against the wall when we get to a website with unstoppable auto-play video ads. But normally, these kinds of actions get stored in our procedural memory as a result of a slow learning process. Only after many repeated experiences, over a period of weeks, or even months, does the action become automatic. It’s only recently that psychologists have learned a way to install these habits in a matter of seconds. Amazingly, in just one quick sitting, we can effectively ‘program’ them into our procedural memory.”

How in the hell do we do that? Through a technique coined as implementation intention. The name is far more complicated than what’s needed of us. What we must do is take a growth task we want to do and simplify it to the smallest manageable action step and attribute it with a place and relative time for when we’re going to perform it. More simply put, researchers urge you to formulate your to-do lists into if this then this statements.

For example, if after I’ve eaten breakfast then I will sit down at my desk and write for 30 minutes. Or perhaps it’s if I get home from work then I will edit my video. The possibilities are endless. And it’s a simple, simple trick indeed.

The reason why it works is because unlike with most standard to do lists, this create intention whereas the standard to do list only has goals. Goals need intention in order to be acted upon properly. We need the cue that triggers us into that action. That’s what helps bypass the limbic system. The cues become instinctual, no different than brushing your teeth.

What’s fascinating to me is that even though we couldn’t explain this scientifically until recently, many artists had an understanding of this. Steven Pressfield argued that you must work on your craft daily even when nothing ends up on the proverbial page. In time the muse, as he calls it, will recognize your efforts and reward you for them. Stephen King has a similar notion where he says if you want to be a write you must write daily. Keven Undergaro has a phrase “less think, more do” which encompasses this spirit. It was all there, ironically enough. We just needed to understand it better. Now that science has come in and give you a concrete method to fight your procrastination, I hope you use this technique to empower yourself.

However, there’s one problem with this technique and it’s a big one. Creating a if, then activity list is a growth tasks and susceptible to the whims of the limbic system. If you’re like me then you’re thinking, oh crap. How in the hell do I not procrastinate then if the scientific system aimed to combat my procrastination can become another form of my procrastination.

The answer is accountability. To not let yourself slip in creating an if, then list so you can take full advantage of implementation intention, you must be accountable to other people. You must feel like if you don’t do this, you’ve let them down. This is why AA programs have sponsors. This is why people who want to lose weight often find a gym buddy to go with them. I know in the case of my producer Juliet Vibert, she holds herself accountable by signing up for classes in advance. Doing this forces her to pay for those classes and if she cancels, she received a penalty. That’s her accountability.

So in addition to creating an if, then to do list, I strongly urge you to find people in your life to hold you accountable for the things you do. And conversely, you can do the same for them. As of now, it’s the only proven way I have seen to combat procrastination.

I’ll give you another example, AfterBuzz TV producer Anthony Becerra is extremely talented and hard working. And yet he’ll admit himself he needs someone to push him to do various activities. Which, by the way, this is why people hire coaches. Coaches hold people accountable for their actions.

The accountability factor in all of this is actually a way to ignite the limbic system. If you’re accountable to someone else to get a task done, your limbic system will kick in and tell you that you need to get it done because it doesn’t want to you to suffer from embarrassment.

So there you have it, a scientific way to fight against the evil that is procrastination. I hope it serves you well, like it’s serving me.

If you don’t have someone you feel will properly hold you accountable, I will be revamping my site in the next month or so where I will offer coaching to help with this very thing as well as countless other things I’m sure I can help you with. In my own way, I’m stating my intentions for a new website out loud, to you, so I can be held accountable. You can term that putting it out there into the universe. It really is just another for of accountability because then people know about it and you feel awkward if you haven’t delivered. I certainly will. However, I highly suggest you make yourself accountable on a direct level rather than indirect like I just did. Regardless, if you do implement this method, I’m sure you’ll see great results. Take care.

What a lesson, huh? I love how the concrete action steps of the lesson. To recap, instead of creating a to-do list, create an if this then this list to take advantage of cues to trigger yourself into action. Additionally, find someone to keep you accountable that way you won’t sabotage yourself. As a reminder, the link to the article that Phil is sourcing is in the description box. And also, before you click away to another lesson from Phil, here’s a few more things. For your benefit, the transcript of this episode is on Phil’s website. A link is provided so you can always review it. Please be sure to hit that like button if you enjoyed this episode and tell your friends and family about us. Leave a comment with your thoughts and opinions and what lessons you’d like to see Phil tackle next. The more specific you are with your questions, the better he can answer them. Also, you can support this show on if it doesn’t burden you financially in any way. Every contribution is truly appreciated and helps defray the costs of putting on this show – which as you can imagine takes a lot of effort. To be notified when future episodes release, subscribe on Apple Podcast, YouTube, Facebook, Google Podcast, Spotify or whatever other platform is most convenient to you. Specific links are provided below. Lastly, if you’re interested in joining AfterBuzz TV as a host or as an intern, visit AfterBuzz TV’s contact page. A direct link is provided. Or of course you can Tweet @PhilSvitek or Instagram me @BonjourJuliet. Thanks for watching. I’m Juliet Vibert, a producer on the show and we’ll see you next week with another one of Phil’s life lessons. Bye!

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