Stop procrastinating – Use the power of tiny wins to kick-start forward motion

Posted by Elizabeth Bromstein | 14 June 2012 | 4,041 times

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We’ve all got them. Some people want to change careers, lose weight, stop smoking, start a business, write a novel, release an album.... We’ve all got something or several things we’ve been meaning to do for an embarrassing length of time.
Why can’t we do these things? How can we galvanise ourselves to seize the motherfarking day and get everything we want out of life? Before it’s too late!
What the experts say
“Procrastination is a self-regulation failure. In the old days we’d have called it weakness of will. We want to feel good now, so we don’t feel like doing the task. We have to be strategic. Willpower is like a muscle; we can wear it out. Sometimes it’s a matter of sleeping and eating better. Being physically well improves our self-control. Also, make specific implementation intentions. A vague intention might be ‘I’m going to eat less’; an implementation intention is ‘When I set the table, I’m going to put a smaller plate out for myself.’ It puts a cue for action in the environment. Quit making vague goal intentions.”
TIM PYCHYL, professor, Carleton University, department of psychology, founder of the Procrastination Research Group, Ottawa, Canada.
“Our research found that people are more creative and productive when they’re feeling positive emotions and have more positive impressions of their work environment. This applies to everyday life as well. What’s important is making progress on meaningful work. Even if the progress is a small win, something that looks incremental, almost trivial, it can provide a tremendous boost to people’s intrinsic motivation and positive emotions. That’s what we call the power of ‘small wins.’ Some small wins people set up for themselves through interim goals. That’s the progress principle, how small wins can help you move forward. There is a feedback loop: creativity and productivity feed on each other.”
TERESA AMABILE, professor of business administration, Harvard Business School, co-author of The Progress Principle, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.
“I have a contrarian view of procrastination: in most cases it’s a good thing. It’s your mind’s way of telling you it doesn’t see a smart plan. Either the goal doesn’t make sense or you don’t have a believable way of accomplishing it. Successful, productive people don’t blithely choose a goal and then charge after it. They take time to gather evidence; they study those whose have succeeded and failed. When they finally set out to take action, procrastination is rarely an issue. If you want to write a novel, don’t commit to National Novel Writing Month. Instead, take a novelist out for coffee and learn everything about her world. It’s the commitment that comes from deep understanding of a challenge, not willpower, that leads to success.”
CALVIN NEWPORT, professor of computer science, Georgetown University, author, ‘How To Win At College’, Washington, DC, USA.
“The more temptations, the more we have self-regulatory failure. Who doesn’t know that healthy eating and exercise have massive dividends? But when temptation’s in our way, it’s difficult to say no. The brain isn’t designed to deal with perpetual temptation, yet that’s the world we live in. Willpower is an exhaustible resource, though you can renew it through rest. When you say no all the time, it means you have less willpower for the next no. Use physical cues. Would you choose not to exercise if you were in front of the gym? You’ve increased your chances massively when you have that cue. Ideas don’t have a lot of motivational power. To set a goal, break it down into tangible pieces.”
PIERS STEEL, professor of human resources and organizational dynamics, University of Calgary, author, The Procrastination Equation

*Credit: Elizabeth Bromstein, NOW


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