In life, procrastination feels almost like a base human impulse. It is so easy to put off tasks until tomorrow. But what is today but yesterday’s tomorrow?
It is difficult to find motivation to do tasks that we find boring, hard or unimportant. But delaying it by a day does nothing to fix that issue. The best approach is to sort out easy tasks early so that they do not accumulate until you feel pressured by the sheer amount of tasks.
A useful rule of thumb is: if something will take you less than 5 minutes to do, do it now. This might include wiping down the kitchen bench, throwing the garbage out, making your bed, tidying a small pile of mess, replying to an email or writing a bullet journal entry.
By clearing these small tasks as they arise, you have more free time to spend on things you are passionate about or find important.
Doing small tasks also gives you a sense of empowerment and can motivate you to do slightly harder or more complex things, such as vacuuming the house, making an appointment or sorting paperwork. Once the ball is rolling, it is far easier to be productive.
In a similar vein, setting up routines such as setting aside an hour or two on the weekend as “life admin” time, or having a to do list in your journal help form healthy habits to fight against procrastination.
At the end of the day, procrastination is like taking a loan out from your future free time, with interest added. It will simply rob you of quality time you can spend on your passions and loved ones.
So think to yourself “What is a simple task I need to do that I can sort out right now?” and just do it. You will find that you had the motivation to be productive and efficient all along.
From a very young age, goals are set for us by others. As babies we are encouraged to walk and talk, as children we are encouraged to do well in school, as teenagers we are encouraged to get a good degree and as adults, we are encouraged to be a model member of society. Advertisements put forward money, fame and power as models of success. Motivational speakers give speeches telling us paths we should follow to succeed. Parents tell children that they should listen to their advice if they wish to lead a comfortable life in the future. Amongst all of this external pressure, sometimes it seems difficult to have a say in what direction your life should go in.
The word autotelic is derived from the Greek words auto, meaning “self”, and telos, meaning “goal”. An autotelic is one who does not need external reminders to tell them who they are. They have a purpose in and not apart from themselves. They are driven by their own goals, curiosities and motivation. An autotelic does not live life like a connect-the-dots puzzle drawn by society, but chooses to paint their own life on a blank canvas.
The defining feature of autotelic personalities is that they are not driven by the want to be successful, but by the desire to seek challenges and be in flow state. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the psychologist who coined the term flow, defined the mark of the autotelic personality as “the ability to manage a rewarding balance between the “play” of challenge finding and the “work” of skill building“. They are far less interested in external rewards, such as a gold star from a teacher or a raise from a employer. Their reward is the flow state they enter while they work on their goal and the satisfaction that comes with knowing that they completed a challenge.
Some of the greatest achievers in history were autotelics. They did not achieve amazing feats because of the promise of money and fame, but because they were internally driven by the thirst for flow. When questioned why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, famous mountaineer George Mallory replied: ”Because it’s there“. An autotelic personality is not necessarily something you have to be born with. All you need is to constantly challenge yourself, discover whatever brings you to flow state and not let outside forces sway you from your own goals. For the only judge of your life that matters is you.
(If you don’t get the reference, go watch some How I Met Your Mother, coz it’s awesome 😛 Barney Stinson always sets new challenges for himself, always pushing himself to the limits of awesomeness. Examples: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iOi_iPNC50)
Biologists state that the driving force behind evolution can simply be summarised as four forces: fight, flight, feed and mate (“fuck”). These are known as the Four Fs. Evolution is described as the process by which species adapt to an environment through modifications in the genomes of successive generations. The Four Fs describe the adaptations most commonly seen in evolution; that is, the four things that species evolve in order to better adapt and survive their environment. For example, carnivores developed sharp teeth and claws to hunt better and herbivores developed faster legs to flee from their predators better. Nature is a vicious battleground where different species compete with each other for survival, and the Four Fs are the most powerful weapons of survival.
As much as we’d like to think that we are higher-order, civilised beings, human beings are still driven by the basic four forces that drive every other species in the world. Obviously, our bodies are well-adapted to these forces, such as our fight-or-flight drive activating in the face of danger to let us fight harder or run faster through adrenaline. Anyone can see that nature has done her job well by bestowing us the gift of satiety and orgasm to promote our feeding and mating. But what is interesting that the Four Fs go beyond our “natural evolution” to affect the evolution of our civilisation.
Consider this: what is the purpose of war? Since the dawn of time, mankind has spent a considerable amount of resources figuring how to most efficiently kill another group of people, or live in fear that other people will kill us. If we study the behaviour of chimpanzees (one of the few species other than us that wage warfare), we can see that their motivation is for food and sex (i.e. mating partners). This also applies to mankind and it is not a story of ancient times. It is well-known that raping and pillaging runs rampant during wars. Less than 800 years ago, a man named Genghis Khan was so successful in waging war that DNA evidence suggests that 0.5% of the world population are descended from him. Even in the present, countries wage war to secure natural resources to ensure that their people can eat, as the health of the economy directly correlates with the ability of people to put food on their plates. Almost every war essentially boils down to a fight for food.
Then what about sex? Like it or not, sex has been a tremendously influential force in history. From Cleopatra’s seduction of Caesar preventing Rome’s invasion of Egypt, to Henry VIII turning against the Catholic Church to marry Anne Boleyn, sex has been a timeless motivator for humanity. Although the consequences would not be as dramatic as those described, a significant proportion of our actions are also based on our primal desire to reproduce.
Of course, this is not always the truth and human beings are capable of acting on less wild motivators such as happiness and altruism. However, the next time you make a decision or see a conflict on the news, question this: how much of an impact did food and sex have to motivate that?