There was a study done by professors at Stanford University where a group of preschool children were placed in a room with a marshmallow. A professor would place a child in a room with a marshmallow and tell the child that he was going to leave for 15 minutes. If the marshmallow wasn’t eaten when he returned, the professor would give the child a second marshmallow.
The majority of the children did not make it the entire 15 minutes, some even ate the marshmallow the instant the professor left the room. What the professor noted was that the children who were able to wait for the entire 15 minutes created their own ways to keep themselves from being tempted. The most amazing part about this test? It went on for 50 years and professors noticed that children who were able to resist eating the marshmallow had lower instances of substance abuse, lower BMIs, lower rates of divorce, and were happier with their lives.
So, what’s going on here? There is a theory called the Triune Brain Theory that was developed by Dr. Paul D. MacLean. In short, we don’t have one brain, we actually have three brains that nest inside of each other like Russian matryoshka dolls.
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The smallest one on the inside is called the physical brain. It controls our fight or flight response, hunger, and desire for security which are the basic things we need to survive.
The one that surrounds that is called the emotional brain. It controls and regulates our emotions.
The brain that sits on top of all that is the largest part of our brain: the conceptual or thinking part of our brain. It allows us to use language and do abstract thinking.
The strongest one of these is the physical brain and it has its own agenda. Its main concern is getting its needs met at all times without thinking about consequences. When you sit down to do something, your physical brain tells you, “Nope. I don’t care about this. This does nothing for me. I want something else. Let’s go make some popcorn and watch Netflix.” In the case of the children at Stanford, their physical brains wanted the popcorn and the other parts of the brain were trying to hold it back.
To think about it another way, the physical part of your brain is like a horse and you are like the cowboy riding it. The horse will go whichever direction it decides it wants to go. The cowboy can only convince the horse to go somewhere else. He can’t force the horse through pure willpower.
Is it possible to override this part of the brain? Absolutely, but there’s a trick: You have to give the horse what it wants. You have to give your brain the thing that it wants. So how do we use this to help us quit procrastinating?
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Here’s what you do: First, think about whatever you typically do to procrastinate your work. It might be your phone, computer, or something else entirely. That is what you will use as your reward. Set a timer for 45 minutes and work on one thing that needs to get done with the goal of taking care of it completely or doing as much as you can during that 45 minutes.
I recommend putting your phone into airplane mode and using it as a timer. Also, unplug your router if the internet isn’t needed.
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Then, for the 15 minutes afterward, indulge in your reward. Be as impulsive as you want as long as you aren’t doing harm to yourself or anyone else. If you haven’t finished the job yet, then set the timer for another 45 minutes and go for Round 2.
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The reason this works is because we’re removing things that our physical brain can go after to avoid the work. We’re focusing our brain and training it to see that in order for it to get its needs met, it has to go through this obstacle. If you do this once a day for 30 days, you’ll build it into a habit that you’ll actually enjoy because of the results it gets you and the feeling of confidence you’ll get as a result.
For more tips on how to beat procrastination and get more done, check out the video below which is exclusive to readers of FlippingHeck.com and my Facebook Page.