Brains are weird things. They look like a plastic bag of worms left to die in a jell-o mould, but somehow they control everything you do.
And they contradict you! They work against you! You say you want something—like to eat healthy—and they somehow see to it that you find yourself ears-deep in a cupcake box again.
Aside from the gratuitous unfairness of all this, there are a few takeaways:
1. Your brain is not on your side. It is on its own, survival-based, side, which occasionally coincides with your side, but that doesn’t mean it won’t hamstring you every time you contradict it.
2. You can trick that little wormy bastard into doing what you want.
Ever meet people who claim to only be able to work under pressure? “It helps me concentrate”, they say, while you froth at the mouth and try to avoid cracking them one with a five-iron. Really what the looming deadline and the attendant pressure does is give them a way to short-circuit the part of their brain that procrastinates by presenting it with a worse alternative than having to do work: facing the consequences of not doing it. Which might include the five-iron again.
The good news is that you can borrow this trick. Or, if you’re one of the ‘work better under pressure’ brigade, you can use it for other things.
Play games with your brain. One I use all the time is called Race The Kettle. I drink a lot of tea, winter and summer. If I’m having trouble getting started—which, honestly, is about 40-50% of days, especially at this time of the winter when things get all grey—I put the kettle on. Then I have until it boils to get something done. Usually something around 400-500 words. Put the kettle on the stove, turn on the element, and…..GO.
And it works. Why? Because I’m cutting off the procrastination by imposing a short-term deadline. It might be as fake as a January tan, but it’s still there. And it gives me something else to focus on. Can I get it done before the kettle boils? Sounds hard, but maybe if I try really hard…
You get the idea.
Other games I play with myself while writing: Finish By Noon And You Can Start That New Book Over Lunch; Hit Word Count Before Your Doctor’s Appointment Because You Know He’ll Order Blood Work Again; You Have A Lunch Date So Get A Move On; and the always popular Finish The Scene Before The Coffee Wears Off.
Maybe you’re the type that responds to rewards; maybe you like the pressure of deadlines. Or maybe, like me, you need a new way of looking at the problem.
Or maybe I’m just bat-crap crazy. Do any of you play these mind games with yourself? Tell me about yours if you do. I swear to only steal them if I’m really desperate.