During the summer of 1830, a French author named Victor Hugo was facing an unbearable deadline. Hugo had made an agreement with a publisher twelve months earlier that he would write a new book ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’.
Twelve months passed, and yet Hugo had not written a single chapter. Instead, he spent his time entertaining guests, pursuing other projects and stalling his work as an author. Hugo’s publisher became so frustrated by his repeated procrastination that he set him a fearsome new deadline. He demanded Hugo finish the book by February of 1831, leaving him just under six months.
In the face of a new deadline, Hugo developed a plan to beat his procrastination. He told his servant to gather all his clothes from the chambers and lock them away in the basement, leaving him nothing but a old grey shawl to wear. Hugo knew he could never appear in public wearing the knitted shawl. His new hideous wardrobe choice forced him to stay indoors (and alone) to complete the deadline.
The plan worked. Hugo published Notre Dame two weeks early on January 14, 1831. Today, Victor Hugo is regarded as a leading figure in the history of French literature. His best novels include the well known Les Miserables that we still teach our kids about in schools. His work not only contributed to the Romantic Movement in France but also gained international fame for his efforts towards establishing the Third Republican and democracy in the country.
Here’s a selfie of the guy:
Victor Hugo in 1876. Seem’s at this point he finally put his clothes back on.
The Akrasia Effect
Many of us go through life with a growing array of undone tasks and incomplete goals. Our intentions begin good, though human impulse bears to succeed our best conventional mindsets. Just like Hugo, we being to derail from our goals and go against all rational thinking. But why?…
Ancient Greek philosophers developed a word to describe this very behaviour: Akrasia.
Today we still refer to Akrasia commonly, but through a new word: Procrastination.
Humans love to procrastinate, and we’ve been up to it for centuries. So where does it begin and why is it so strong to overcome? Why is it we (like Hugo Victor) can set a strong goal, and yet fall flat to complete it?
When you create a mental plan, there is a battle going on between your present self and your future self. This tension stems from what behavioural scientists call a ‘time inconsistency”. Simply, our brain loves to value immediate rewards over future rewards. Yep, that definitely sounds like us!
So when we set goals like learn a new language or lose 10kg we’re actually setting it for our future self. That’s why when the time comes to make a decision, our brain struggles to choose in the future self best interests. Research suggests that ability of ‘delayed gratification’ is a big predictor for success in life. Think about that for a moment…
So how do we beat Akrasia? Just like Hugo, we need a plan… We need a new wardrobe. Here are three carefully chosen strategies used to beat procrastination and help you complete what you set out to do:
1. Get a commitment device.
Psychologists refer to what Hugo did with his clothes as a ‘commitment device’. This is a great a way to design your future actions and follow through with them. Commitment devices simply limit bad behaviours alternatives, in order to make good behaviours easier to opt in.
For example: You can deter a shopping addiction, just by intentionally leaving your credit cards at home.
Want to watch less TV? Remove it from the bedroom, or leave it unplugged as a default. Now if you want to watch some TV you have to reach over behind the cabinet to plug it in.
Want to read more? Charge your phone in the kitchen and place a pile of books next to your bed. All of a sudden when you crawl into bed each night you will find it easier to pick up a book instead of your phone.
Saving for a holiday overseas? Set up automatic payments the day of your income to a separate account. Now you’re saving without even thinking about it! Commitment devices are brilliant and worth falling in love with. Get a paper and pen and start thinking about how you can apply them to your current goals…
Courage, will-power and confidence in your abilities will carry you to greater heights…
2. Get accountability.
Over and over again research has shown that setting a goal with another person significantly increases your likelihood to follow through to completion. When you think about it, we can’t be easily trusted to just our own self devices. We need accountability to others. Researchers found that it’s more than a science of goals, it’s a science of people. When we set goals that are known to others, we’re more likely to follow through out of simply avoiding social embarrassment or disapproval. Not a bad motivator when used appropriately?
Get together a few trusted and loved friends and share together your goals. Hold each other accountable either verbally or with a physical penalty (i.e $100 to a charity).
Don’t be fooled into thinking that you have the capacity to achieve your best on your own. Like you would at the gym, a training partner in life will help push you to go further…
3. Get going, get momentum.
The guilt of procrastination is never found in the work but of starting the work. It’s one thing to have a dream, but it’s truly rewarding when you hit the ground running towards it. Beginnings are simply beautiful. We must fall in love with starting and trying new things, breaking out and taking new ground. The problem is, it’s difficult. Our brain craves stability and comfortability, so we must make it easy on ourselves to begin.
John C Maxwell said it best, “If you’re always growing, you will always be out of your comfort zone”. Change is inevitable, but growth is optional. To get momentum you just need to get going! Don’t give your brain time to run through all the reasons why it won’t work, and start encouraging yourself as you begin to find ways it will work. The only guarantee of failure is when you stop trying. So get your Nikes on and just do it.
Bringing it back home
At Squirrel HQ we exist to help you tick off your bucket list goals. It’s what gets us out of bed each morning! Our vision is to help millions more get more out of life, and so we hope you will join us on that journey. It’s the reason behind why we built the Squirrel app – so if you haven’t tried it yet… Download it here! It’s free for iPhone, and we think you’ll love it.
I hope this post inspired you to tackle procrastination and step out successfully in achieving your life goals! If you enjoyed this, please share it with friends and share us your bucket lists from the app! Just squeak up to us over social media – we’d love to encourage you! Twitter Facebook Instagram
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A here’s our favourite quote for those who read to the end: