How to Stop Procrastinating in 10 Seconds

Procrastination is a fancy word for resistance. If there weren’t resistance between you and your desired behavior, then nothing would stop you from doing it right now. No resistance, no procrastination.

Resistance comes in many forms, such as “I’d rather do this” and “I’m too tired to do that.” But the challenge is always the same—you know what you should do and want to do, but you don’t feel like doing it. As I talked about last week, simply recognizing the difference between what you feel and what you want is a great start for making the better choice. This article’s technique will take you a step further.

To defeat procrastination and get moving on things that matter most, we must figure out how to decrease the resistance we feel to taking positive actions. The goal is that simple, and so is the solution.

To stop procrastinating…

  1. Define your target behavior (for example, rolling your tired body out of your oh-so-comfortable bed)
  2. Agree with yourself that you WILL do it before your countdown is finished
  3. Begin counting down from 10… 9… 8… 7…
  4. Take action before zero!

7 Reasons the 10-Second Countdown Works

First, in order to have the countdown, you will have to clearly define your objective (otherwise, you’d be counting down for no reason). Lack of clarity is a huge source of resistance, because the human brain doesn’t know how to “work on things that matter,” it only knows how to do specific things like, “roll out of bed, open the word processor, and brainstorm 5 plot twist ideas for my paranormal romance novel.” Specific ideas are actionable.

Second, the countdown brings your idea into the real world. Until you act on something, it’s just an idea, a concept. You could do any number of things at any time. For example, most people have at some point thought about getting into amazing shape by exercising, but very few people bring that idea to life consistently enough to make it happen. When you begin the countdown, you clarify that this idea is going to be acted upon within the next 10 seconds. That’s powerfully decisive!

Third, giving yourself 10 seconds softens the fear and shock of suddenly having to do something important. It can be scary (or boring) to do things that matter, and when you demand that they be done NOW, the brain can freak out and say, “Uh! Um! No, wait! There are funny YouTube videos to watch! Just watch one or two and see where that takes you!” We all know where that takes us. By giving yourself a 10-second buffer between you and action, you allow the brain to get beyond this knee-jerk freakout stage and realize that it’s okay to do awesome things to progress your life.

Fourth, 10 seconds doesn’t let you overthink your way back out of action. While 10 seconds gives the brain a moment to digest that action is nigh, it’s not really enough time to think your way back out of action. Once you begin counting down, the least complicated thing to do is just begin the activity you designated at the start, and then you can reevaluate. This is absolutely critical because it gets you started, and good things happen when you start! As an example, I used the 10-second countdown this morning, January 1st, after having an undisclosed amount of wine last night. I was tired and I swear my bed was twice as soft as usual, but I counted down from 10, got up before time ran out, and quickly realized that I didn’t need to sleep any more. I was ready to tackle a new day! See how much better that turned out compared to if I decided to reevaluate after sleeping “a few more minutes?”

Fifth, the countdown puts you under a small amount of pressure. Pressure is often seen as a negative thing because it’s generally used poorly. Parents overly pressure their kids to be perfect angels at all times. Bosses pressure employees to meet unreasonable demands. All in all, the way pressure is typically used to create highly stressful situations with little return to show for it. But the countdown is a short-lived, mild, and self-generated pressure. Once you begin the activity, the pressure immediately dissolves. This is the ideal use for pressure, since it encourages you to do a positive thing without causing distress.

Sixth, the countdown is a pretty fun challenge. When I played basketball as a kid, I would mimic a commentator: “They’re down by two and Guise has the ball! 5…4….3…2….1…. At the buzzer! Bang! Oh, what an incredible shot by Curry Guise! Guise wins it with a deep dagger! Oracle Arena is going nuts!” Then I’d do it again. I took a lot of “game-winning shots” as a kid. 

I don’t know exactly why, but it’s pretty fun to give yourself 10 seconds to do something. It almost feels like a game, and as someone who loves games and hates to lose, this is both fun and effective! Feel free to imagine that the world will explode if you don’t act in 10 seconds, and play epic music in your head as you count down. The imaginative possibilities to engage your mind with a countdown are endless.

Seventh, the countdown can work with any existing goal system. The perfect mate for the countdown is a mini habit. Why? Mini habits decrease resistance by shrinking the size of the goal, and the countdown decreases resistance (and encourages action) even further. So when you combine them, you give yourself a little bit of fun pressure to do an unbelievably easy task. When your goal is one push-up and you are counting down from 10, it would take more energy to argue against it than to just do the push-up! (Combining these two ideas together might not be legal because of how effective it is. Check with local law enforcement.)

Whenever you’re stalling, set your target and begin the countdown from 10. I’ll bet that before you reach one, you’ll be in motion. And if not, hey, you only lost 10 seconds by trying. 

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