Vik Nithy, founder of 3 companies at the age of 20, discusses Why We Procrastinate @ TEDxYouth@TheScotsCollege conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Why we procrastinate by Vik Nithy @ TEDxYouth@TheScotsCollege
Announcer: I would like to introduce our next speaker tonight: Vik Nithy. He is a young man who has already founded three companies at the age of 20. Sorry, I was about to say 20 companies at the age of three. And this is after being diagnosed post-HSC with a number of conditions. So he’s a truly inspiring young entrepreneur and he is going to tell you why we procrastinate. Thank you.
Vik Nithy – Entrepreneur
I finished high school about two years ago. And although I did fairly well, I didn’t do nearly as well as I could have done if I didn’t suffer from a chronic debilitating addiction to procrastination. I would put off studying until the night before every assignment and every exam wherever possible. Is anyone else guilty of cramming? Yeah. So you probably know how it feels to maybe take a five-minute Facebook break before you start working and then realize that three hours have gone past, or promise yourself that you’ll start working tomorrow every day for a week. Tomorrow, tomorrow.
It’s not just studying that we procrastinate on, we procrastinate on things like doing chores, we procrastinate on thinking about our future, and we procrastinate on saving money and getting fit. I think procrastination is a really serious problem, because it’s about not being able to bring ourselves to do the things that we know we want to do.
So tonight I’m going to talk to you about the reasons why we procrastinate and then hopefully give you some tips on how to overcome it if you can get around to doing that.
Okay. So, procrastination is not a disease. It’s more about the decisions that you make, the decision not to do what you need to do now but to do it later instead. It’s really like you’re having an argument in your head, isn’t it? One part of you wants to work, another part of your brain wants to play Angry Birds. And for some reason you always manage to convince yourself, “Oh it’s okay, I can do whatever I need to do tomorrow, I don’t need to do it now.”
So as a psychology student I have the opportunity to find out what exactly is going on inside our brains when we procrastinate. And I found that there actually is an argument in our heads between the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex.
So, this is the prefrontal cortex. This is the part of our brain that tells us: “You should be working Vik, you have a 40% assignment due tomorrow.” This is a higher level part of your brain.
The other part of your brain involved in procrastination is the limbic system. So this is a more primitive part of your brain that wants to watch another episode of Gossip Girl before you start studying.
So why is that the limbic system always seems to win the argument? The answer lies in this deceptively cute part of the brain called the amygdala. The amygdala is a part of your brain that controls fear and anxiety and the fight-of-flight response to threatening stimulus. So for example, if you are in a jungle and you see a wild lion in the distance, what do you do? I have no idea, I’ve never seen a wild lion but I have seen a teacher approach me when I haven’t done my homework.
And I think the response in the amygdala is quite similar. The first thing you do is freeze; your palms get sweaty, your heart starts beating fast and your prefrontal cortex, the decision maker shuts down. Because if you see a wild lion in the jungle, you don’t want a voice in your head to remind you that you have an essay to write, you have to focus on what’s going on in the world around you and responding to physiological needs.
So, when we procrastinate, we experience a mild anxiety response to a threatening stimulus which just happens to be an assignment that you may have to complete.
So, what is it that we’re afraid of? What is it that we are afraid of? Well, meet your monkey mind. This is the part of your brain, the voice in your head that reacts to the threatening stimulus of an essay. You might be afraid of an overwhelming – you might find that the task is overwhelming and you don’t know where to start. You might — if it’s an unpleasant task, you might dread the displeasure of doing the task, and if it’s a more complex task with a — when your performance is being measured, then you might have a fear of actual failure. So perfectionists use procrastination as a self-handicapping tool to avoid personal failure.
So for example, if you have an assignment due on Friday, and it’s Monday today, you can finish the assignment tomorrow. But if you don’t do well, then what does it say about your capacity to do well in the exams? Whereas if you start on Thursday night and cram, then if you fail, it’s just because you’re lazy and you crammed. You’re not stupid, you’re perfectly normal.
Now, your prefrontal cortex, it knows that this is a stupid decision. You know that failure is a positive learning experience and that it’s better to be safe than sorry. But remember that your amygdala is about subconscious reactions.
So how can we overcome procrastination if we have a monkey in our brains making decisions on our behalf? The answer is something called metacognition: Thinking about thinking. So we have to acknowledge that we aren’t going to be the ones making the decision to study tomorrow. We’re going to have this spontaneous lazy monkey making decisions on our behalf because we’re too scared to do it ourselves.
And there is a few things that we have to plan in order to overcome this. We have to plan goals. So plan exactly what you need to do, split it up into parts, and we find that the task is a lot less overwhelming for all in a monkey.
Plan time. So figure out exactly what you’re going to get done in what timeframe, and remember guys, this is not something you need to do every time you need to study. This is just something that you need to get into the habit of doing automatically when you realize that you need to get something done.
Plan resources. So if you spend 10 minutes before you start working to get everything you need in the table in front of you, you can’t go ahead and later convince yourself that you need to use Google or you need to go on Facebook to get something because everything you need is in front of you.
Plan the process. So research has shown that if you visualize the process of doing something, the task becomes easier to do. If you close your eyes and think about what you need to do, then, you brain is tricked into thinking that you’ve done it before and it becomes so much easier to get things done.
Plan for distractions. So you know that your monkey mind is going to want to check Facebook every five minutes. You have to make a commitment to stay focused and not get distracted.
And lastly plan for failure. So, say you’re doing a maths problem and you come to a question that you can’t do. This is usually the time when people decide to take a five-minute break. I know that the saying “Don’t give up” is cliché but I think that when it comes to roadblocks when we are trying to do something it’s especially relevant, and it’s not just while we are studying, it’s in every part of life. If we procrastinate when we come to a roadblock, then I don’t think we’re ever going to get around to solving the problem. You have to learn to grit your teeth and get through it.