from the world's big
Procrastinating? Use these Jedi mind tricks to meet your goals.
Tim Ferriss shares a bounty of strategies to help you really and truly overcome procrastination. And if it doesn't do it for you, hey, at least you just killed 10 minutes.
Tim Ferriss has been listed as one of Fast Company's “Most Innovative Business People," one of Forbes's “Names You Need to Know," and one of Fortune's “40 under 40." He is an early-stage technology investor/advisor (Uber, Facebook, Shopify, Duolingo, Alibaba, and 50+ others) and the author of three #1New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers: The 4-Hour Workweek, The 4-Hour Body, and The 4-Hour Chef. The Observer and other media have called Tim “the Oprah of audio" due to the influence of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast, which has exceeded 90 million downloads and was selected for "Best of iTunes" in 2015. His latest book is Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers.
Tim Ferriss: Procrastination. Let's talk about it. It's a big topic. And by the way we all face it. It is a ever present evergreen issue for a reason and even the people you see on magazine covers, most of them, there are a few mutants, but they all have things they put off. And there are a few different tactics, approaches that I found very helpful that I've borrowed from, whether it's guests on the Tim Ferris Show or people I interviewed for Tools of Titans my newest book, here we go. So down the list. So one is break it down into the smallest action conceivable. And there are a few different types here. So if you have a macro goal, which is double the number of podcast downloads per episode. All right. I'm just giving that as an example. Well, we need to modify that to make it really actionable. So the first is making it hyper, hyper specific so we need a timeline at the very least. So let's say within six months doubling, and this is a real example for me, doubling the number of podcast downloads. Well, downloads are ongoing so by what point in time?
All right, I want to double the number of podcast downloads per episode by week six after publication and I want to accomplish that within six months. All right. And then we can borrow from David Allen and just ask what are some of the prerequisites, the component pieces of doing that? Let's break it out into say content and organic. You could have it paid acquisition, you make a long list of these potential buckets of activities. From there you would look at next physical actions, and this is directly from getting things done. And you could apply that to any number of these, let's just say it's ten buckets but you would ask yourself, this is a question I ask myself very often when I'm procrastinating because there is indecision, and this is a particular breed of procrastination. In other words if I have ten things on my to do list or ten potential products I could pursue what to do in that situation? And what I ask myself is which one of these if done will make the rest the relevant or easier? This is a key question I ask all the time, which one of these will make all the rest easier to do if done first, or all the rest irrelevant, don't even need to do them. That is how I will hone in on one piece of the puzzle.
And this can be applied all over the place. But let's just say it's the doubling podcast, it could be losing weight, you can see that's very, very amorphous. We need timelines. We need an amount to lose. And then you want to make it as small as possible. So I'll give you a different example. If you want to start flossing your teeth, who likes flossing your teeth? Pretty much nobody. So how do you start flossing your teeth? Well, you want to make it as easy as possible to develop as part of your routine, to make it as automatic as anything else that you do consistently. And you could borrow from the say BJ Fogg who's done a lot of research at Stanford and elsewhere, make it as small as possible, meaning in the beginning do less than you're capable of doing. So this is another key when you think something is too big or onerous, so it's too intimidating or it's too much of a pain in the ass.
So for flossing you might say I'm only going to floss my front two teeth. That's three gaps. That's all you're going to do. And you want to make it, again, as easy as possible. So you might use a WaterPik or you might use those disposable flossing gadgets so you don't have to do tourniquets on your fingers, which is also one of the side effects of flossing that deters people. Make it as easy as possible. Now this applies to a lot more than flossing. So I've talked to many of the people for say Tools of Titans, people who are eight time New York Times best-selling authors or prolific musicians, prolific music producers like Rick Rubin who is legendary, and it all comes down to tiny homework assignments. So Rick if he has a stuck artist, for instance, he will say can you get me one word or one line that you might like for this song that you're working on by tomorrow, is that possible? Many, many homework assignments. So with the creative project in the beginning that's one. It's related to a piece of advice that I got from Neil Strauss, eight times New York times best selling author, he has written for The New York Times, he's written for Rolling Stone Magazine, and that is lower your standards. So he doesn't believe in writer's block. He says your standards are just too high. You're creating performance anxiety for yourself.
So the advice that I got from another writer, which matches with that, is two crappy pages per day. So a lot of people are like I'm going to kill it. I need an ambitious goal. Let me do 1500 words, 2000 words per day for this book I'm working on. Well, there is a very high probability that you're going to fall short of that and then you will get demoralized, then you will get intimidated by the task and then you'll start procrastinating. So make the hurdle, make the success threshold really, really low. That's what I've done for my last three books is two crappy pages per day. That's all I need. If I don't end up using them that's fine I just need to get out two crappy pages. What ends up happening? With the flossing, with the writing, with say exercise, if you're going to exercise you're making a New Year's Resolution, don't make it an hour a day four times a week, no, no, no, and if you don't have an exercise habit five to ten minutes at the gym three times a week, plenty. And in all those cases you will feel successful because you've checked your box for success and then very often you will exceed that for extra credit. You'll be like oh I'm already at the gym I'll go for an extra ten minutes. Well, I'm already flossing my teeth I'll do an extra four. Well, I've already hit my two pages but I'm feeling great and I'm in the flow, maybe I'll do ten, maybe I'll do 20. But it prevents you from feeling like a failure. This is very, very important. That is what derails a lot of people and it also makes the task list intimidating.
So those are a few recommendations for avoiding procrastination. Some of them are time related. So if you are looking at a task, and we've already talked about chunking it down, if it looks gigantic an onerous and you calculate in your mind well that's probably going to take me a hundred hours or three weeks, however you look at it, you don't take the first step because it's like taking a bite out of a whale or something like that. So you can use the technique, for instance, like the pomodoro technique. And people have interpreted this in different ways but it effectively means sprints of say 20 to 25. Some people do 23 minutes where you're like all right I know I'm not going to get this done but I'm going to sprint for 20 minutes, 25 minutes and then take a five-minute break. And then I will sprint again for 20 to 25 minutes. And the magic of those time constraints, I've talked about this a lot has Parkinson's Law, but the complexity of a task swelling to fill the time that it's allotted. Once you have these positive constraints, which by the way for a creative person, very important to have positive constraints.
Being able to do anything you want all the time is a recipe for disaster and paralysis and procrastination. And I'll talk about one or more constraint that you can apply. So you have something like the pomodoro technique. If it's email related you can actually use a tool called Email Game. I won't go into a long description but emailga.me is the URL. You can check that out. It avoids the inbox view and forces you to answer sequentially. So I'll let people check that out. That will probably cut down your email clearing time by 40 percent or so.
The next way that you can apply positive constraint is by building in incentives and consequences. All this means is make yourself socially accountable. And you can use a site like Stickk.com, you can use Coach.tome, having someone else to hold your feet to the fire and keep you accountable for whatever goal you've set for yourself. That could be a check in via phone, it could be a bet, so a financial component, which is very effect. I've seen high ranking folks at Google lose a hundred plus pounds because they had a bet with a friend, this is what got them started, their gym buddies if someone didn't show up they had to pay the other person a dollar. So it's incredible what a small amount of money can do. You could also put together a betting pool say five people each put in $100 and the person who loses the most of body fat or improves their body fat percentage using say DEXA Scan by the end of the first-quarter gets the $500. That is hugely, hugely effective.
And I think in part not because the money you will win but the money you will lose. People will work a lot harder to counteract loss eversion it turns out. So those are a few things that you could utilize. And I'll give you one kind of wacky one that is from Mike Birbiglia who's one of the most successful comedians on the planet, has done tons of TV, tons of movies and is fantastic at standup does, lot with This American Life. And when he was procrastinating working on his screenplay, his latest screenplay, we noticed that when he was accountable to someone else he had a meeting he was never late, he was always early. But when he had a commitment to himself to write he might put it off for hours. So he took a Post-it and he put it next to his bed, and this sounds ludicrous, but it said, Mike, and I think it was three exclamation points, you have a meeting with yourself at 7:00 a.m. at café whatever it was where he intended to work and that actually for whatever weird quirk of human psychology got him to stay on track for his meeting with himself to write his screenplay. So that's another Jedi mind trick that you might try on yourself. There are many tools in the toolkit but keep it small, keep it defined, rig it so you can win and when in doubt figure out a way to create a loss or shame if you don't actually tackle your task and achieve some type of measurable goal by a specific point in time.
Procrastination hits everyone, although perhaps that wording is wrong. It’s an internal force rather than an external one that acts on you – and that’s great news because it means getting past the thumb-twiddling is just a matter of having an actionable plan.
Entrepreneur, podcast king and writer Tim Ferriss has spent the last two years interviewing world-class performers and leaders (including Jamie Foxx, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Peter Diamandis, NAVY seals, and black-market biochemists) and from those interviews he has crafted his latest book, Tools of Titans. What has made each of these individuals successful? What are the attitudes, techniques, and tricks that set them apart – and how do they combat the most-dreaded of roadblocks: procrastination?
Ferriss runs through several of these tools for Big Think, such as applying specific positive constraints to your project, setting micro goals, underestimating yourself (that’s right), using websites to enforce your goals, creating competition, making bets, and they get more creative as the video rolls.
There are so many ways to not suffer from project intimidation and avoidance, the trick is to experiment with these techniques and find the ones that work for you. You might even concoct your own. Ferriss recounts a technique thought-up by comedian Mike Birbiglia, who noticed that he was always on time (if not early) for appointments with other people, but when it came to the time he'd allocated to write his screenplay he was constantly standing himself up and procrastinating. He realized he set different expectations on himself when a second party was involved, so he did something crazy and brilliant: he imagined himself as another person. Birbiglia wrote a note in his calendar – with three exclamation points – that he had a meeting with himself at 7am at this particular café -- and it worked. Finding the psychological quirks that make you respect your own goals is a matter of time, so if you’re whiling away the hours anyway, at least while them away by trying out a few of Ferriss’ recommendations.
"Keep it small, keep it defined, rig it so you can win, and when in doubt figure out a way to create a loss or [sense of] shame if you don't actually tackle your task and achieve some type of measurable goal by a specific point in time," says Ferriss.
Tim Ferriss' most recent book is Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers.
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.
- Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
- As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
- The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.
- A powerful MRI combined with modeling software results in a totally new view of the human cerebellum.
- The so-called 'little brain' is nearly 80% the size of the cerebral cortex when it's unfolded.
- This part of the brain is associated with a lot of things, and a new virtual map is suitably chaotic and complex.
Just under our brain's cortex and close to our brain stem sits the cerebellum, also known as the "little brain." It's an organ many animals have, and we're still learning what it does in humans. It's long been thought to be involved in sensory input and motor control, but recent studies suggests it also plays a role in a lot of other things, including emotion, thought, and pain. After all, about half of the brain's neurons reside there. But it's so small. Except it's not, according to a new study from San Diego State University (SDSU) published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).
A neural crêpe
A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.
So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.
The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."
Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum
Image source: Sereno, et al.
A complicated map
Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."
That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.
It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."
This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."
Bigger and bigger
The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.
"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."
As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."
Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."
What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?
- A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
- It is one of the first major reviews of welfare programs to measure so many by a single metric.
- The findings will likely inform future welfare reform and encourage debate on how to grade success.
Welfare as an investment<p>The <a href="https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/hendren/files/welfare_vnber.pdf" target="_blank">study</a>, carried out by Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser of Harvard University, reviews 133 welfare programs through a single lens. The authors measured these programs' "Marginal Value of Public Funds" (MVPF), which is defined as the ratio of the recipients' willingness to pay for a program over its cost.</p><p>A program with an MVPF of one provides precisely as much in net benefits as it costs to deliver those benefits. For an illustration, imagine a program that hands someone a dollar. If getting that dollar doesn't alter their behavior, then the MVPF of that program is one. If it discourages them from working, then the program's cost goes up, as the program causes government tax revenues to fall in addition to costing money upfront. The MVPF goes below one in this case. <br> <br> Lastly, it is possible that getting the dollar causes the recipient to further their education and get a job that pays more taxes in the future, lowering the cost of the program in the long run and raising the MVPF. The value ratio can even hit infinity when a program fully "pays for itself."</p><p> While these are only a few examples, many others exist, and they do work to show you that a high MVPF means that a program "pays for itself," a value of one indicates a program "breaks even," and a value below one shows a program costs more money than the direct cost of the benefits would suggest.</p> After determining the programs' costs using existing literature and the willingness to pay through statistical analysis, 133 programs focusing on social insurance, education and job training, tax and cash transfers, and in-kind transfers were analyzed. The results show that some programs turn a "profit" for the government, mainly when they are focused on children:
This figure shows the MVPF for a variety of polices alongside the typical age of the beneficiaries. Clearly, programs targeted at children have a higher payoff.
Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser<p>Programs like child health services and K-12 education spending have infinite MVPF values. The authors argue this is because the programs allow children to live healthier, more productive lives and earn more money, which enables them to pay more taxes later. Programs like the preschool initiatives examined don't manage to do this as well and have a lower "profit" rate despite having decent MVPF ratios.</p><p>On the other hand, things like tuition deductions for older adults don't make back the money they cost. This is likely for several reasons, not the least of which is that there is less time for the benefactor to pay the government back in taxes. Disability insurance was likewise "unprofitable," as those collecting it have a reduced need to work and pay less back in taxes. </p>
What are the implications of all this?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="ceXv4XLv" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="3b407f5aa043eeb84f2b7ff82f97dc35"> <div id="botr_ceXv4XLv_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/ceXv4XLv-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/ceXv4XLv-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/ceXv4XLv-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>Firstly, it shows that direct investments in children in a variety of areas generate very high MVPFs. Likewise, the above chart shows that a large number of the programs considered pay for themselves, particularly ones that "invest in human capital" by promoting education, health, or similar things. While programs that focus on adults tend to have lower MVPF values, this isn't a hard and fast rule.</p><p>It also shows us that very many programs don't "pay for themselves" or even go below an MVPF of one. However, this study and its authors do not suggest that we abolish programs like disability payments just because they don't turn a profit.</p><p>Different motivations exist behind various programs, and just because something doesn't pay for itself isn't a definitive reason to abolish it. The returns on investment for a welfare program are diverse and often challenging to reckon in terms of money gained or lost. The point of this study was merely to provide a comprehensive review of a wide range of programs from a single perspective, one of dollars and cents. </p><p>The authors suggest that this study can be used as a starting point for further analysis of other programs not necessarily related to welfare. </p><p>It can be difficult to measure the success or failure of a government program with how many metrics you have to choose from and how many different stakeholders there are fighting for their metric to be used. This study provides us a comprehensive look through one possible lens at how some of our largest welfare programs are doing. </p><p>As America debates whether we should expand or contract our welfare state, the findings of this study offer an essential insight into how much we spend and how much we gain from these programs. </p>
Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
Finding a balance between job satisfaction, money, and lifestyle is not easy.
- When most of your life is spent doing one thing, it matters if that thing is unfulfilling or if it makes you unhappy. According to research, most people are not thrilled with their jobs. However, there are ways to find purpose in your work and to reduce the negative impact that the daily grind has on your mental health.
- "The evidence is that about 70 percent of people are not engaged in what they do all day long, and about 18 percent of people are repulsed," London Business School professor Dan Cable says, calling the current state of work unhappiness an epidemic. In this video, he and other big thinkers consider what it means to find meaning in your work, discuss the parts of the brain that fuel creativity, and share strategies for reassessing your relationship to your job.
- Author James Citrin offers a career triangle model that sees work as a balance of three forces: job satisfaction, money, and lifestyle. While it is possible to have all three, Citrin says that they are not always possible at the same time, especially not early on in your career.