In a week or so, I have two major project outlines due. I’d planned to start them a week ago… but of course, they’re still untouched. It’s not that I dread working on them. I’m actually pretty excited to get started. They’re projects I’m excited for and that I think will turn out awesome.
So why have they been pushed to the bottom of my list, day after day?
What’s brain crack? It’s a term coined by CGP Grey in an episode of Hello Internet. Basically the longer we procrastinate on something we want to do, the more our brains build up expectations of how awesome it’s going to be. It’s like crack for your brain.
Studies have shown that anticipation often makes up a majority of the pleasure we experience from experiences or material goods. For example, people feel most happy before their vacations, when their anticipating it, rather than when they’re actually on vacation. The same goes for the pair of boots you’re been looking forward to getting for months, or the concert tickets you bought half a year ago.
Why? Because when you’re anticipating it, you’re living the experience in your mind… and when it’s in your mind it’s always perfect. Nothing goes wrong, nothing disappoints you, and everything goes according to plan. Then, when you’re actually living the experience — when you’re on vacation, wearing the boots, or at the concert, that you have to deal with all the realities of life.
The same goes for the big project you’ve been looking forward to finishing for weeks or months. Every day that you put it off, your brain builds up the anticipation of how great it’s going to be. In your mind, you’re living through the experience of working on your project. Say, for example, your big project is to write a book. Every day you put it off, your mind is imagining the experience of writing the book. In your mind, you find the perfect sentences instantly, the plot unravels itself to you as you write, and you come up with the perfect title naturally.
Then, as you wait even longer, you start anticipating everything that’s going to happen when you finish writing your book! You imagine all the publishers lined up to sign a book deal with you. You can see your future book on the New York Times Bestseller’s list and interviews on Ellen. It’s all going to be so perfect… all you have to do is sit down and write that book!
The problem is, when you actually do start your book, you realize that your sentences are awkward and you can’t make the plot fit together. Nothing seems to be working and this book isn’t living up to your expectations. The initial discomfort makes you procrastinate for a little bit longer, and during that time your brain starts anticipating again. And the cycle repeats itself until you break it by sucking it up, sitting down, and grinding through it.
Brain crack just gets worse the longer you procrastinate. The procrastination timeline looks a bit like this:
The longer you wait until you start, the worse your brain crack is… and the more you’ll procrastinate. Brain crack is why we procrastinate on the things we want to do. We get so excited about how great it’s going to be and we build it up so much in our minds that we can no longer live up to our own expectations. The longer we wait, the greater our expectations become.
You don’t need to do it all at once but just work on it little by little every day. By working on it little by little, you face the realities of your project — all the obstacles and everything that can go wrong — in small doses. They’re small enough to keep you from getting discouraged but big enough to keep you grounded in reality.
So whatever you’re procrastinating on starting right now ( and I know there’s something), just START. Even if that means spending only 10 minutes on it, just start. Every day you spend 10 minutes on it, is a day that your brain isn’t on crack.
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