An End to Procrastination Archana Murthy TEDxMarcusHighSchool

Translator: Josephine O'Donnell Reviewer: Rhonda Jacobs It's Sunday night, the day has come to a close, and the sight of twinkling stars in the night sky is as welcome as the crisp night air. That is not very welcome, because it's Sunday night and I still have to write my English essay. So I get ready to write, and I realise that in order to write well, I've got to channel some of my favourite writers: Steinbeck, Jane Austen. Except, it might have been a while, so strictly to remember what they wrote like, I indulge research with a novel ... or two ... After that's done, I sit back down at my desk ready to crank out what I'm sure is going to be a masterpiece. Except, that's when I realise my nails are too long. How am I supposed to grip my pencil properly with my nails being too long? It simply can't be done. So I spend half an hour looking for the nail cutter, and I file down those bad boys. After every nail on my body has been trimmed, and buffed and polished, I get right back on task. And that's when it hits me, I haven't worked out yet today. Or this past year, but somehow that didn't seem relevant until right this moment. Two hours, three push ups and 24 cat videos later, I realise that exercise just isn't for me. But of course, one must follow the standard conventions of hygiene, so, since I exercised, I hop into the shower for a quick cleanse. I exit the bathroom fresh faced and hydrated, but one glance at the clock across the room stops me cold in my tracks. It's 12:30am and I haven't written a single word of my English essay. I somehow manage to finish the essay and turn it in, but it isn't my best work. I feel like a failure, and the future doesn't seem all that exciting. The question 'What's next?' generates only a dreadful sense of gloom because I know what's next, the same cycle of emotions I went through while writing that essay. So on Monday night, it's the same guilt, stress, anxiety, failure. On Tuesday night, it's the same - guilt, stress, anxiety and failure. And on Wednesday, and on Thursday, and on Friday. No matter how much I tell myself to be better, that I'll regret it if I procrastinate, I can't seem to change my behaviour. It seems like this will just be my life till I graduate, and my same bad habits will follow me into college, and my career too. I even see a vision of myself in my old age. Alone, in a messy apartment, crying and blowing my nose into my shirt as I watch 'Say Yes to the Dress'. And I'm watching TV because I'm procrastinating on writing my will. (Laughter) So, I was procrastinating on writing my will. Now, that's what I am: a procrastinator. Now believe it or not, being a procrastinator isn't easy. I invest a lot of time, effort and resources into it. For example, every day after school, I dedicatedly follow a rigorous schedule. From 3:25 to 4:30, I dawdle. From 4:30 to 6:42, I delay. From 6:42 to 7:14, one can usually find me loitering. And then until 11:29, I'm just way too busy twiddling my thumbs. So other than these valiant efforts on my part, what exactly does being a procrastinator mean? Well, a procrastinator, simply put, is someone who puts off doing work. There are two types actually. There's the situational procrastinator, who's behavior depends on the specific task they have to do. If they don't like it, they'll push it off and try to avoid it. Think most people with laundry, cleaning, and anything involving unpleasant conversation. Which is why my mother still has not given me 'The Talk'. Then there's chronic procrastination. Now, the chronic [procrastinator] has trouble finishing any task at all. They generally have a tough time getting anything done. In case you're wondering, I kind of fall into this category. The chronic procrastinator's worst nightmare is when an unpleasant task combines with their high impulsivity and lack of self-discipline, to create a whirling cesspool of 'erm, I'd rather not ...'. So knowing all this, we can say that there's a definite link between work and procrastination. There's a definite link between our attitude towards work, whether we like it or not, and procrastination. So me being this procrastinator, what does that say about me? Does this mean that I'm nothing more than a lazy person, doomed to failure? Does this mean that I lack the basic skills necessary to manage myself? Well, let's find out. So, after the essay debacle, just to make sure that I'm not the only one with this issue while everybody else is sitting around in 'perfect world', sipping apple cider out of wine glasses while lounging pool side, (Inhales, exhales) I ask around a bit. Turns out a fantastic amount of people are procrastinators! Almost all of my friends go through the same homework completing process as me. They don't like the hassle of completing hours for honours societies, so they don't, until the very last second. My 23-year-old cousin hates paying his bills, so he doesn't, until the very last second. My teacher hates grading our tests, so he doesn't, until the very last second. And my parents hate filing their taxes, so they don't - say it with me now: until the very last second. Yeah, IRS just loves them ... So I'd established that procrastination is a big issue that needed some attention. I started wondering if it would always be this way for me, if I'd always be so unsatisfied in my life. And that's when it hits me. What would make for the best world-changing innovation? What would make for the most epic TEDx Talk ever? How about the one in which I fix procrastination? I could see it right then: 'An End to Procrastination' by Archana Murthy. So here I stand, in front of you today, solving procrastination. So I was pretty determined to solve this little nuisance once and for all. Except I had no idea how I was going to. The whole point of this challenge being revolutionary was that no one had ever done it before. Lucky for me, however, I happened to find myself stuck in a car trip with my family, when my mother pulled out a book to read, aloud. The Bhagavad Gita for children. For those of you that don't know, the Bhagavad Gita is an ancient Hindu text that supposedly contains the answers to life, and this is the part where my ears perk up and I'm suddenly interested because if the answers to life are in this thing, then cure for procrastination has got to be in there somewhere. So I'm trapped in the car. I'm animatedly listening, not wanting to miss the unveiling of the big secret. The excitement is mounting, and mounting, and mounting ... and then I hear it. I hear the ultimate truth. And the secret to procrastination is this: one must do action without any expectation of the fruit of the action. That is, one must do work without any expectation of a reward, or conversely, a fear of consequence. It should be done simply for the sake of doing the work itself, with no emotion invested in any other external factor. Now, this didn't make sense to me. The way I saw things, the entire world operated solely based on external factors. In my my reality, I did my homework because if I didn't, I wouldn't do well in my classes. My teacher grades our tests because if he doesn't, he will fail in teaching us. My cousin pays his bills because if he doesn't, he won't have a place to live. I thought everybody did things because they had to, because there were consequences and rewards that controlled them. But, since I was at rock bottom and I had no other go, I decided to give this advice of the Bhagavad Gita a try. So I developed into a method that I could follow in my own life. Now, there are a few guidelines to this method, but before we begin, I need you to understand that the first thing I did was name this method something extremely important. I call it: 'Murthy's Method to Mindful Metacognitive Meaning'. MMMMM, or 'Mmmmm' for short. Guideline number 1: in order to succeed, one must set a concrete specific goal. I set the goal of studying for my SAT every day. So the goal behaviour was to come home, study for my SAT for 30 minutes, do my other homework, and then if I had leftover time, to enjoy other leisure activities. Additionally, while I was going through my routine, going on my phone or my internet was not allowed because it gave me a means to procrastinate all too easily. Number 2: only feelings of positivity must surround this endeavor. This entails both propagating my own positive thoughts, and pushing off any negative thoughts. For example, whenever I procrastinated until 10pm, or just skipped doing my homework entirely and completed it the class period before, I had to acknowledge the error, and then put a positive spin on the situation. Perhaps by saying that tomorrow would be a clean slate and a new opportunity to make better choices. Number 3: at the end of the day, I had to acknowledge either a feeling of satisfaction upon making some sort of sincere effort towards my goal, or if I failed to do that, I had to acknowledge the feelings of guilt and anxiety within me. This again doesn't mean that I was to beat myself up over failure, but that I was to understand that it just didn't feel good when I avoided work, and that it did feel good when I didn't. This step is imperative, because self-reflection is key to the entire process. Being aware of your emotional reactions to the method and asking yourself why you feel and act the way you do, that is what causes lasting change, as opposed to going through the process without, well, processing anything. Number 4: No matter if I accomplished a lot, a little, or nothing at all, I was to take some time out of my day to feel grateful that I even had the ability to do whatever goal behaviour it was that I wished to accomplish. I exercised feeling grateful that I was even in a position to take an SAT to pursue a higher education. Or that I even had the mental capacity to sit through a test and do my best on it. The Bhagavad Gita is also a spiritual and religious text, so it does say to view work as a service to God, and to offer it to him as such. If this helps, one should follow this advice, but if one doesn't believe in this, ignore it. Guideline Number 5: I also followed guideline number 5, which was to keep a reflection journal. While this meant nothing by the way of scientific evidence, it was often just a bunch of random thoughts jotted down on paper, it recorded my general emotional state as I went through this transformative journey. So with these five guidelines: Number 1: set a goal; Number 2: be positive; Number 3: acknowledge and reflect on my feelings; Number 4: feel grateful; and Number 5: record what happens; I was ready to dominate. So as I executed this technique, I realised that amazingly, it was actually working. Looking back over my reflection journal, I noticed two main trends occurring: an overall lessening in stress and anxiety, and an increase in satisfaction and happiness. I started to view my responsibilities less as a drudgery, and more as something fun and worthwhile. That in-the-zone, completely focused feeling was one that came often to me because I practised it, and one that I started to crave. This method even got my parents to patch things up with IRS and finally file their taxes. So, this method works. That's great and all, but why does it work? Is all this stuff about focusing on work and not the result actually relevant? Turns out, it may be the answer to all our questions. See, the part I didn't tell you in the beginning, was that every time I sat down to write that essay, these horrible thoughts filled me. What if I put so much time and effort into this, but it's really bad and I fail the assignment? What if I can't find anything to write about? What if I start writing this thing, but it's super boring? So I essentially made a commitment that I can't break. And let me tell you, there is nothing I fear more than commitment. I would worry way too much about the outcome and not spend my energy on the work itself. Except this process happened so fast that it didn't register as conscious thought. Instead, it was more a general sense of dread and doom that gathered in the pit of my stomach until I felt like I was going to explode! At which point I moved on to something that could distract away my feelings. Pro tip: you know it's bad when you start asking yourself why the room is suddenly a pressure cooker, and you're the innocent baby carrot trapped inside. So, procrastination is a result of the negative emotions associated with work? Actually, yes. Study after study shows us that chronic procrastination isn't, contrary to popular belief, just laziness or poor time management. It's actually a product of a negative cycle of emotions that creates other byproducts as well: guilt, stress, anxiety, depression, and diminished self-worth. In fact, the cognitive mechanism behind chronic procrastination is eerily similar to that of obsessive-compulsive disorder. We may laugh at the cartoonish way the chronic procrastinator simply can't do what he puts his mind to. But in reality, his plight isn't so humourous. For him, there's a fundamental error between intention and action. When I used Murthy's Method or 'MMMMM', I was forced to confront these stressful and negative emotions, instead of avoiding them, because I somehow thought I'd be able to deal with them better later. Well, actually facing these emotions and fears, accepting them and dismissing them, wasn't easy. The more I did it the easier it got, and the payoff was enormous. I rewired myself to handle stress in a way that promoted joy, positivity, self-acceptance and gratitude, instead of guilt and hopelessness. So this was revolutionary for me. It meant that the Bhagavad Gita was actually right. My fixation on the results of my work created all this negativity that stopped me from achieving my full potential of happiness. And it's come to my attention that other kids could benefit from this piece of knowledge too. Some people may not think this is an actual or significant issue, maybe especially the older generation, but to today's youth, to you and me, this is a mammoth-sized issue that affects everyone. About 20% of Americans are said to be chronic procrastinators, and I think that's 20% too many. We have the ability to fix this, so that we're not just a statistic. So to all of you here today, I say that we can make a difference. Follow the 5 M method I talked about. Commit to changing your own habits, ask yourself why you procrastinate, and go on a journey of self-reflection. Become that person that always stands front and centre, loving whatever it is that they're there to do. We have the power to make a change. Just, whatever you do, don't put it off till tomorrow. (Applause) (Music)