Updated: May 29
This week, I discovered a book called, “59 Seconds” by Richard Wiseman. It’s sub-title is “Think a Little, Change a Lot.” A marketing statement about the book says, “At last, a self-help guide that is based on proper research. Perfect for busy, curious, smart people."
Doesn’t that sound perfect for us? I feel certain that we are busy … curious … smart people!
The good thing about this little book is that the author is a psychologist with an international reputation for reducing intricate research studies into practical suggestions for every day living. Today, I would like to share his practical advice for dealing with procrastination.
Wiseman wrote: “Procrastination is a surprisingly complex phenomenon that can stem from a variety of causes, including fear of failure, perfectionism, low levels of self-control, a tendency to see projects as a whole rather than breaking them into smaller parts, being prone to boredom, the feeling that life is too short to worry about seemingly unimportant tasks, and an inability to accurately estimate how long it takes to do things.”
That’s an interesting start isn’t it? Sometimes the simplest group of sentences can spark thoughts in many directions. The good news is that, filtered through God’s grace, any one of the characteristics mentioned in the previous paragraph can be overcome in His strength.
According to Wiseman the other good news is that procrastination can be overcome.
In the 1920s, a young Russian psychology graduate, Bluma Zeigarnik, documented research that indicated that starting any activity causes our minds to experience a kind of psychic anxiety. Once the activity is completed, our minds breathe an unconscious sigh of relief, and all is forgotten. However if we are somehow kept from completing the activity, our anxious minds quietly nag away until we finish what we started.
Wiseman answers our question, “What has this got to do with procrastination?” Here’s what he wrote.
“Procrastinators frequently put off starting certain activities because they are overwhelmed by the size of the job in front of them. However, if they can be persuaded, or can persuade themselves, to work on the activity for ‘just a few minutes’, they often feel an urge to see it through to completion. Research shows that the ‘just a few minutes' rule is a highly effective way of beating procrastination, and could help people finish the most arduous of tasks. This is a perfect application of Zeigarnik’s work – those few minutes of initial activity create an anxious brain that refuses to rest until the job is done."
Well, no research is complete without the results of it being applied. I must admit that I tried this earlier this week and it worked. Once I started the task I wasn’t so keen on doing, I just kept going until it was finished. The remarkable thing was that, once I started, it turned out to be easier than I thought.
As we assemble the tools that help us on our individual journeys, I like this one. Just a few minutes of exercise ... or eating right … or going to bed earlier … or getting up earlier … or sitting still to listen to what God is whispering in His still small voice … or praying for one more person … or learning to play the piano … or paint a picture … just a few minutes.
Some time ago, a friend was telling me how there never seemed to be time left in the day to do the one thing he truly wanted to do. Without knowing about Zeigarnik’s research or the 'just a few minutes' rule, I suggested that he commit to spending 15 minutes each day doing just that. A few months went by and one day, long after I had forgotten the 15 minute advice, he called to say ‘thank you’. As the story unfolded, he had begun to spend 15 minutes a day doing what he truly wanted to do, and now he had completed something beautiful.
It just goes to show that sometimes the best advice we need to follow is our own!
What would you like to complete? Will the ‘just a few minutes’ rule help you?
May the Lord bless us as we plan to serve Him.