How To Stop Being Lazy And Get More Done – 5 Expert Tips

change

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Before we commence with the festivities, I wanted to thank everyone for helping my first book become a Wall Street Journal bestseller. To check it out, click here.

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George was late again.

It was 1939 and math PhD student George Dantzig arrived to find he had already missed much of the lecture. The two homework problems were already up on the chalkboard. He scribbled them down.

But this day only got worse. When he got to work on the problems that night, he realized they were hard. Really hard. George was a super smart guy but these problems were insanely difficult. They took him days to complete. So now he was going to be late again, this time turning in his homework. Yeesh.

He delivered them to his professor, Jerzy Neyman, apologizing profusely. Neyman’s eyes went wide. George worried he was going to be in a lot of trouble. But that’s not why Neyman was reacting so strangely…

The two problems on the board hadn’t been homework at all — they were two issues in statistical theory that had been deemed “unsolvable” by the best mathematicians in the world. Far from being angry, Neyman was blown away.

Yeah, George was a genius. And, no, the lesson here is not “show up late.”

Point is, if George had known what he was up against, he never would have even tried. His amazing potential might never have been recognized.

You and I can do great things too — but often we don’t. We psyche ourselves out, we don’t give our full effort, we quit or never even start. It’s not a problem of ability; we get in our own way. And that’s something we need to change.

But the difference between wanting to change and actually changing, whoa, that’s a big one. It often feels like it requires some unreasonable sacrifice, paid in virgin blood. We try to turn over a new leaf but realize it’s still from the same tree.

We need help to stop being lazy and get more done. Most of the tips we get from the illusionists in the lifehack business aren’t based on good science, they’re artificially-flavored nonsense. But there is someone who has solid answers on how we can improve…

Katy Milkman is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and co-directs its “Behavior Change for Good Initiative.” Her new book is appropriately titled “How to Change.”

Ready to learn what can really help you make some big changes and realize your potential?

Let’s get to it…

 

How To Get Going

Starting with a clean slate is motivating. It’s easier to make big changes when we feel the person who has all those bad habits was “the old me” and now I’m going to be a “new me.” And that’s why every January 1st, 40% of people make New Year’s resolutions.

The cynics will say, “Hey Barker, those resolutions usually fail.” And that’s true. A 2007 survey found 80% of them don’t last. But here’s the thing: that means 1 in 5 succeed. That’s a much better success rate than you or I usually have with other attempts to change.

How can a silly thing like pegging change to the New Year really work? Because motivation is internal. It works because you believe it does. Call it a “chronological placebo effect” if you like, but the idea of a “fresh start” — whether it’s at the beginning of the year, on your birthday or whatever — can boost our optimism about the future and help us kickstart change.

From How to Change:

Across data set after data set, we found the same patterns. Undergraduates at a campus fitness center were more likely to visit the gym not only in January, but also earlier in the week, after a school holiday, at the beginning of a new semester, and after their birthdays… Similarly, in January, on Mondays, and after holiday breaks, we documented an uptick in online goal setting…

Anything that provides a fresh start feeling can give us a boost. When people had calendars that listed Sunday as the first day of the week, they were more motivated on Sunday. When the first day of the week was Monday, the boost shifted to Monday. (And this may be the first time in recorded history Monday was a good thing.)

Give it a shot. Start your change initiative on the first day of the week. Or you can supercharge it by trying it on your birthday. Research shows the bigger the transition, the bigger the effect.

If nothing else, we all have a big shift in the transition to the post-COVID landscape. Lockdown felt like being a teenager again – we all got grounded. Now that it no longer looks like the end of the humanity will be due to coughs and sneezes, we’re all experiencing a shift into a new world. Leverage that to start your big change.

(To learn more about how you can lead a successful life, check out my bestselling book here.)

Okay, we know how to get started. But an 80% failure rate can still be pretty daunting. So how do we increase motivation?

 

How To Get Motivated

One of the most unfair things in the universe is that doing the “right” thing rarely feels as good in the short term as doing the “wrong” thing. Unfortunately, the universe is what it is and you and I were not consulted at the design phase.

Luckily, there’s a solution to this. Katy says, “Making hard things seem fun is a much better strategy than making hard things seem important.”

Now some are going to push back that most not-fun stuff stubbornly remains not-fun. But Katy has a clever solution: “temptation bundling.”

From How to Change:

Temptation bundling entails allowing yourself to engage in a guilty pleasure (such as binge-watching TV) only when pursuing a virtuous or valuable activity that you tend to dread (such as exercise).

And it works.

From How to Change:

…the participants who had been given the opportunity to temptation bundle were much more frequent gym visitors than those in the control group.

So from here on out, you only get to watch your favorite shows when folding laundry. Podcasts are only for when you do the dishes. Be creative and this can mystically transform not-fun into fun.

(To learn the #1 ritual you need to do every day, click here.)

Sometimes we get this far with change but the problem is how to keep it going. Reality can get in the way. Yes, it’s a troublesome thing and often leads to a Jenga collapse of all our good intentions. So what can we do?

 

How To Keep It Going

What did Katy find was the biggest reason we fail to sustain improvements? It’s shockingly simple: we forget. In fact, we forget a lot.

From How to Change:

We forget nearly half of the information we’ve learned within twenty minutes. After twenty-four hours, about 70 percent of it is gone, and a month later, we’re looking at losses of approximately 80 percent.

You forget 80% of what you learn. (I know you just read that but I’m saying it again because I once read something somewhere about how quickly we forget.)

Our hand is already in the bag of chips before we remember we’re on a diet. We remind ourselves we’re trying not to procrastinate but only after we’re surfing the web. There aren’t enough post-it notes in the universe to address all the times we can forget our new big plans.

Luckily, there’s a better way. It’s called “implementation intentions.” Simply put, that means making a plan for achieving a goal and linking it to a specific cue that will remind you to act.

From How to Change:

Students who had approached their goals in the typical way had a measly 22 percent success rate, while those who (used implementation intentions) reported a whopping 62 percent success rate.

Implementation intentions take the form of “When ___ happens, I’ll do ___.” It’s like a rule for your brain. “When I wake up, I’ll go to the gym” or “When I see the dessert menu, I’ll just order coffee” or “When I see the cops, I’ll run.”

Beyond that, you want to take your goal and make as specific a plan as possible instead of just having a “wish.” Don’t just say what you want to achieve; think about the concrete steps you’re going to take to get from here to there and when you’ll implement them. The difference between “going to the gym more” and “jogging at the park every day from 6PM to 7PM” is enormous.

(To learn how to be happier without really trying, click here.)

But you’re going to want to go back to your old ways when you’re tired or stressed. There will be temptation. So what can we do about that?

 

How Not To Give Up

The great writer Victor Hugo liked to party. And when he was trying to finish “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” this was a problem. So what did this super-extrovert do?

He locked up all his clothes. Unable to go out, he finished a first draft. While I won’t go so far as to say nudity is the secret to great literature, hey, it worked.

This is what is formally known as a “commitment device.” Yes, Odysseus, tying yourself to the mast to resist the Sirens of life is a proven psychological principle.

From How to Change:

…one study of two thousand smokers found that having access to a cash commitment device (in this case, a savings account in which they could deposit money they would recover only if they passed a nicotine urine test in six months) helped people quit… Similar cash commitment opportunities have been shown to help gym goers exercise more, dieters lose more weight, and families buy healthier groceries.

Figure out an amount of money you would be very uncomfortable losing. Give it to a friend and tell them your goal and deadline. You don’t hit the deadline, you don’t get your money back. For bonus motivation, you can instruct your friend to donate the money to a cause you hate if you fail.

Yes, this is scary. And that’s exactly why it has a high likelihood of working: it gives you the motivation and pressure we all usually go out of our way to avoid.

Do you have the guts to use a commitment device? (We pause as the tension becomes as thick as a flat earth believer.)

If not, you can dial it down a notch. The above is a “hard” commitment device but you can also try a “soft” one where the threat is merely psychological, like embarrassment. Write a commitment regarding your new goal and email it to friends you would not want to disappoint. Leverage that fear to improve.

(To learn the two-word morning ritual that will make you happy all day, click here.)

Okay, with each click of the ratchet we’re getting better. So how do we keep finding ways to improve… and get closer to those we love in the process?

 

How To Keep Improving — With Friends

We are deeply influenced by those around us, but often don’t realize just how much.

I went to college with Elon Musk. Yes, really. I also went to college with a murderer who fled the country and faked his own death. Yes, really. Let’s hope I’m more influenced by the former than the latter.

Peer pressure is real and can be both good and bad. (When you think about it, tradition is pretty much dead people peer pressuring us.) Hanging out with the right people can spur you to greatness. Hanging out with the wrong people is like pouring Miracle-Gro on your character defects. But we can leverage this.

If a friend has been successful in a domain you want to improve in, ask them for tips. Yeah, that’s pretty standard advice. But you can supercharge this process with the “copy and paste method.”

From How to Change:

In two studies led by Wharton doctoral student Katie Mehr, we found that encouraging people to copy and paste one another’s best life hacks motivated both more exercise and better class preparation in adults who wanted to work out more and college students seeking to improve their grades, respectively.

Taking the time to write down advice from a friend can really help those tips cross the blood-brain barrier. And by making improvement part of your close relationships, you’ll think more about how to successfully implement those changes in your life.

It’s the more organic form of the concrete planning we talked about earlier, and studies show this angle is even more powerful. And having those friends around – friends you don’t want to disappoint – turns peer pressure into a positive “soft” commitment device.

From How to Change:

When we dug into the data, we discovered that seeking out exercise hacks to copy and paste led people to find tips that best fit their own lifestyles. What’s more, taking a more active approach to information gathering increased the time participants spent with their role models, increasing their exposure to good habits.

And doing this helps you become closer to your friends. Open up about your weaknesses and desire to improve. Compliment them on their success. Ask for help. Then copy and paste.

Your efforts toward change are more likely to succeed with the help of those you care about. Learn together. Grow together.

(To learn how to make emotionally intelligent friendships, click here.)

Okay, we’ve learned a lot. Time to round it all up and discover the counterintuitive trick that will give you the confidence to get started on all of this…

 

Sum Up

This is how to make a big change:

  • To Get Going, Create A Fresh Start: You just read an amazing, truly awe-inspiring blog post about change! What a momentous occasion! Sounds like “fresh start” time to me…
  • To Get Motivated, Make It Fun: Start pairing everything you “should” do with something you love to do. This not only takes the pain out of doing the right thing, it also allows you to spend more time doing fun stuff.
  • To Keep Going, Use Implementation Intentions: Remember the “if-then” structure. If I read good advice in a blog post, Then I will actually do what it says.
  • To Not Give Up, Use Commitment Devices: When my friend Billy goes to restaurants he dumps the entire pepper shaker on half his French fries. Wasteful? Maybe. But he’s definitely not going to struggle with resisting them now. Odysseus would be proud.
  • To Keep Improving, Cut And Paste: I didn’t know Elon Musk during college and I don’t think I’ll be reaching out to the murderer for tips on anything. But I do have some good friends I will be copy and pasting advice from.

That copy and paste method is great because we get insight. But what can give us the confidence to actually follow through with it? Ironically, the answer is giving advice.

From How to Change:

The students who had given just a few minutes of advice performed better in these classes than other students. To be clear, giving a handful of study tips to other kids didn’t turn C students into valedictorians, but it did boost performance for high schoolers from every walk of life…

Why would this work? Because saying it makes you believe it, and that motivates you to do it.

From How to Change:

…when someone asks for guidance, we tell them to do what we would find useful. And after offering that advice to others, we feel hypocritical if we don’t try it ourselves. In psychology, there’s something called the “saying-is-believing effect.” Thanks to cognitive dissonance, after you say something to someone else, you’re more likely to believe it yourself.

It’s a great tool because who is your advice perfectly tailored for? Yup, you. For bonus points, form an advice club to keep learning, sharing, and growing.

The research says this works, but more personally, I can tell you it has worked for me. I copy and pasted a lot of stuff above and a lot more stuff over the 12 years of writing this blog. Learning and sharing it all with you has helped me in many wonderful ways I cannot even begin to explain.

In movies, someone goes back in time and does some little thing that has an enormous effect on the present. That’s great for fiction.

But for our lives it’s better to think about how you can change some little thing now — and have an enormous positive impact on your future.

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