si dawson

experiments in self-improvement

Month: March, 2011

How To End Procrastination Forever

I had a realisation about procrastination that I just had to share.

In essence, procrastination is the end result of us having an aversion (or several) to the task at hand.

If you let go of all of those aversions, well, there’ll be nothing to stop you doing it, right?

Ok, so there are several ways to do this (aren’t there always?) however, the easiest one is this:

Just say “YES” (out loud, preferably).

Sales people have known this for years. If they can get a potential customer saying yes, about anything – the weather, the colour of their shoes, it doesn’t matter – it puts them into a decisive, powerful state of mind (aka a state of courageousness). A state of mind where one more yes is easy.

Don’t believe me? Check Amazon – ten thousand books with ‘Yes’ in the title. All about persuading people, making a sale, negotiating and so on.

The thing with procrastination is you’re really trying to sell yourself.

Pic by Megan Elizabeth Ann

So. Even if you don’t believe it (and you won’t, otherwise you’d be doing the task already) just say Yes. Then, release any tension you feel and let go of any thoughts or emotions that come up. Those are the specific aversions that are keeping you procrastinating.

In order to dig up all the aversions you have, simply ask a bunch of questions around the subject. Anything you think might bring up a reason not to do the task:

  • Can I do this? YES
  • Is it going to be easy? YES
  • Will I complete it quickly? YES
  • Will it be painless? YES
  • Can I start it now? YES
  • Can I get it finished? YES
  • Am I able to do it? YES
  • Will I do this? YES
  • Will I do this, NOW? YES

Hit every area you can think of. If you feel internal tension rising (“Wah wah, of course it’s gonna suck!”) then stick with that question, repeat it, saying yes each time (& letting go of every tension/emotion/thought) until you feel clear, and yes feels right.

If in doubt, keep coming back to “Can I do this?” and “Will I do this, NOW?” – those two will tap right into whatever it is that’s holding you back.

I’ve only just started playing with this, but holy crap, how could I not share this with you guys immediately?!?! Give it a shot, I think you’ll be as amazed as I have been.


    My Beautiful Dojo

    I thought I’d share where I train Aikido four days a week. It’s one of the most beautiful spots I know of in Melbourne.

    This is standing back, looking at our main training area (aka dojo).

    This was taken in the middle of the day, so normally when we train there’s a lot more shade than this. Given that it hits 45degC (113F) here, training in the sun is really not a great idea. It also makes it hard to see when someone is about to clonk you on the nose.

    The tree directly to the right is where I normally park my bike. I love that tree. In fact, here it is:

    Our primary shade source, aka, the steed hitching post

    I typically park my bike right under that tree (& give it an affectionate pat). It’s utterly glorious, shading both us and the grass. Shading the grass is great because it means the water doesn’t evaporate as quickly in the mornings, which keeps the ground noticeably softer for rolling on.

    Looking up through the branches at the (typically) gorgeous blue Melbourne sky

    Here’s what it looks like when I’m lying on my back, listening to music and gazing up at the sky, waiting for people to arrive for training.

    So what does Aikido in this space look like? Well, other than the hordes of (usually Chinese/Japanese) tourists that come wandering absent-mindedly through the middle of the training sessions, excitedly taking pictures and making karate chop poses, it tends to look like this:

    See the grace? The beauty under pressure? Yes, that's me, eating the grass

    You can see that gorgeous tree in the background, along with my utterly kickass 6th Dan Sensei, and the two other main guys I train with. Yes, we’re all blackbelt (now, not when the pic was taken).

    The great thing about this photo is that you get a real sense of the movement of Aikido, everyone circling around attacking our Sensei at once (when we’re not recovering our breath and/or spitting out grass) and getting our asses kicked in return.

    We don’t normally train in hakama (the baggy trouser things we’re wearing) though, they’re too hot, fussy and would just get crazy muddy. That’s just for the photo. We do wear black gis though (very unusual for Aikidoka)- hides the dirt better, you see!

    The guy on the right always, always does the V-for-victory sign anytime anyone takes a photo of us.. which gets hellishly amusing when he’s mid breakfall & someone is shooting. He always manages it though. Cracks me the hell up.

    These are incredible, wonderful, beautiful people. Something about this style of Aikido seems to attract them.

    Oh, and yep, that is a valid technique I’m doing (well, a front breakfall, really). I’ve just been thrown in such a way that I landed utterly horizontally (unable to roll), so you absorb the impact with your arms, then roll your body into the ground from the chest down. Most of the impact is then taken with your arms & chest, with your legs curving to the ground after you’ve mostly landed (hence feet much higher than main body)

    My back should be slightly more arched, but this pic was taken a coupla years ago, so I’m sure I’m super awesome at it by now.

    We used to train slightly south of here (directly behind the main tree – you can see it in the background of the above pic):

    Our old training area, in the middle of a circle of five gorgeous trees

    This was such an incredible place to train, right in the centre of this circle of trees. It was like we were being protected, hugged by the trees while we trained. SO great.

    Unfortunately a couple of summers back things got really dry, and the groundskeepers dug up the earth in the middle to lay new water pipes, and the ground never really recovered – it’s stayed lumpy and grassless (hard to see in this pic, and really only a smallish patch, but enough that you notice when you’re trying to roll on it). Still a perfect picnic location though.

    The groundskeepers also do a really interesting thing where they pile up dirt in a giant half circle several meters across, on the downward slope around each tree (like a big ‘C’ around the trunk). Then when they water, or if there’s any dew, it collects next to the dirt mounds, inside the ‘C’ & soaks into the roots of the tree, rather than just washing away. This is done because the ground gets so incredibly hard that water just runs right off without a chance to soak in, so then the trees would die. I’ve never seen that done anywhere else, but this particular garden (Fitzroy Gardens) has won awards for how much they’ve managed to do with so little water.

    On the day I took this, I also visited the Botanical Gardens, and saw turtles flirting with each other:

    Turtles slipstreaming each other for greater speed & energy efficiency

    See now, turtles don’t do a whole lot of talking so I couldn’t quiz them what was going on, but I’ve narrowed it down to the following three possibilities:

    1. They’re in a race and slipstreaming for efficiency
    2. The back one is trying to mount the front one (who’s a bit shy)
    3. The front one has just farted and is being mean

    But I’m no turtle expert, so you’d best google it for yourself.

    I also saw some of these, but apparently they don’t exist:

    I just loooove the light on this

    Luckily, black swans almost never occur. Oh wait,  there’s one.. two.. three.. ffffff… what stocks was I long again? CRAP! (ho ho, trader humour, never goes out of fashion)


      TV Is Heroin Crossed With Hypnosis

      I haven’t owned a TV in almost 20 years. I don’t miss it at all.

      Note that I didn’t say I don’t watch TV. I and everyone I know does.

      TV is everywhere these days: your phone; the internet; public spaces;  download & watch it on your computer. The only real changes are the increased ease of time shifting (choosing when we watch), placeshifting (where we watch), and largely optional advertising.

      Is TV Relaxing?

      Yes, but not in the way you’d expect.

      Robert Kubey and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi did a study which appeared in Scientific American in 2002[1]. Participants carried a beeper which beeped several times a day and when it did, they wrote down what they were doing and how they were feeling.

      When beeped while watching TV, people recorded feeling relaxed and passive. What was surprising was that the relaxation ended as soon as the TV was switched off, but the feelings of passivity and lowered alertness continued.

      Additionally, the participants had more trouble concentrating after viewing than before, and EEG studies showed less mental stimulation (identified by increased alpha brain wave production) while watching TV. Neither occurrences happened as a result of plain old reading.

      In other words, we associate “watching TV” with “being relaxed” (so we do relax), but after we finish watching we can’t concentrate, feel sluggish, and become as stressed (or more so) than before.

      Despite all this, of course, we keep on watching.

      pic by claudia-ann


      Substance dependence is defined (very roughly, it’s a big subject) as: spending a lot of time using the substance; tendency to increase the dose (using more than you planned); a psychological or physical dependence on the effects of the substance; a desire to continue using the substance for the sense of improved well-being it creates; giving up social, family or work activities to use it; experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you stop using it.[1]

      Not all addictions are chemical, of course. Any behavior that leads to a pleasurable experience will be repeated, especially if that behavior requires little effort. The psychological term for this is  “positive reinforcement.

      Two experiments were conducted[2] where people were asked to stop watching television. In the first, South African families agreed to switch off for a month. The poorest family gave up after a week, others suffered from depression, saying they “felt like they had lost a friend.” In the second, 182 West Germans agreed to avoid TV for a year (with the added bonus of payment). None lasted more than six months, and all of the participants showed increased anxiety, frustration and depression. Yes, the exact symptoms of heroin withdrawal.

      from Requiem for a Dream

      HEROIN? WTF?

      In order to understand television addiction, it’s important to note what is happening inside our brains.

      When you watch TV, brain activity switches from the left to the right hemisphere. How much? Research by Professor Herbert Krugman[3] showed that the right hemisphere becomes twice as active as the left, an extreme neurological anomaly.

      The crossover from left to right releases a surge of endorphins, which include beta-endorphins (pain numbing) and enkephalins. Endorphins are structurally identical to opium and its derivatives (morphine, codeine, heroin, etc.). Activities that release endorphins (also called opioid peptides) are usually habit-forming. External opiates act on the same receptor sites (opioid receptors) as endorphins, so there is little difference between the two.

      Just like any addiction, people regularly overestimate their control over television watching. When people estimate how much TV they watch, their guesses are usually far lower than the reality.


      There are further implications of the left-to-right hemisphere blood flow effect.

      Further research by Krugman revealed that our brain’s left hemisphere, which processes information logically and analytically, tunes out while we are watching television. The left hemisphere is the critical region for organizing, analyzing, and judging incoming data[4]. This tuning-out allows the right hemisphere of our brain, which processes information emotionally and uncritically, to function unimpeded.

      In other words, we switch off our critical thinking abilities and just absorb anything thrown at us. We watch emotionally, not intelligently.

      Further to this, psychophysiologist Thomas Mulholland found that after just 30 seconds of watching television the brain begins to produce alpha waves, which indicates torpid (almost comatose) rates of activity. Alpha brain waves are associated with unfocused, overly receptive states of consciousness (as with the left-to-right hemisphere shift). High frequency alpha waves do not normally occur when the eyes are open. In fact, Mulholland’s research implies that watching television is neurologically analogous to staring at a blank wall.[6]

      Production of alpha waves and the subsequent receptive state are also the goal of hypnotists. They’re both present during the “light hypnotic” state used by hypno-therapists for suggestion therapy.

      Of course, when this research came out the advertising industry jumped all over it. Marketers began designing commercials that were utterly irrational (since that part of the brain is switched off) but intended to implant moods that the consumer will then associate with a given product. Endorsements from athletes and celebrities are great for this.

      pic by photo extremist


      Some other interesting things happen in the brain while we’re watching television.

      The higher brain regions (the midbrain/neo-cortex, ie “cognitive parts”) are shut down, and most activity shifts to the lower brain regions (the limbic system, our “reptilian brain”). Our limbic system controls our very basic “fight or flight” response.

      Researcher Jacob Jacoby found that, out of 2,700 people he tested, 90% misunderstood what they had watched on television only minutes before.[5] That’s what happens when our higher brain functions are switched off.

      Furthermore, the limbic system can’t tell the difference between something we’re watching, and reality. Anything we see in front of us is real to our vestigial reptile brain. Identifying the difference between reality and fiction is a job performed by the neo-cortex (which is off, remember).

      What it all means is this: With our neo-cortex out of the picture, our limbic system then reacts to TV as if it were real, and releases the appropriate fight/flight  hormones (with the concurrent stresses that places on the body). Add to that, longitudinal studies have shown that extended lower brain activity leads to higher brain atrophy. The more TV we watch, the poorer our cognitive brain functions.

      In other words, too much TV makes us stupider and more emotionally reactive, more animalistic.

      TV IS worse than you think

      In summary: It’s highly addictive, makes us docile (without actually relaxing us), stresses us as if we experience everything we see, makes it harder for us to concentrate and over time really does make us stupider.

      I’m sure this is all of little surprise.

      Will it stop me watching? Probably not (see also: opiate addict).

      However, I sure as hell am going to be a lot more discriminatory in what I choose to watch. While I’m watching TV, my brain is passively absorbing 1800 pictures a minute (ie, 40,000 pictures in a half hour show, along with all the emotion). I like my brain, thank you, and would prefer more of a say over what’s inside it.

      As a starting point, I’m going to stop watching visual media (except in social situations – don’t need to become a pariah) for at least a month. It should be an interesting mini-experiment.


      [1] Kubey, R. & Csikszentmihalyi, M. ‘Television addiction is no mere metaphor’, Scientific American, February 2002 [abstract] [pdf]

      [2] “Millions Addicted To The Box” Eastern Province Herald, South Africa. 23 Oct 1975. [no online doc available]

      [3] Krugman, Herbert E. ‘Brain Wave Measures of Media Involvement’, Journal of Advertising Research, 1971; 11.1, 3–9 [pdf] [online doc]

      [4] Gazzaniga, M.S. ‘The Split Brain Revisited’, Scientific American, special edition, July 1998; 12 (1) 27–31 [pdf]

      [5] Jacoby, Jacob & Hoyer, Wayne D. `Viewer Miscomprehension of Televised Communication: Selected Findings’, Advertising & Society Review – Volume 1, Issue 1, 2000 [abstract] [online doc]

      [6] T.Mulholland. The concept of attention and the electroencephalographic alpha rhythm. In Attention in Neurophysiology, eds C. Evans and T.Mulholland. London, Butterworths, 1969, 100-127. [no online doc available]


        Are You Using The Internet, Or Is The Internet Using You?

        I’ve been giving my internet use a bit of thought recently.

        I realised (wild generalisation alert!), there are two primary ways I use the internet:

        1. To waste time
        2. To find information

        and, of course, a few secondary ways:

        • To build, create, produce, expand (eg, write a blog post, build a business, send love to people)
        • To communicate
        • To provide services to others

        Sites like Facebook, Twitter etc are built on communication – but even there, most of the time we’re really just doing something because it fills in time. I.e., we’re firmly in category 1.

        The time-wasting sites are easy to spot. We go there when we’re trying to avoid or escape from something else (drudgery, unpleasant tasks, boring work). We look up and the next thing we know, hours have passed. We have slightly more information in our head, sure, but it’s of dubious benefit.

        The question underneath all this is simple: Are we expanding or contracting our life? Are we producing or consuming?

        If all we’re doing is consuming, that’s a contraction. We’re not adding anything to the world and generally, we’re actually disconnecting from the people & things around us. Trite chit-chat is no substitute for a heart felt conversation.

        If we’re producing something, that’s an expansion. We’re adding value to the world.

        If we’re using the internet as a conscious tool, then it’s working for us. If all we’re doing is wasting time? Really, we’re working for it (and the pay rate is lousy)

        Based on this, I’ve switched off access to my primary time waster sites (reddit, slashdot, hacker news, boing boing, kottke). As interesting as they are, it’s time for me to more consciously choose what I put into my mind.

        Minimise the external (and typically trivialising) influence, maximise my internal choice.