Every so often I’ll be introducing you to one of my heroes. This week my procrastination theme has led me to Barbara Oakley, a professor of Engineering at Oakland University, Michigan, who is known for her book A Mind for Numbers and her training in the art of learning. She’s my hero because she explains some key shared ideas of people in top professions that allow them to excel at their subjects and does so in a simple way that means I don’t need a degree in engineering to understand them; great news for me! Here’s the best of it from a talk at Google https://youtu.be/vd2dtkMINIw.
Her topic as a whole is not directly related to time management or procrastination but she does offer a brilliant explanation of procrastination while explaining how to take the “time to build the neural scaffold” when switching between focused and relaxed learning modes – it rings so true I almost cried.
She explains: “If you look at something you don’t like, the pain sensors of your brain actually activate… So what do you do when you feel pain?…Well, you have two different ways of handling it: The first way is you can work through it, like, 20 minutes or so and the pain will gradually disappear, but if you are like most people, what you’ll do is you’ll just turn your attention to something more pleasant and, guess what! You’ll feel better immediately”
The best definition of procrastination: avoiding pain. And if we avoid it enough, it becomes an addictive thing to do. It’s been said that you are half way to solving a problem when you admit there is one. Like being told that you’ll hit a wall during the Marathon (not that I’ve done this) or being told that child birth is the most painful thing you’ll ever do (let’s not talk about it) – this knowledge works to galvanise you so your fibres scream “let’s do this, grr!”. And if that doesn’t actually work for you, granted head barely rules heart most of the time, then Oakley goes on to recommend a very practical technique called the ‘Pomodoro Technique’ which I’ll probably touch on during my next post.
So, thank you Barbara Oakley for teaching me a bit about my brain, you are my hero!