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Have you ever been successful in changing your personality?
105 points by bgurupra on July 13, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 80 comments
First a brief background about me.I am 30 years old IT Architect working in the IT Services wing of a large MNC.Almost for the last ten years I have dreamed of doing interesting things like doing a start up,hacking on open source software, learning quantum mechanics, learning music etc.I believe I am most happy when I do creative things.

Now here is the problem.From the time I can remember I have always been lazy and procastinate everything till the dead last moment(I have almost made procastination into an art form).Almost always I find some excuse or another to not do either the regular mundane day to day administrative type of work nor do I ever get to do the more "creative" type of work which I sincerely want to do.

Now a lot of people told me I am just a lazy jackass and should get off my ass and get something done.That does sound like a simple solution but every time I try by planning my day and focusing on my tasks it works out for a few days and if I am lucky even a week or so but inevitably I get back to my old ways.This leads to a lot of stress for me because I am never truly happy - its almost like one part of me wants to do something and another part of me does everything to prevent me from doing it and the vicious cycle never lets me have any kind of satisfaction with anything I do

Now I have started to believe that my laziness is a part of my personality and probably more hard wired in me than I think.

It would be truly truly helpful if anybody out here ever who suffered a similar problem and were able to get out of it can provide some advise or even if they were able to successfully change a personality trait for life.Thanks in advance

It takes 30 days to form a new habit. You just have to get there. Routine is the key. And early mornings are the best, because you never have the excuse to say "I've had a shitty day at work, all I want is a pizza and a beer". For me it was the gym. Every morning (almost!) I roll in there at 6am before I'm even really awake. "Alright, lads" I say, "alright", they reply, it's always the same crowd, they are very serious people, and now I am pretty serious too. And I don't need to force myself to do it now either, because it's what I do, I'm the sort of person now who in the winter when it's dark outside will trudge through the snow then train so hard in an unheated former warehouse that steam pours off me and I like being that person.

So set your alarm an hour earlier tomorrow and commit yourself to playing your guitar (or whatever) for an hour before starting your day. If you're tired and go to bed an hour earlier, so what, you were going to waste that hour watching TV anyway, get some sleep and get up early and do it again the next day. Then soon this will just be what you do and you'll wonder how it was ever any other way.

Also as Confucious said, if a man chases two chickens they will both get away.

Agreed. I was having trouble focusing for a while and started biking 25 miles immediately when I woke up every morning. Doing the exact same loop every day started a pattern that I could follow for the rest of the day and I became a much more disciplined person.

In the beginning of the ride I would think about the previous day. If there were parts of it I was unhappy about I would think about how to fix them today.

The middle of the ride was new business, figuring out how today would rock.

The end of the ride was random brainstorming and more focusing on my time and body.

In other words, find an experience at the beginning of the day that you can use as a crutch. The experience should be strikingly different than the beginnings of your previous 10 lackluster years.

Wouldn't it be sad to find yourself writing to us in 10 years saying the same thing?


This advice is similar to Jerry Seinfeld's, which I also find to be excellent. http://lifehacker.com/software/motivation/jerry-seinfelds-pr...

There's a webapp based on that at http://dontbreakthechain.com/ (not mine!)

I could see that web site being a lot more interesting and compelling if it gave you some sort of visual discovery for each new day. If you break the chain, you have to start back at the first one.

The seinfeld method is amazing. I rarely flossed my teeth but, for some odd reason, really wanted to make it a habit. I used the seinfeld method for 2 months (guess I'm a slow learner) and now I floss every single day no matter what.

Other method for getting into flossing: marry a dentist. Worked for me at least...

I independently developed the same method as Seinfeld's but using Google Calendar. I make an entry of a particular color everyday I've been to the gym. The point here is I don't make future appointments on when to go, but rather make an entry at the end of the day every time I have actually been. The psychological effect of not breaking the chain pushes me to keep going. It really works for me!

As cheesy as his implementation suggestion sounds (Don't break the chain!) I found it actually works quite well.

This tip is awesome.

Agreed. One addition, you can tie habits to objects either consciously or unconsciously. You probably didn't feel like that guy who'll train at 6am every day when you got up in a pair of boxers, but when you got into your gym stuff I bet that changed entirely.

I bet there's a ton of joggers who don't feel like going out when it's -5C and there's the first sign of snow on the pavement, but they put on their tracksuit and go.

I'm a writer. I sit down at my desk in front of my laptop, turn on the lamp, feed Curly, Hugs and Kisses (my three goldfish who would get multiple daily feeding's if I didn't drop this step after the morning) open my laptop, plug in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, set itunes playing and open my word processor. I quickly start writing where I left off. I don't even need the steps any more, I just sit down and write.

I have a pair of track pants (the disgusting ones with a plasticy outside) that when I put on I'll paint any room you put me in. I painted a room that was 40ftx40ft and then painted the ceiling. These became work pants unconsciously, they were just a crap pair of pants I didn't care about ruining, now they're a uniform.

They teach these kinds of cues in psychology for people with anxiety disorders. That when you pull on your right ear lobe you associate it with a happy memory, eventually you'll trigger the happiness when you do the action. This is what most children do by accident, they have a blanket or toy that soothes them and can be used to keep them calm.

Habits and routines are very powerful if you learn how to use them, but it's best not to rely on them or you can cause other problems (hence why children shouldn't be allowed to keep a blankey too long, or they'll develop a psychological dependence more powerful than cigarettes).

How right you are. I'm rarely ever "comfortable" in standard work clothes, but when I get home and throw on jeans and a t-shirt, the creative juices flow and I feel charged and ready to get stuff done, likewise when I open my blinds, I know it's time to clean the house.

That's one of the things I miss about working in the City, changing out of workclothes at the end of the day, it really did have a psychological effect.

Nothing more to add here but fantastic response! - You have just motivated me to get my ass in gear and do some stuff I have been putting off! - thanks

Actually right after I posted that, I went and joined the office Gym.Hopefully I'll stick to it for full 30 days!It really feels good to work out and I'll probably take a print out of this HN thread and stick it on my walls so that I'll always be reminded not to slack

So...? We need a progress report!

You absolutely can change this, but 30 days is optimistic. I was like this too, and it took YEARS to really break - not break to the point where I was successfully forcing myself to do these things, but break to the point where it was part of who I was. That said, you want to structure things so that in 30 days (or less) you can get some tangible feedback that the changes are working. The best concrete piece of advice I can give is not to be too ambitious at first. Don't set your alarm an hour earlier tomorrow, just set it 10 minutes earlier, and then increase from there.

As my old drill sergeant used to say, nothing gets it done like doing it.

I've seen the gym advice so many times already, but I just cannot motivate myself to do it. I understand that it's healthy, and I tried it for a couple of months, but I really thoroughly hate working out. It just doesn't seem to work for me. It doesn't give me "energy". It doesn't make me happier in any way. I perfectly believe that it's healthy and it's what I should do, but frankly after (or before) a day's work, plus the necessary housekeeping, I just can't be bothered to do anything that I don't like.

It's just about you. You need to surround yourself with people trying to improve themselves as well. Find a club for exercising or music or something - a place where everyone is dedicated to the task. It's one of the most powerful motivators.

Is your personality type 'INTP', perchance?

INTPs have these constant internal battles. We're good at concentrating and love working in the realm of ideas. However, we're often an impractical lot and procrastination is pretty rampant among the other INTPs I know. The biggest problem, I think, is that we just really suck at perceiving the passage of time, and the daydreaming, writing, or discussion of ideas is often rewarding enough just to stop there.

INTJs are supposed to have many of the same qualities of INTPs but tend to be more sure of themselves, and therefore, more productive (or more capable of delivering 'products' within 'deadlines'). They seem to live in the moment a bit more, and I would venture to guess that they make better entrepreneurs.

As an INTP, I feel I can relate to your situation. I too often wonder if my problem relates to a personality temperament, and truly can be changed. It really bothers me that I have little to show for all the work I do in my head, and this frustration has helped motivate me, but I still don't feel like I've been truly 'unlocked'.

To compound the problem, INTPs make up about 1% to 3% of the population, which means not many people can relate to the INTP mindset and are more likely just to call you a whiner without attempting to appreciate where you are strong, and why that strength makes you weaker in other areas.

Any INTPs out there who feel they've overcome their temperament's negative traits? How did you do it?

My basic conclusion about the "personality" issues regarding INTPs is that INTPs think way too much about personality. Once I stopped over-analyzing everything as it related to my "personality traits" and how I felt so weird and different from the general population, life got so much easier. Isn't there a saying something like . . .

"Humility isn't thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less."

That said, the MBTI can be a useful tool to help in communicating with others (understanding how they see the world, for example), but over-analysis on the personal psych issues can easily escalate into a big, bleak black hole of self-perpetuating discontent. Sometimes you just have to kick yourself out of your own rut by doing something drastic. Get out of your comfort zone. Put yourself into extremely uncomfortable zones. For the INTP, this usually involves being around people.

Disclaimer: I've tested INTP.

I'd like to second this. Obsessive self-analysis can be a real problem. Over the years, I've learned to take myself less seriously, and my life has definitely improved because of that. People are still tedious, but my tolerance has improved.

I managed to overcome the slacker lifestyle. However, this was forced upon me. I found myself without a home for a short while, then living with two roommates who were 10 years older than me. They were mildly dysfunctional slackers, and much worse off than myself. I think having a visceral reminder of what could be your future is a pretty solid motivator.

I'm on the border between INTP/J. Was definitely an INTP as a kid, then have gradually moved towards the J, such that I'd probably test as INTJ if I took it now.

For me, it helped being exposed to people who Got Things Done. My high school was a startup, my teachers were a bunch of go-getter early-20-somethings, and one of the school's founders was an experienced entrepreneur. That started my shift towards the dark side of the force.

Then when I got to college (still very much an INTP), I volunteered to rewrite a major Harry Potter fanfiction archive and couldn't exactly back out without disappointing 100k users or so. I think the experience of pushing through on that and finishing it was a major portion of what led me to believe I could finish other stuff as well.

It also helped that I can now concentrate on stuff I like doing and avoid much of the stuff I hate. I used to always procrastinate on writing papers - now, I just don't have to, because I went into computers. (Ironically, I still sorta write fiction as a hobby, but I'm as unproductive with it as I ever was with my school papers.)

Ay, you're perfectly right, I can identify myself with that too. Also, if I cannot find myself in what I have to do today, I simply won't do it, no matter what I believe or tell others about what I'm going to do, thats a hard learned experience and there seems to be nothing I can do against not not doing stuff that bores me.

If you're an architect you need to do these kinds of things, you will just not be happy doing something else, no matter what's best for someone else or what others tell you is best for you.

What helped me was to set me goals to achieve one thing after the other as well as an exit time. At that time I'm looking forward to simply do something else (as an example - while currently being employed and having all the luxury I could imagine (big pay, nice collegues, nice boss), I still need the perspective that I'm out of all that after 2 years of full work - otherwise I'd suffer from boredom).

wow! everything you described - is me.

"The biggest problem, I think, is...just to stop there" - i am ashamed to admit it, but yes that is me. everything you wrote is me. Actually, I know that if I take up a task, I do it completely(unless there is something that incites me,which usually happens when I am half way done with my task,but not completed - my visualization has come true, but not tested,incomplete functionality etc.) I didn't know there was a word for it. thanks!

yes I am indeed an INTP and every single word of your comment applies to me, boy you almost sound like my twin brother :-)

Have you ever lived in a different country? I mean really lived there, not just visited? Radically changing your environment can do very well in radically changing your conception of yourself. Does the large multinational corporation you work for ever give people in your department a chance to relocate? That might be a great growth opportunity for you.

+1. living in another country helped me expose and get rid of some of the bad habits i've wanted to get rid of, and start doing new thing i've wanted to do as well.

you probably won't know many people, and this removes a lot of the obligations and expectations that are placed on you by the people you've known for a long time back home.

this doesn't seem like such a big deal, but try changing your behavior and see what kind of reactions you get. very often you'll get negative reactions because your changed behavior threatens peoples' own understand of the world and their place in it.

a bit OT but one of the best things i've heard about someone's reaction to something you said or did: "it's not about you, it's about them". and 99.9% of the time, it's true.

anyways - yeah, live in another country :)_

+1 here too. Living abroad and especially learning another language changed me, and a positive way. Not exactly practical for everyone, but if more people did this the world would be a more understanding place.

Did it make me procrastinate less? I'll tell you the day after tomorrow =\ (not really).

What did get me out of the procrastination habit though, was the Getting Things Done book, I'm not ashamed to say. I'm not an adherent of everything in that book, but I followed the basic system it outlines until it became second nature.

The system allowed me to clear my plate enough for me to realize that the cause of my procrastination was a sort of paralyzing fear of all the 'stuff' I needed and wanted to do. The amorphous blob of stuff was completely overwhelming. It can be a very scary thing. And that fear gets converted into inaction. But when you have a reliable framework like GTD to break the stuff down into concrete action steps, that fear is evaporates, and you can actually DO.

I'm an armchair psychologist over here, but this was the case for me. YMMV.

Also, to echo the point of the post above, my girlfriend at the time (now wife) also was totally not supportive of the GTD thing...but later became very impressed with the transformation. Just because people aren't supportive of you changing, doesn't mean they don't love you, and that they won't come around. I catch myself behaving this way towards other people all the time.

I'm not convinced living abroad always engenders positive change. I lived in Japan for a year and I don't remember another time in my life when I behaved in a more unhealthy manner.

Meh, actually that's a good point. My first time living abroad was also in Japan, and come to think of it a good many people there were just there to party. For it to be positive you actually have to try and learn the language and engage in the culture. Also, the fact that I lived with a home stay family and made local friends helped (established meaningful relationships with locals).

I wasn't there to party, either. I was mostly hanging out with 50 year old salarymen! Frat boys on spring break in Cancun have got nothing on Japanese middle managers. I'll never understand how the Japanese have achieved the longest average lifespan. I'm a lightweight... if I had gotten wrapped up in the typical asian expat tweaker scene I'd probably already be dead.

Heh, ah memories, I can somewhat relate. I was a student in Japan, but spent a bunch of time hanging out with Taiwanese business men in southern China after that. The first block of time I spent there (relatively short) I couldn't speak mandarin at all, and it was pretty miserable experience. The second block of time I spent there, my mandarin had gotten pretty decent, and so I was able to flip everything into a learning experience...from learning words in Chinese like "static IP address" to how to politely refuse a karaoke prostitute my host habitually tried to force on me, those are some life and language experience I didn't get in the classroom =\

If you're an American living abroad, 6 months is the minimum, and you should really stay at least 9 months. Why? Language is everything.

Seriously - in most places sufficiently different from the US to be interesting, language will be your first and most formidable barrier, on the other side of which lies one of the most satisfying experiences you've ever had. It'll take 6 months after you arrive to cross the language barrier. Your life will rock afterward, so plan at least 3 months (more is better) to enjoy the awesome part.

Example: I noticed I'd crossed the barrier when I managed to land a gig drumming for a Tokyo funk band, and I was the only Gaijin in the bar at our first gig). From then on, life in Japan was awesome. I could call up and organize scuba diving trips in obscure bays on my own, I could pick up Japanese girls using only Japanese (try that!)


living in another country gives you the opportunity to reinvent yourself and exposes you to different ideas. it's up to you whether you embrace those opportunities or not.

nothing engenders positive change. it only happens if you choose to make it happen for yourself.

yes, I have been in the US for the last year and a half, right now in fact I even have about 6 weeks all to myself since my wife is back in India - so it gives me a lot of time to work on stuff if I can get to keep myself focused!Thanks guys lots of amazing amazing advice!

I have lived in US for a year before too, atleast in my company the work culture is much better here where people come in on time and leave on time and focus while working - so I kinda am more productive here than back home and this also gives me more free time

Some no nonsense anti- procrastination/perfectionism tips:

Structured Procrastination http://www.structuredprocrastination.com

The Cult of Done Manifesto http://www.brepettis.com/blog/2009/3/3/the-cult-of-done-mani...

Merlin Mann on Doing Creative Work http://www.maximumfun.org/sound-young-america/maxfuncon-merl...

Beating The Little Hater http://www.podtech.net/home/4760/beating-the-little-hater

Ze Frank on Executing Ideas Vs "Brain Crack" http://lifehacker.com/5142776/ze-frank-on-executing-ideas-vs...

Thanks!Appreciate all the links!

One thing I've learned is that you have the power of mind control. And the more you use it, the better you are at it.

So, in the case of trying to commit yourself to new goals, first decide on a goal. Then decide when you want to apply time to the goal. And then, most importantly, when you're not working on your goal, use mind control to not negatively think about the goal and the efforts involved to accomplish that goal.

Here's a dumb example, but it can be applied to many cases. Unloading the dishwasher. If, ahead of time, you think about the steps that you're going to have to take to unload the dishwasher, you won't do it. But if you use mind control, and don't think about the steps it's going to take to unload the dishwasher, but just think about the fact you need to unload the dishwasher, you will do it.

In other words, procrastinators over think things, to the point they overwhelm themselves. But you have to constantly use mind control, and understand that the more you use it, the easier it is to use.

I used to be a huge procrastinator, but using mind control, I've literally transformed myself into a person that can't stop working. I've been successful at this transformation for the last two years, so it's definitely working.

I've never used that term for it, but I know exactly what you're taking about. When I was trying to build up a habit of going to the gym every day after work, there would often be a part of my mind saying things like I'm too tired, I won't be able to get a machine, or I have more important ways to spend the next hour.

When this happens, I've started to develop a habit where another part of my brain keeps "yelling" just get off your ass and go, and listen to that one. So while one "half" is thinking about all the reasons I shouldn't go to the gym, I'm making the other "half" focus on going - and I find myself packing up my stuff and walking to the gym.

It sounds crazy (especially re-reading my description), but concentrate on the high-level idea of doing something (as opposed to how and why/why not), and you might find it easier to get it done.

Excellent point, Thank you!.I go over the task in my mind so many times that I get more and more overwhelmed and ever so often because of external pressure or deadline I am forced to complete it I realize that for what I probably wasted 2 weeks thinking about took only about 2-3 hours to get done

This may sound like a nonsequitur but take up rock climbing. I spent the better part of 10 years languishing in helpdesk hell dreaming of getting a job as a developer. I just could NOT muster the stuff to get off my ass and make the changes required to change career tracks. Too comfortable with the routine I guess.

I got interested in rock climbing after seeing some climbers in action during a vacation trip to Wyoming. I've been climbing for three years now and I'm employed as a web developer, I've gotten to speak at a major technical conference (used to have hideous performance anxiety), and I'm contributing to open source projects. I'm also in the best shape I've been in my life. Good luck to you.

A couple of thoughts, probably cribbed wholesale from elsewhere since I've read so much on these topics.

1. Set the bar low, and gradually raise it. Make your goal for tomorrow to work on a designated creative project for 30 minutes. If you can do it -- great. Set the same goal for the next day, or maybe a little more. Think of self-discipline training sort of like weight training. You can't suddenly, by dint of will, force yourself to bench press 600 pounds, let alone do a complete workout every day. Maybe your personal max right now is 30 minutes four times a week ... start with that and build from there.

2. [This is from the book Do It Tomorrow, which I recently read and enjoyed quite a bit.] Make your creative project your "current initiative," which means IT COMES FIRST. That might mean it's the first thing you do when you sit down at the computer after work (if you can't do it at work), or whatever ... but whatever you do, start working on it first, before getting bogged down in day-to-day stuff like answering email and reading HN :). As in (1), you don't need to set huge goals ...if you keep blasting away at something a little bit every morning, you'll start making some serious progress.

You can change this trait! I promise you, you're not stuck with it.

I'm about your age and I was a huge procrastinator and underachiever until only 2-3 years ago. Since then, mostly through "grit", I was able to acquire a job as a senior software engineer, despite having no degree, and not even owning a computer until I was 23.

I suspect you are like me in that you are much more interested in novelty and idea generation than in execution. I always had good ideas and did well on aptitude tests, but was seriously short on follow-through. I overcame my procrastination mainly following two principles:

1. Focus on one main project/goal at a time. Period. I know it sucks, but it's simply too easy to get distracted if you don't handcuff yourself. Every project has interesting parts and boring parts. If you have multiple projects, you end up thinking about the interesting part about some other project as soon as you get to a boring part of the first.

Figure that you'll do everything you want to do serially instead of in parallel. This makes it all the clearer how little time there is in life to do everything you want to do, and the realization is painful, but that's too bad. You aren't actually getting more done just because you've got multiple projects going on at the same time. In fact, for some (most?) of us, you're getting less done.

When you don't try to do anything seriously, it seems like you can do everything. It will be demoralizing to see how slow progress is when you're focusing on only one project. It's still worth it in the end, and you'll finally get a better understanding of the actual scope of your capabilities. This will allow you to make better decisions about time expenditure going forward.

Make the one thing you focus on have a definite end point. A goal. It can't be "get better at the piano". It has to be, "give a live performance".

Maybe some people can have multiple concurrent goals/projects. You can't. The sooner you face up to this, the better off you'll be. You'll feel like you're cutting off the boundless possibilities open to you. You ARE. That's life.

2. Do the boring parts. If you can learn to take pride in doing the boring parts, you will be formidable. A lot of idea people/dreamers never figure this out. Ideas are so damned fun to think about.

Count your blessings. In my opinion, it's easier to learn to do the boring parts than it is to become creative.

The advantage of focusing on one goal/project is that there's nowhere to hide when you get to the boring parts. If you want to finish, you have to do them. Your mind can't casually escape into thinking about the interesting part of another problem because there is no other problem. This is huge because the problem of avoiding boring parts is abstract, often gradual. It sneaks up on you. You've got to constantly be on guard for avoiding the boring parts of the project.

These days, I always know what my project is, and I can state it succinctly in one sentence. I keep it in my mind at all times so I know exactly where I'm going. In addition to the original inspiration, I take pride in powering through the dull intermediate steps of a project that most everyone else fall down on.

One activity where 'one thing at a time' doesn't work: research/invention. Edison was the classic multi-project guy: many research projects, most of them at any one time stuck waiting for him to find some way to progress them.

Serious researchers are forced to work like that. Some of them manage to apply it to the rest of their lives too. Don't ask me how, though :-(

You can learn to manage multiple projects after you master managing them one at a time. This doesn't mean you should be working on multiple projects at the same time though, multi tasking seems to be pretty solidly proven as less effective than serious focus.

your advice is truly motivating!You are spot on, I have ALMOST ALWAYS tried to pursue more than one project and almost always jump of the wagon when the boring parts hit and worse the guilty feeling of having not done the boring parts basically won't let me work on the other interesting piece too and I switch back and forth and give up eventually on both or do it with poor quality

Were you able to accomplish this transition while maintaining a relationship? (Genuinely curious, no insult, slight or negative implication intended)

No. Actually, it started when my 7 year relationship broke up, and I realized I wanted to be in complete control of my life before dating seriously again.

I'm a procrastinator, but that didn't stop me learning guitar or becoming a writer. I can easily write around 2,000 a day, just because I want to write, but that didn't come without a lot of effort.

As a procrastinator you'll never have the motivation to do something creative unless you force yourself to do it. I've wanted to be a writer since before I can remember, I was writing stories at 10 years old that were about as talented as a large bowel movement.

I'm now 21, I successfully procrastinated myself through highschool, college and into immigrating to another country. I'm forcibly unemployed (I don't want to jeopardise my immigration as I'm moving for QoL not money, UK->Canada) which gives me ample opportunity to procrastinate, but I quickly put an end to that.

I spent several months writing at every opportunity possible. When my wife naps, I'm on the computer writing. When I'm home alone, I'm writing. When I'm on the train I'm thinking through the next few paragraphs, I'm having arguments between characters in my head.

My advice for doing something creative, you've got to devote every free second you have to the task. Any work breaks, especially lunch breaks, the daily commute (either read a book on the train/bus or listen to an audiobook if you drive) . . . when you've done what you planned then you can procrastenate.

I've done my quota for the day, that's why I'm wasting time on HN and not working. I've always been lazy and I've never let it stop me from doing something I wanted to do.

It's entirely your choice if you do something creative or not, but to change who you are you've got to live the new life before it'll become you.

Two pointers:

1. Desperation helps. "Necessity is the mother of all invention." If you have to do something, you will. I was never able to launch products on time until I started taking preorders, promising a firm date, and guaranteeing we'd ship by that date. If I negotiate a project management contract, I like to negotiate for "guaranteed xyz milestones by zyx for abc pay" terms. Part of my pay attached to getting things done on time. I once put in 60 hours of work over 3 days to launch on time. (work 20 hours, sleep 4 hours, work 20, sleep 4, work 20, then sleep for like a whole day) (lots and lots and lots of caffeine, half delirious, but we launched on time) (also - not recommended).

2. Manipulate your environment. People tell me I have iron willpower a lot, and they admire that, etc, etc. Bullshit. I try to eat well, but if I have a bunch of chocolate and cookies and junk in my home, I eat it. So? I buy a bunch of clean, healthy, easy to eat food with low barriers. Want to jump on something tomorrow? Make a to-do list for the next day the night before, line up all the materials I need, and make a note, "Don't turn on computer until making these 3 unpleasant tedious phone calls." And so on.

Two very related, highly recommended posts:



Building your environment so success is easy and failure is hard helps a lot. It's hard to brute force willpower yourself against your environment. Changing your environment to suit your goals helps a lot.

If you're anything like me, I hope I can explain to you what's that and how to fix it.

I started digging into Rails and writing my first project with it while working on my dayjob. At this time I was still taking bass guitar classes and spending my last year at the university. Having all this things at once did not allow me to work on each one of them long and hard enough. Which led to procrastination. Which led to general unhappiness.

Then I decided to eliminate the less important things one by one. I quit the bass guitar lessons, then graduated from the university, then quit my job. Finally, I only had my Rails project on my mind. One thing. I became extremely productive and felt happier. Of course, later I had to look for another job (which I also quit), but I knew this was going to be temporary and I'm working on my new project again now.

I'm actually 23 and I imagine things are a bit different for a 30 y.o., probably with a family and responsibilities. But it seems to me that the real reason for procrastination is not being a lazy jackass. In fact, lazyjackiness is a reaction for trying to do too much things at a time and not thinking about the real priority, which is going to make you happy both in the short and long run.

So my advice to you: find a way to concentrate on this one most important thing for now, by all means find this way.

Consider this aphorism every time you want to procrastinate: "Make decisions based on what will lead to happiness, not what avoids discomfort." Think it over...

Maybe you can't decide on which "creative" type of work to do. One day you want to write iPhone apps, the next day you want to play prog guitar, the next you want to learn lisp, ad infinitum.

You can't do that. You have to decide on one thing and concentrate. Make it your bitch. Practice it well for 20,000 hours. I can't stress this enough, you have to commit to one thing. If you can't do that, you'll continue to backpedal (and continue to feel unhappy, per your definition.)

You'll also need some sort of motivation. It might be a person you don't want to disappoint who is asking about your progress and who is there for you when you want to quit. It might be some internal drive for perfection... It doesn't matter what ''it'' is, but that thing has to exist and you have to be emotionally tied to it.

Of course, let me know if you can figure out how to find the one thing to focus on... I can't.

yes that is definitely one of my problems, not sure how many grand plans I have made in the last 10 years where I wanted to do 5 different things at the same time and all have failed almost even before I began

There's a lot of excellent forward looking advice here - I particularly agree with those suggesting you set some bigger goals to motivate yourself, and commit for the 4 weeks / 30 days it takes to build a habit.

I have also found benefit working on my past with a personal coach (therapist, shrink, good friend - whatever works for you). A lot of my procrastination came from feeling guilty relaxing and doing casual things just for me - if I did that task right now I'd be able to relax, but because I felt guilty about that outcome I would drag out the task in front of me.

There were some other root causes I needed to work through, but in the last 3 months I've seen a massive turnaround in my personal energy and productivity. Results may vary, but I was ready to change and found dealing with past stuff helped me stick to the future goals and planning.

You need pain. All this "30 days to form a new habit" stuff is bullshit - for certain personality types anyway. I went to the gym for months but it eventually tailed off.

I've found the best motivator is always pain. I was sloppy at cleaning my teeth until I had some major dental pain and a ton of expensive dental surgery. Now I'm brushing and flossing all the time - guaranteed.

I used to be sloppy at dealing with e-mails. Now I try and get on the case right away as I found the pain and shame of dealing with irate people calling me up to be worse than just doing the e-mail.

So, pain, that's my recommendation. It's also something Tony Robbins tends to go on about. Find pains associated with undesired behaviors and realize them. Find pleasures associated with desired behaviors and realize them. The rest follows automatically.

I'd like to share a couple gems that psychology has actually produced:

1. One of the most important skills for success is the ability to distract yourself from immediate desires.

Delaying gratification, by looking away, thinking about something else is THE skill behind "self-control."

2. Expertise is developed in a very stable pattern of external motivation, mentoring, and consistent deliberate practice.

That means 1. Surround yourself with people who are doing what you want to do 2. Find someone to TEACH you how to do what you want to do and 3. Spend 30 mins a day rising to 2 hours a day over the course of a year or two on the target of your expertise. (Spending more time on the things you suck at than the easy bits) 10k hours later you'll be an expert.

Sources provided if needed!

Like someone mentioned, 28 days is what it takes to form a habit, through the formation of neural links in the brain.

However, to last 28 days, you will need something else to inspire you. Nothing works like love/sex, which are evolutionary needs embedded into our limbic memory. You have to somehow derive inspiration from either of these two to last 28 days.

I know because I have, on 2 occasions - and have achieved minor miracles :D . On others, I continue being the same as you. But its comforting ( and scary since I don't want to be 30 and still a lazy ass ) to know that there's more than one of us.

When you have those moments where you do actually get things done, are you still focusing on the mundane tasks? That might be why the inspiration isn't lasting. Set aside a small amount of time each day to work on some creative task. Don't obsess too much over picking something really impressive or useful; start small. Stick with it, and eventually you'll find yourself more energized toward everything else.

"We should be taught not to wait for inspiration to start a thing. Action always generates inspiration. Inspiration seldom generates action." -Frank Tibolt


Maybe it's not you that needs to change but how you fit in with the dominant early-bird culture.

My own experience suggests changing personal behavior, much less personality traits, is an uphill struggle that requires substantial effort. Gaius is right on the 30 days to make a habit theory...

As an experiment, I tried changing a life-long habit: from the time I carried a wallet, I always put it in my back left pocket. Did it without thinking. Always put my keys in my left front pocket (without thinking). I started putting my wallet in my right-back pocket, and my keys in my right-front pocket. It took a looong time to break myself of the habit. It was so easy to use the left pocket that I'd do it without thinking, and realize what I had done minutes later. After a while, it got easier, but I would still regress if I didn't pay attention. Now, putting the articles in my right pockets is reflex, but every once in a while I slip...

It has taken years to get to this point, and it was a learning experience: I'd read all the '30 day habit' books too. I guess it's easy to start a NEW habit, but changing an existing habit is hard work.


i did the left-right wallet thingy too; however, i often forgot where i put my keys (left/right?), ending up poking my pockets

those habits were gone once i employ belly-bag

Maybe, instead of struggling against yourself, why not try to figure out what you really want. I don't mean what you believe you should want, based on your talents, but what you actually want. Perhaps what you really desire, you think is wrong or out of reach, so you focus on things that you believe can be done, but eventually doesn't fullfill your soul. But above all, don't despair, because you're not alone in these quest, and it's not an easy one.

Best wishes!

My "hyperbrain" article series might be of interest to you. I go into quite a lot of detail to provide techniques that help with some of the characteristics of smart, highly distracted, obsessive people like us. Start here:


You might also like this entry (ignore the slightly misleading link-bait title, the principal on focus is a good one) http://thinksimplenow.com/productivity/the-4-hour-workday/

And also, http://zenhabits.com, this is a great resource of inspiration for me.

I managed to change a bad habit of mine--I've always had a problem getting up early. I changed this two years ago when I moved into a new house with large full-length windows in the bedroom. I discovered that when I kept the drapes open, I would consistently wake up around 6:30. With the extra time, I'm not rushed in the morning and even work out a few days per week.

For any kind of self-modification project, I strongly recommend the book "Self-directed behavior" by Watson & Tharp. It's the thinking man's (or woman's) self-help book, with general all-purpose advice for any kind of change. Very practical and very useful.

Thanks for asking this. I've been feeling the same way lately and many of the suggestions here seem like great ideas. Time to set my homepage to dontbreakthechain.com and hit the gym!

I'd like to think I've been successfully changing my personality continuously since I first started caring.

set the goal, write the goal down as a sequence of steps in a calendar - if a step seems too difficult break it down into smaller steps, do a little bit, measure your progress, adjust your schedule. repeat for 30 days. revisit your assumptions about your genetic laziness theory.

Good question. I changed "my personality" a few times according to your definition. Your description sounds to me as if you are both bored and not at all challenged.

A person who is interested in quantum mechanics is obviously not the right type to perform tedious IT tasks amidst corporate dullness.

Save a little money, then travel a while and take a book an quantum mechanics with you. The rest will follow. My changes were never complete but they worked.

Read "The Path of Least Resistance." Take notes. Read it again.

All other tips are just surface bandaids, attempting to cover up the real problem. Your symptoms are symptoms, not problems in and of themselves. No amount of commitment, tips, hacks, or self-badgery is going to change you if you don't attack the root of the problem.

As Einstein said, "Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them."

I, like you, spend a great deal of my time "up in the clouds,"so to speak. Grandiose, whimsical ideas are for the most part what keep me going, and do well to quell the drudgery of routine/secondary education. All I can say is a bit of pragmatism (which is borderline sacrilege to the ears of a dreamer) goes a long way in overcoming inhibitions or procrastination.

you can actually differentiate between your MBTI type (i.e. ENTP etc.) vs. your DiSC behavioral pattern - your personality might be the same but depending on the context (home, work, leisure) - your behavior can change from a Di to an IS or even an SC

You described me exactly except I'm only 22. I've lost a pretty serious relationship as well because I became a very "going through the motions" kind of guy and basically stopped really caring about anything.

My advice is to get yourself a mind mapping tool (xmind is free) and name the center item "Life" and just put down everything in your life on there. I just did this and have branches for Projects, Work, School, Social, Personal, and Financial. Fill up the the whole thing with both where you are and where you want to be.

I have found that having everything objectively in front of me instead of floating around my head drastically improves my ability to line them up and evaluate everything for what it's worth. By having it all laid out in front of you, you can see what areas need attention and which ones can hold off for a while.

Also, ideas aren't a bad thing. I find myself drowning in new ideas, almost to an ADHD level of lack of focus. The best thing you can do is pick 2 or even 3 of the main ones you want to focus on and write down everything else. You don't want to forget your ideas but at the same time you don't want to lose focus, so keep a notebook full of everything you think of until you have time to go through it.

Bite sized chunks are really important too. I fell into a lot of financial troubles because I just stopped caring, stopped opening my bills, just overall gave up. If that's the case, go through your finances and find out exactly how much you need to live on, add a few hundred for just in case, and divide that by 20 to find out roughly what you need to be making on a normal work day to get by. That way you can see at a moment's notice if you're working enough or not.

Lastly, I kind of just started feeling really guilty about the way I was acting. It didn't take much for me to drop everything and head to the bars with friends, and that lack of self control greatly impeded my ability to get work done. I've since developed a bad taste in my mouth and am consciously working on making sure I don't screw around as much.

It's easy to be lazy man, it happens. You have to harness your willpower to pull yourself out of the rut. Start small, track everything, and improve upon yesterday always. You'll get there, it just takes active thought to make it happen. Good luck.

EDIT: I almost forgot a big part of fixing things. Make lists. For everything. Grocery Lists, todo lists, goal lists. Todo Lists are the most important thing to help with procrastination.

What's important to remember is to make everything on your todo list "actionable" (to borrow from GTD). so don't put "build website for Greg"...instead put "setup server, install CMS, mockup template, etc...you want individual, achievable items, so that you can both: see what needs to be done, and see what has been done. This is key to you breaking your habit...

I can definitely say your dilemma is nothing new.

"I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do."


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