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Why Procrastination Works

What do jets, the Internet, microprocessors, helicopters, microwave ovens, interstate highways, and digital photography have in common? They all either came directly from, or were heavily influenced by, the military. This is surprising at first. How is the military the driving force behind these massive innovations? You would think Silicon Valley tech companies or Ivy League engineers would be behind them, not the military. So how does this make sense?

The answer is motivation. Motivation is the fire that fuels progress, and there is no one more motivated to achieve huge breakthroughs than the military. In your day-to-day life, solving big problems might mean a chance to earn more money or to not get fired. But for the military, coming up with a breakthrough can save millions of lives. This is the power of motivation.

Take an example of motivation from your own life. Think back to school and studying for tests. It’s Friday, and you are finishing up a chapter in your textbook. Before class lets out, the teacher tells/reminds you that the test on this chapter is next Wednesday. When do you start studying? Probably not over the weekend, you obviously have better things to do! If you are like me, you might open up the book a little on Monday, but not a lot of studying is done. Instead, you procrastinate and wait until Tuesday to cram it all in one night, even though you had five nights to prepare. We (or at least, I) do this because there is no incentive to start early, no prize that you will receive. You have no motivation to study, and therefore it falls low on your priority list. On Friday, watching your favorite movie or getting dinner with friends is more important than studying. However, there is no tomorrow when Tuesday night rolls around; you have no choice but to cancel your plans and cram.

To get where we want to go in life, and to accomplish our goals, we have to motivate ourselves. Procrastination is one way to turn up the pressure and motivate us to get our work done. Studying on Friday would not help much as studying on Tuesday because we wouldn’t be very focused, knowing that we have five more days to study after this. In this way, procrastination can be the motivating factor to accomplish a task, although it is not the most productive way. We can find better examples, such as the story of the Spanish conquistador, Hernan Cortes. Cortes landed in Veracruz in the 16th century to begin his conquest of the Aztec empire. In order to motivate his men, he ordered them to burn the boats that got them to Mexico in the first place, giving them no way to leave. In this sense, they had no escape, no Plan B, nowhere to run back to. Their only option was forward, which gave them extra incentive and extra motivated to succeed. Whether this story is factual or just a legend is besides the point; it gives you an extreme example of the power of motivation.

We can set goals and create habits, but we need to be motivated to follow through. Relying solely on willpower won’t work; there are days where we are too tired or too busy. What boats can you burn in your life to make sure you are always motivated? If you want to start studying earlier for that test, make a bet with your friend to quiz each other every night and see who can get more answers right. If you want to run a marathon, buy running shoes, sign up for a race you have to pay for, and tell all of your friends to follow you on a running app so you can’t back out. If you want to read more books, cancel your Netflix subscription and turn off your phone so that you aren’t tempted to turn to an easy distraction. If you want to write a book, go to a coffee shop and don’t allow yourself to leave until you write 10 pages. If you want to lose weight, make a pact with a friend to hold each other accountable and work at it together.

Don’t give yourself an out. Whatever it is, we need to find more ways to burn the boats, to motivate ourselves, to create situations where the only path is forward. If you want to start your own business, the best path forward is to quit your current job and go all-in. You can put it off, or be half-in, half-out, for months or years without giving it a real chance. If you watch Shark Tank, you’ve probably heard Mark Cuban talk about eating ketchup and mustard sandwiches and sleeping on the floor of his apartment. He talks about how this was the best motivation, and one of the main reasons he became so successful. If he didn’t work hard, he didn’t get proper meals or a proper bed. He didn’t have another job that could provide for him if it didn’t work out, he had no Plan B, nowhere else to go. THAT is motivation to work hard, and look at where it got Cuban.

To progress in our lives, we need to be properly motivated. We have talked about getting to a 10, figuring out what you really want in life and how to get there. Motivation is the fuel that gets us to our dreams and goals. If you truly want to change a behavior, start a new habit, or break an old habit, find a way to burn the boats and give yourself the proper motivation.

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