I was almost going to name this post “Don’t Be Lazy,” but after some thought, I realised that I would be being hypocritical about it. I’ll be honest, I’m lazy, and I enjoy being lazy. I rationalise my laziness by telling myself that I’m just trying to be efficient, that I want to spend the least amount of time achieving the greatest number of tasks. In some ways it works (but that’s a topic for another tip-post!), but the fact remains that I am lazy.
So for the lazy-bones among us, how do we fix it? My strategy is to hate the bitter taste of regret. Some of you will know the feeling well. It starts with leaving homework or exam-prep to the very last minute (maybe because of a computer game?), and leads on to panic, and the deadline or examination itself. Your grades come back, and it’s a failing grade that you know should at least be a pass. Or it’s a pass that you know should be a distinction. Whatever it is, on too many occasions, you know that you could have done better. And THAT is the bitter taste of regret.
“But oh wise teacher,” you object, “I know that, but I still end up slacking until the very last minute!”
Yeah, OK, I hear you (and I appreciate that you think I’m wise). I’m like that too, sometimes. I’m the kind of person who has to be taught how to tame my own mind, and the writings of Albert Ellis have helped me in this regard. The essential idea behind his philosophy is that we can think our way out of our bad habits. He uses an “ABC” model, which stands for the Activating event, your Beliefs, and the Consequence. For example:
A: An examination is coming up, and you have to study for it to do well.
B: You feel anxious about it, and you believe that playing computer games will help you relax before you get down to studying.
C: You end up playing for hours and hours, leaving you no time to study. As a result, you do badly.
So, for whatever Consequence you abhor, you have to look at the Belief that causes your actions, and change that. Most of the time, we can’t change the circumstances of our lives (the Activating events), but we CAN change how we respond to those circumstances. If you acquaint yourself well with how BAD regret tastes, you can easily do away with your destructive beliefs. Just keep on reminding yourself of the time you felt the terrible, sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach because you wasted your time, because you didn’t do what was difficult first.
Your new belief could be:
“While playing that computer game will be fun, it will also cause me to ignore my studies. And I absolutely HATE THAT FEELING OF REGRET. So I’ll do what’s difficult. I’ll study now, and after the exams I can spend my time on that horribly addictive computer game.”
So, be lazy if you want to, but remember, it’s terribly hard work to get over that feeling of regret. And you don’t want that, do you?
To learn more about Albert Ellis and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, click here.
*Edit (22 Jan 2014): I watched Kathryn Schulz’s wonderful talk on not hating ourselves for the mistakes that we’ve made, because regret is a productive feeling when we are concerned about ourselves, and the people around us. (To hate the feeling of regret, and to hate yourself when you feel regret — those are two very different things.) It is a useful corrective against the notion that if we make mistakes, we somehow become stupid, irresponsible dimwits. Watch her talk here: Kathryn Schulz. “Don’t Regret Regret”
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