Your brain likes to keep you safely in your comfort zone.  And that is what holds you back.

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In a nutshell

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Braintenance by Dr Julia Ravey takes a look at the science behind why we struggle to turn goals into action and how you can create healthy habits and reach goals. Using the current understanding of how we use our brains and the way we behave, she shares her techniques to help you to direct your focus, boost self-belief and confidence, beat procrastination and why motivation is never the answer. In its essence, Braintenance helps you understand how your brain thinks and uses that to have more control over your life.

Book Club Notes

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We’re no strangers to books on habit and at its core Braintenance is about making and sticking to habits. Habits are generally really small actions that when repeated involve very little thinking or decision making. The thing with habits is that they become who we are – these daily actions add up and if used correctly can eventually lead us to reaching a goal and living the life we want. Most big goals are achieved through small daily actions which means that if you want to reach goals you need to start with habits. 

What differentiates Braintenance from the myriad of other books on this topic is her background as a science educator and the PHD she holds in neuroscience. She doesn’t tell you what to do – she first explains how your brain works and how you need to treat it in order to achieve your goals and change habits. She also dives into topics often not mentioned in other habit books, like the link between self-esteem and procrastination and goal setting, the perfectionist trap and why motivation is useless as a tool for achieving goals. 

As I’ve read more than one book on habits, many of the insights weren’t new to me, which made some of the book seem repetitive even though it wasn’t. However, what I did appreciate was how she brought in science in a very easy to understand way that connected what we’re told to do and why we should do it.

5 Methods to Avoid Procrastination

I doubt you’ll find anyone who doesn’t struggle with procrastination in some way. We tend to be really good with making goals and generally knowing what we need to get done; but the doing is where things get hard. Even when we know the consequences of not getting what we need to do, done.  In her chapter on procrastination, Dr Julia Ravey explains that procrastination is a regulatory mechanism to help us deal with and move away from uncomfortable states. It’s your body’s defence mechanism against stepping outside of your comfort zone. 

In simple terms, when tasks are hard or uncomfortable your mind looks for pleasure – which usually comes in the form of an immediately rewarding activity, like scrolling on social media instead of writing this review, or hitting the snooze button instead of getting up for an early morning run. Sometimes it’s not even that the task is hard, it’s that the payoff is in the future, whereas the pleasure of distraction is right in the moment and we’re wired to choose immediate pleasure over delayed gratification. This also explains why you find it easier to focus and get something done when under immediate pressure like a looming deadline, but will keep pushing off preparing for something only happening weeks later. 

If you’re consistent most of the time, pushing something off or missing a day is fine. The problem is when that action of procrastination is repeated and then becomes a habit, preventing you from achieving your goals. Procrastination, which is also really just distraction, also blocks momentum – that wonderful feeling of uninterrupted effort. Even small distractions like a phone beeping can interrupt your flow making it harder for you to get back to a difficult task. 

We know why we do it, but how do we avoid it? Dr Julia Ravey gives 5 methods to use to follow through with plans and beat procrastination

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Remove and plan distractions

If you have a go-to distractor when you procrastinate, remove it or make it as hard as possible to access. For me it’s my phone, so when I know I need focus time to get something done, I’ll use the focus time setting which blocks any notifications or calls coming in and move it away from me so it’s not in my direct line of sight. To make it easier, she suggests scheduling in these distractions. So working for 10 minutes and then checking your phone – this gives you an incentive to complete a task.

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Set a timer

When something is challenging, we often push off doing it because we’re already expecting it to be hard before even trying. Use a timer to get over that urge to delay. The more resistant you are to a task, the shorter the timing block should be and then you can stop. Once you start working you’ll often find that the mountain isn’t so hard and you can keep going after the timer beeps. The Pomodoro method (which comes along with an app) uses 25 minutes of working time with a 5 minute break to give you enough time to get a task done while still having the knowledge that a break isn’t so far off.

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Break down big goals (or tasks) into smaller actions

When faced with a big task, we often feel overwhelmed and struggle to know where to start. All big tasks can be broken down into smaller actions to make them more digestible. In his book Make Sure of Your Comrades Medal, Don Oliver said that you need to approach training for the ultra-marathon in bite-sized bits and chewable-chunks – that line has stuck with me and I often go back to it when faced with big tasks that feel overwhelming. Breaking things down into small actions makes it easier to get started and focus your attention on an action that will lead you to your end goal.

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Record your pop-ups

Preventing procrastination is not only about focusing attention, it’s also about preventing distractions. While you can turn off phone and computer notifications that may distract you, you can’t turn off your brain’s pop-ups. If you’ve ever started a task and then had the sudden urge to check the weather or book an appointment, you’ve experienced what she calls a pop-up. These little urges that may be useful, but are mostly just attempts to distract you. Instead of acting on them, record them. Keep a blank piece of paper next to you and every time a pop-up appears, write it down. Once you’ve completed your task you can go to your list and action anything still relevant.

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Gamify

Making things fun is a great way of getting new behaviours and activities in your routine. Bring elements of what you find enjoyable into tasks. 

Discovery Vitality is notorious for gamifying healthy living by rewarding good choices with gameboard plays and vouchers. Virgin Active does this by rewarding gym visits with weekly rewards and my Nike Training App gives you badges for workout streaks or working out on certain days. 

Gamifying a task for yourself can either be bringing in an enjoyable element into a tough task, like making yourself a nice cup of coffee before settling down to write a report.  Or it can be keeping a sticker chart you can use to track goals or habits – rather try to beat your previous scores or have a prize for when you complete something or when you do a habit consistently. 

Read If

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You haven’t yet read a book on habits and want a good one, want to dive deeper into the science behind habit making or are looking for actionable advice to help you create habits and reach goals.

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Rating

8
Readability -10/10
Writing – 8/10
Applicability – 8/10
Timelessness – 8/10
Shareability – 8/10
8.0
8.0Overall Score
A note on our book ratings

Readability: How easy is it to read and understand what the author is saying? Do you need a dictionary or PhD to understand it?

Writing: How well written is the book? Do you find yourself wowed by the writing or unimpressed?

Applicability: How applicable is this book to daily life? Is there enough advice and actions that are easy to start applying?

Timelessness: Is the content of the book timeless or is it something that in a few years won’t have relevance?

Shareability: How likely are you to share the book?

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