Arsenic is incredibly toxic. For centuries, until modern methods of detection were discovered, murderers found it to be a very popular substance. So, you can imagine the shock at the 48th meeting of the German Association of Arts and Sciences in 1875 when two men sat in the front of the audience and downed more than double a deadly dose of arsenic. The next day, the men were back at the conference smiling and healthy. How is it possible to take something so bad for you and stay alive, and even look healthy despite the damage being done at a microscopic level to your body? The answer has an uncanny relationship to procrastination. That's what we're going to be talking about in the next few videos. You've already learned one handy tool to help you with procrastination, the pomodoro, that 25-minute period of uninterrupted focus followed by a bit of relaxation. This week, we're going to learn more, understanding a little about the cognitive psychology of procrastination. Just like understanding the chemistry of poison can help us develop healthy preventatives. In these videos, I'm going to teach you the lazy person's approach to tackling procrastination. This means you'll be learning about your inner zombies, the routine habitual responses your brain falls into as a result of specific cues. These zombie responses are often focused on making the here and now better. As you'll see, you can trick some of these zombies into helping you fend off procrastination when you need to, although not all procrastination is bad. Even if you're pretty good already in handling procrastination, you'll learn some helpful insights here that can allow you to better prioritize your learning. The reason that learning to avoid procrastination is so important is that good learning is a bit by bit activity. You want to avoid cramming, which doesn't build solid neural structures, by putting the same amount of time into your learning. But spacing that learning out by starting earlier, you'll learn better. First things first, unlike procrastination which is easy to fall into, willpower is hard to come by. It uses a lot of neural resources. You shouldn't waste willpower on fending off procrastination except when absolutely necessary. Best of all, as you'll see, you don't need to. If you'll remember, we procrastinate about things that make us feel a little bit uncomfortable. You think about something you don't particularly like, and the pain centers of your brain light up. So, you shift and narrow your focus of attention to something more enjoyable. This causes you to feel better at least temporarily. But sadly, the long-term effects of habitual avoidance can be nasty. When you put off your studies, it can become even more painful to think about studying it. You can choke on tests because you haven't laid the firm neural foundations you need to feel comfortable with the material. Procrastination can be a single, monumentally, important keystone bad habit, a habit, in other words, that influences many important areas of your life. If you improve your abilities in this area, many other positive changes will gradually begin to unfold. Procrastination shares features with addiction. It offers temporary excitement and relief from sometimes boring reality. It's easy to fool yourself, for example, into thinking that the best use of any given moment is surfing the web for information instead of actually reading the textbook or doing the assigned problems. You'll start to tell yourself stories. For example, you might tell yourself that organic chemistry requires spacial reasoning, your weakness. So, of course, you're doing very poorly at it. You devise irrational excuses that sound superficially reasonable like, if I study too far ahead of the test, I'll forget the material. If you're troubled by procrastination, you may even start telling yourself that procrastination is an innate unchangeable characteristic. After all, if procrastination were easily fixable, wouldn't you have fixed it by now? The higher you go in your studies however, the more important it is to take control of procrastination. Habits that worked in earlier years can turn around and bite you. What I'll show you in these next few videos is how you can become a master of your habit. You should be making the decisions, not your well-meaning but unthinking zombies, your habits. As you'll see, the strategies for dealing with procrastination are simple. It's just that sometimes they aren't intuitively obvious. So, let's return to that story that began this video. The arsenic eaters started with tiny doses of arsenic. In tiny doses, arsenic doesn't seem harmful. You can even build up an immunity to its effects. This can allow you to take larger doses and look healthy even as the poison is slowly increasing your risk of cancer and ravaging your organs. In a similar way, procrastinators put off just that one little thing. They do it again and again, gradually growing used to it. They can even look healthy, but the long-term effects not so good. I'm Barbara Oakley. Thanks for learning how to learn.