Most of my life, I’ve struggled with low energy and poor task completion. This weakness, coupled with my high ambition, tortured me through university and my early career.
After years of disappointment in myself, I realized the only time that my “disability” vanished was when I was in a state of urgency.
I learned how to stimulate my brain to feel urgency whenever I had a monumental task to accomplish.
I call this mechanism the “Urgency Response.” Invoking it helps me get – shit – done.
This tool enabled me to quit a dead end job and start multiple creative and business ventures.
I’ll explain what it is, why it makes sense, and how to make it work for you.
Instinctual Way of Boosting Productivity
I propose that the “Urgency Response” is an evolutionary adaptation to focus the brain on rapid task completion when necessary for survival. It could be considered a mental and longer-term corollary to an adrenaline rush. This mental state supercharges your brain’s focus, boldness, risk tolerance, and creativity.
The traits that urgency enhances are the ubiquitous characteristics of highly successful people. They are the same traits that most of us feel we are constantly lacking. This is no coincidence.
We are genetically identical to our ancestors, so our mental toolkit is designed for a world filled with “life or death” rather than “success or failure.” Our brains do not typically unlock urgency for modern challenges such as getting a pay raise or starting a business.
Instead, the opposite happens. Since a pay raise has zero impact on survival, our brain is hardwired to conserve energy – in other words, be lazy.
The trigger points of our cave man brains ill-suited for our modern needs. The changes in our way of life have outpaced our ability to evolve.
While our mental software is outdated, it can be hacked to unleash the superpowers of urgency.
Urgency vs. Adrenaline
During an “adrenaline rush,” the adrenal glands release hormones that briefly enhance your physical capabilities to survive a fight or flight situation. This is a basic response that we share with many animals and it has zero utility when it comes to everyday life success.
Urgency is unique to humans. It requires future time orientation – the ability to imagine likely events in the future and plan for them. It is a response to a future “threat” and enables increased productivity to prevent it. The effect can vary in intensity and last minutes or multiple years.
An adrenaline spike exhausts your body and requires recovery once you are safe. While urgency can burn you out, it can also be sustained at reasonable levels with no ill effects (in fact, positive ones). For instance, the sense of purpose that urgency creates can immensely improve your happiness.
Why We Are “Low Energy”
In the past, food was rarely in steady supply. Evolution developed mechanisms to optimally regulate our energy output. When our bellies are full and we lack any foreseeable shortages, our brains default to energy conservation mode (or lack of urgency). This is now HARD CODED in our brains.
Modernity has eliminated survival concerns and introduced a new desire, “success.” Success requires just as much energy and focus as survival. However, with our bellies constantly full, our brain is belligerently countering our desire for productivity by insisting on energy conservation (low energy, laziness).
How Successful People Do It
Naturally productive people have an easily triggered urgency response and difficult to trigger energy conservation response. These people are genetic outliers that have an advantage in the modern world. They are like the first giraffes that had slightly longer necks than the others in the herd and could reach the leaves when the others couldn’t.
We all know someone like this and secretly hate/admire them while thinking, “How the hell do they do it?”
Other productive people are formerly “lazy” people who have learned to overcome it. This is the category I fall into.
The premise is this: Work with your brain rather than against it. Unlock your brain’s “urgency circuit” rather than fight its “energy conservation circuit.”
Now here is how you do it….
The Two Components That Invoke Urgency
Stimulating urgency with modern day problems requires tethering strong emotions and visualization to your thoughts. This cannot be understated. Keep this at the forefront of your mind when following the next two steps.
STEP 1: Have a clear goal [and visualize the negative result if you don’t get it]
Your goal must be specific and measurable. Broad desires do not trigger urgency. For example, “I want more money” will not work. Something like, “I want to create a blog and make 10 quality posts” is excellent.
Imagine the consequences of failure. The more visceral the emotion the better – get dark.
For example, my pasty and overweight cubicle mate would tell me, “Wait until you get married, Jr, your wife will gain 50 lbs and only sleep with you on your birthday.” I would mentally picture myself ending up like him, this invoked visceral disgust. I’d imagine the self loathing of actually having sex with a flabby woman and being quasi-thankful for it out of sheer sexual thirst. I associated this horror with failure to develop an alternate stream of income.
Another go-to fear is your own aging and mortality. I used this when I planned my first trip to Thailand. Having just turned 29, I realized that it was my last chance to take a great adventure in my 20’s. I thought about how less cool it would be to backpack around Asia in my 30’s or 40’s.
STEP 2: Determine A Time Frame
Without a deadline seared into your skull, your mental program will default to laziness. Time frames must be aggressive so that you must rise to the occasion through urgency.
Long time frames can work, but I find shorter time frames more effective. I break goals up into discreet milestones.
Using the blog example:
“I need to choose a domain name, find a good WordPress theme, and decide on a web host by next week.”
Using my Thailand trip example:
“I will sell all of my non-essential possessions over the course of one month.”
Remember, you must associate emotion with the consequences of missing your deadline.
Back to the Thailand Trip:
“If I do not sell my possessions before I leave, I will have to throw them away and forgo the money or get a storage unit and have an ongoing expense. This will drain my savings and cut my trip short.”
I intensely imagined how disappointing it would be to quite my trip early. (My vision included having to leave constant sex and motorcycle riding.)
Urgency = Effortless Energy
Internalizing the emotion of failure coupled with an aggressive time frame automatically invokes your latent energy and focus.
Generating urgency should be the immediate next step after setting a goal. A goal without urgency is just a daydream.
While work will always be hard, the “getting up and getting started part” will become as natural as breathing – five cups of coffee not required.
Remember, you are a human, you’ve been refined over hundreds of thousands of years to be a tireless problem solver. Once you learn to work with your cave man brain circuitry, you will be in awe at the volume and quality of work you can accomplish. All the while, you will be happier and more content than ever before.