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Quit Drinking

How To Overcome Procrastination: 7 Science-Backed Strategies

Published:
December 22, 2023
·
19 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
December 22, 2023
·
19 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
December 22, 2023
·
19 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
December 22, 2023
·
19 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Reframe Content Team
December 22, 2023
·
19 min read

It's a chilly Saturday morning, the sun is shining, and people are filing into their favorite local coffee shops to catch up on work or to enjoy some quality me-time. Leila orders her signature flat white and sits at her usual table, pulling out her laptop. She's committed to cutting back on alcohol. This time, she means it. She opens a new document, ready to write a list of reasons to quit and alternatives to drinking. Her eyes meet the screen, and her fingers hover over the keys.

She pauses, thinking, "Maybe I should just check my email first. Oh, and I can't forget to look up that new restaurant for dinner tonight." Hours go by. The document remains empty. Leila leaves the coffee shop feeling defeated, telling herself she’ll start on it tomorrow.

How To Overcome Procrastination: Understanding the Science 

Procrastination isn't a lapse in willpower or a character flaw: it's an intricate behavior molded by both cognitive and emotional complexities. So what’s happening in our brains and minds when we delay a task or avoid it altogether? Let’s look into both the psychological and neuroscientific underpinnings of this all-too-common phenomenon.

The Psychological Underpinnings

Several studies tell us that at the heart of procrastination lies feelings of discomfort, fear, or dread toward specific tasks. But why do certain tasks, like changing our relationship with alcohol, trigger these emotions? Well, quitting or cutting back alcohol can be emotionally charged, packed with expectations and fraught with the fear of failure. All of these can trigger anxiety, a fundamental psychological element that fuels the procrastination cycle.

Adding another layer to this is the concept of self-efficacy, which refers to our belief in our ability to achieve goals. If our self-efficacy is low, our tendency to procrastinate is high. We don't believe we can do it, so why even start?

A Tour of the Procrastinating Brain

From a neuroscientific standpoint, procrastination is a tale of two brain regions: the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system. The prefrontal cortex is the CEO of the brain, responsible for planning, decision-making, and moderating social behavior. This is the part of the brain advocating for long-term benefits, like the improved health that comes from changing our drinking habits.

On the flip side, the limbic system is the pleasure center of the brain, the area that's all about instant gratification. It thrives on rewards and avoids discomfort, pushing for choices that offer immediate satisfaction — like scrolling through Instagram instead of dealing with the emotional weight of quitting or cutting back on alcohol.

When these two regions clash, the limbic system often wins because it's the more primal, automatic system. The prefrontal cortex requires more cognitive effort to execute its well-thought-out plans, making it the underdog in this battle of wills.

Temporal Discounting: Now vs. Later

The phenomenon of temporal discounting further adds to the dilemma. Humans have a tendency to devalue rewards that are far off in the future. In simpler terms, the promise of better health or money saved by not buying alcohol seems less attractive when compared to the immediate joy of having a drink right now.

Task Complexity and Ambiguity

Sometimes, procrastination takes root in the complexity or ambiguity of the task at hand. If the pathway to quitting alcohol seems convoluted or unclear, it becomes easy to delay the process. After all, the brain dislikes uncertainty, often defaulting to the comfort zone even when that zone isn't necessarily beneficial.

Emotional Regulation and Coping Strategies

Emotions play a key role in procrastination, and the ability to manage these emotions can make or break the procrastination cycle. Emotional regulation strategies, like mindfulness and cognitive restructuring, can help disentangle the emotional knots that make tasks seem unbearable. These aren’t quick fixes, but they’re important skills that can be learned and honed over time.

The Role of Habit Loops

Finally, procrastination often becomes a habitual response. It develops into a loop, reinforced by the immediate yet fleeting pleasure derived from avoiding a task. Recognizing and breaking these habit loops is crucial for long-lasting change.

By integrating both psychological and neuroscientific perspectives, we can better appreciate the complex machinery behind procrastination. With this deeper understanding comes a more compassionate, nuanced approach to tackling it. Whether it's a significant life change like drinking less alcohol or another challenging endeavor, understanding the science of procrastination illuminates pathways for meaningful, lasting change.

How To Overcome Procrastination: Alcohol’s Role

When it comes to reducing or ending our alcohol consumption, procrastination wears many faces. The task at hand is no mere item on a to-do list but involves rewiring long standing habits and confronting deeply ingrained social norms. This amplifies the complexity and the emotional stakes, making procrastination all the more seductive.

Social Anxieties and the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)

Changing our drinking habits often brings up concerns about our social life. How will it affect relationships? What will friends say when we decline a drink? Will social events be awkward? These worries create a form of “social procrastination,” in which the fear of jeopardizing friendships or missing out on fun overshadows the long-term health benefits of drinking less alcohol. As a result, attempts to change alcohol-related habits get deferred, often indefinitely.

Emotional Barriers: Stigma and Judgement

Societal judgements also have emotional weight. Even contemplating alcohol reduction can trigger fears of stigmatization or labeling, which fuel procrastination. Nobody wants to be considered “the one with a drinking problem,” so it's easier to put off confronting the issue. Paradoxically, procrastination only prolongs the problem, making it harder to break the cycle later.

The Comfort of Routine: Neural Pathways and Habitual Drinking

Human brains love patterns. They find comfort in routine, even if those routines are harmful. When drinking is a long-standing habit, neural pathways reinforcing this behavior have been strengthened over time. This creates a biological basis for procrastination. The brain, in its quest for familiarity and ease, resists changes that disrupt well-trodden neural circuits.

Decisional Procrastination: The Paralysis of Choices

Changing our drinking habits isn't a one-size-fits-all proposition. Should we go cold turkey or gradually taper off? Join a support group or manage it alone? Such decisions become overwhelming, leading to “decisional procrastination,” in which our inability to make a choice becomes a convenient excuse for inaction.

Understanding these various dimensions of procrastination can be the first step in effectively tackling them. It's not just about getting things done; it's about navigating a labyrinth of social, emotional, and neurological barriers. Once we recognize them, we can strategically dismantle them, clearing the path for successful, long-term change in alcohol consumption habits.

How To Overcome Procrastination: Taking Action

When it comes to lifestyle changes as impactful as reducing or ending our alcohol intake, a roadmap that offers a structured pathway can be a game-changer. Here's how to strategically move toward that goal with tactics tried and tested in behavioral science and psychology.

1. Break It Down: Micro-Goals to the Rescue

The task of changing our alcohol intake habits may appear monumental at first glance, but the trick is to fragment the colossal goal into digestible, manageable bits. This is called "chunking," and it's a tried-and-true cognitive strategy that aids in tackling complex projects.

For instance, a monolithic goal like "quit drinking" can be disassembled into concrete, achievable tasks:

  • Research the health benefits of cutting out alcohol.
  • Find and try out mocktail recipes for Friday nights.
  • Research local support groups or online forums focused on alcohol cessation.
  • Remove all alcohol from your home.

The journey thus becomes a series of steps rather than a towering mountain, making it easier to take action without feeling overwhelmed. Behavioral psychology indicates that clearly defined tasks increase the likelihood of engagement and completion.

2. Prioritize Your List: The Power of Small Wins

Armed with a list of tasks, the next logical step is prioritization. Psychologically speaking, the sequence matters. Tackling the tasks that are easiest to accomplish but yield immediate benefits often works best. It's rooted in the idea of small wins, where minor victories create a snowball effect, bolstering confidence and momentum.

For instance, trying an alcohol-free drink recipe with dinner is an easy first step. The immediate gratification of enjoying a meal without alcohol can serve as a confidence booster, energizing you for the upcoming tasks like joining a support group or removing alcohol from your home.

3. Create a Vision Board: Visualization for Motivation

A vision board serves as a daily reminder of why the arduous journey is worthwhile. But this isn't just arts and crafts; it's neuroscience in action. Visual cues stimulate the brain in ways that textual or abstract thoughts may not, triggering emotional centers like the amygdala and engaging memory regions like the hippocampus.

A vision board can feature a diverse collection of images:

  • Inspirational quotes that echo resilience and self-control.
  • Images of activities you could engage in more fully when not under the influence.
  • Financial charts showing potential savings from removing alcohol purchases.

This creates a rich array of motivational cues, and every glance at the board reinforces the benefits of cutting back on alcohol, making the task feel all the more achievable.

4. Block Time for the Task: The Magic of Scheduled Intention

"I'll do it when I have time," is the hallmark phrase of procrastination. Somehow, though, that time never arrives. Behavioral science suggests that intentions are more likely to be carried out when they are specific and time-bound. Enter "time blocking," a productivity technique that allots fixed blocks of time for specific tasks.

For example, schedule 30 minutes on a Saturday afternoon to research alcohol-free drink recipes. Designate another block for checking out local or online support groups (we have several on our app!). Doing this transforms the intention into an action item on the calendar. It’s no longer a nebulous “should do” but a concrete “will do.”

5. Buddy Up: The Accountability Factor

Research in social psychology reveals that people are more likely to commit to a task when they're held accountable. Sharing a goal with a trusted friend or family member increases commitment and adds an external layer of motivation. If that friend or family member shares our goal of reducing alcohol, the mutual accountability becomes even more potent.

Imagine getting a message from your accountability partner saying they just tried and loved a new alcohol-free recipe. Not only does this encourage you, but it also instills a sense of collective achievement and communal struggle, which can be both comforting and empowering.

6. Celebrate Small Wins: The Neurochemistry of Rewards

Whenever a task is completed, it's crucial to celebrate that achievement. The principle here is "positive reinforcement," a concept rooted in behavioral psychology. A behavior that’s followed by a reward is more likely to be repeated. The brain's reward system, involving neurotransmitters like dopamine, plays a critical role in this reinforcement process.

So after attending a first support group meeting or spending a weekend without alcohol, reward yourself with something enjoyable. Whether it's a movie night, a spa day, or a new book, the reward should serve as a symbol of progress and a motivator for future tasks.

7. Seek Professional Help as Necessary: When DIY Hits a Wall

Let's face it: sometimes, changing our drinking habits can be too overwhelming to tackle alone. If procrastination becomes a chronic issue, delaying progress and causing distress, seeking professional help is not a failure. Many psychologists specialize in alcohol misuse and can offer evidence-based strategies to overcome mental barriers.

Therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be incredibly effective in addressing the root causes of procrastination and offering coping mechanisms.

A New Dawn Awaits

Transforming the desire to cut back on alcohol into actionable steps can be challenging, but with a strategic approach grounded in scientific principles, it becomes a lot more achievable. By breaking down tasks, prioritizing them, utilizing visual motivation, setting aside time, finding an accountability partner, celebrating achievements, and seeking professional guidance when needed, the path to changing our drinking habits becomes not just a possibility, but a reality.

Each step taken is a triumph over procrastination. Small actions lead to significant changes, opening up a new world filled with better health, enriched relationships, and renewed self-confidence. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step — and a well-timed, intentional step can halt the wheel of procrastination, propelling us toward a brighter, healthier future.

It's a chilly Saturday morning, the sun is shining, and people are filing into their favorite local coffee shops to catch up on work or to enjoy some quality me-time. Leila orders her signature flat white and sits at her usual table, pulling out her laptop. She's committed to cutting back on alcohol. This time, she means it. She opens a new document, ready to write a list of reasons to quit and alternatives to drinking. Her eyes meet the screen, and her fingers hover over the keys.

She pauses, thinking, "Maybe I should just check my email first. Oh, and I can't forget to look up that new restaurant for dinner tonight." Hours go by. The document remains empty. Leila leaves the coffee shop feeling defeated, telling herself she’ll start on it tomorrow.

How To Overcome Procrastination: Understanding the Science 

Procrastination isn't a lapse in willpower or a character flaw: it's an intricate behavior molded by both cognitive and emotional complexities. So what’s happening in our brains and minds when we delay a task or avoid it altogether? Let’s look into both the psychological and neuroscientific underpinnings of this all-too-common phenomenon.

The Psychological Underpinnings

Several studies tell us that at the heart of procrastination lies feelings of discomfort, fear, or dread toward specific tasks. But why do certain tasks, like changing our relationship with alcohol, trigger these emotions? Well, quitting or cutting back alcohol can be emotionally charged, packed with expectations and fraught with the fear of failure. All of these can trigger anxiety, a fundamental psychological element that fuels the procrastination cycle.

Adding another layer to this is the concept of self-efficacy, which refers to our belief in our ability to achieve goals. If our self-efficacy is low, our tendency to procrastinate is high. We don't believe we can do it, so why even start?

A Tour of the Procrastinating Brain

From a neuroscientific standpoint, procrastination is a tale of two brain regions: the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system. The prefrontal cortex is the CEO of the brain, responsible for planning, decision-making, and moderating social behavior. This is the part of the brain advocating for long-term benefits, like the improved health that comes from changing our drinking habits.

On the flip side, the limbic system is the pleasure center of the brain, the area that's all about instant gratification. It thrives on rewards and avoids discomfort, pushing for choices that offer immediate satisfaction — like scrolling through Instagram instead of dealing with the emotional weight of quitting or cutting back on alcohol.

When these two regions clash, the limbic system often wins because it's the more primal, automatic system. The prefrontal cortex requires more cognitive effort to execute its well-thought-out plans, making it the underdog in this battle of wills.

Temporal Discounting: Now vs. Later

The phenomenon of temporal discounting further adds to the dilemma. Humans have a tendency to devalue rewards that are far off in the future. In simpler terms, the promise of better health or money saved by not buying alcohol seems less attractive when compared to the immediate joy of having a drink right now.

Task Complexity and Ambiguity

Sometimes, procrastination takes root in the complexity or ambiguity of the task at hand. If the pathway to quitting alcohol seems convoluted or unclear, it becomes easy to delay the process. After all, the brain dislikes uncertainty, often defaulting to the comfort zone even when that zone isn't necessarily beneficial.

Emotional Regulation and Coping Strategies

Emotions play a key role in procrastination, and the ability to manage these emotions can make or break the procrastination cycle. Emotional regulation strategies, like mindfulness and cognitive restructuring, can help disentangle the emotional knots that make tasks seem unbearable. These aren’t quick fixes, but they’re important skills that can be learned and honed over time.

The Role of Habit Loops

Finally, procrastination often becomes a habitual response. It develops into a loop, reinforced by the immediate yet fleeting pleasure derived from avoiding a task. Recognizing and breaking these habit loops is crucial for long-lasting change.

By integrating both psychological and neuroscientific perspectives, we can better appreciate the complex machinery behind procrastination. With this deeper understanding comes a more compassionate, nuanced approach to tackling it. Whether it's a significant life change like drinking less alcohol or another challenging endeavor, understanding the science of procrastination illuminates pathways for meaningful, lasting change.

How To Overcome Procrastination: Alcohol’s Role

When it comes to reducing or ending our alcohol consumption, procrastination wears many faces. The task at hand is no mere item on a to-do list but involves rewiring long standing habits and confronting deeply ingrained social norms. This amplifies the complexity and the emotional stakes, making procrastination all the more seductive.

Social Anxieties and the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)

Changing our drinking habits often brings up concerns about our social life. How will it affect relationships? What will friends say when we decline a drink? Will social events be awkward? These worries create a form of “social procrastination,” in which the fear of jeopardizing friendships or missing out on fun overshadows the long-term health benefits of drinking less alcohol. As a result, attempts to change alcohol-related habits get deferred, often indefinitely.

Emotional Barriers: Stigma and Judgement

Societal judgements also have emotional weight. Even contemplating alcohol reduction can trigger fears of stigmatization or labeling, which fuel procrastination. Nobody wants to be considered “the one with a drinking problem,” so it's easier to put off confronting the issue. Paradoxically, procrastination only prolongs the problem, making it harder to break the cycle later.

The Comfort of Routine: Neural Pathways and Habitual Drinking

Human brains love patterns. They find comfort in routine, even if those routines are harmful. When drinking is a long-standing habit, neural pathways reinforcing this behavior have been strengthened over time. This creates a biological basis for procrastination. The brain, in its quest for familiarity and ease, resists changes that disrupt well-trodden neural circuits.

Decisional Procrastination: The Paralysis of Choices

Changing our drinking habits isn't a one-size-fits-all proposition. Should we go cold turkey or gradually taper off? Join a support group or manage it alone? Such decisions become overwhelming, leading to “decisional procrastination,” in which our inability to make a choice becomes a convenient excuse for inaction.

Understanding these various dimensions of procrastination can be the first step in effectively tackling them. It's not just about getting things done; it's about navigating a labyrinth of social, emotional, and neurological barriers. Once we recognize them, we can strategically dismantle them, clearing the path for successful, long-term change in alcohol consumption habits.

How To Overcome Procrastination: Taking Action

When it comes to lifestyle changes as impactful as reducing or ending our alcohol intake, a roadmap that offers a structured pathway can be a game-changer. Here's how to strategically move toward that goal with tactics tried and tested in behavioral science and psychology.

1. Break It Down: Micro-Goals to the Rescue

The task of changing our alcohol intake habits may appear monumental at first glance, but the trick is to fragment the colossal goal into digestible, manageable bits. This is called "chunking," and it's a tried-and-true cognitive strategy that aids in tackling complex projects.

For instance, a monolithic goal like "quit drinking" can be disassembled into concrete, achievable tasks:

  • Research the health benefits of cutting out alcohol.
  • Find and try out mocktail recipes for Friday nights.
  • Research local support groups or online forums focused on alcohol cessation.
  • Remove all alcohol from your home.

The journey thus becomes a series of steps rather than a towering mountain, making it easier to take action without feeling overwhelmed. Behavioral psychology indicates that clearly defined tasks increase the likelihood of engagement and completion.

2. Prioritize Your List: The Power of Small Wins

Armed with a list of tasks, the next logical step is prioritization. Psychologically speaking, the sequence matters. Tackling the tasks that are easiest to accomplish but yield immediate benefits often works best. It's rooted in the idea of small wins, where minor victories create a snowball effect, bolstering confidence and momentum.

For instance, trying an alcohol-free drink recipe with dinner is an easy first step. The immediate gratification of enjoying a meal without alcohol can serve as a confidence booster, energizing you for the upcoming tasks like joining a support group or removing alcohol from your home.

3. Create a Vision Board: Visualization for Motivation

A vision board serves as a daily reminder of why the arduous journey is worthwhile. But this isn't just arts and crafts; it's neuroscience in action. Visual cues stimulate the brain in ways that textual or abstract thoughts may not, triggering emotional centers like the amygdala and engaging memory regions like the hippocampus.

A vision board can feature a diverse collection of images:

  • Inspirational quotes that echo resilience and self-control.
  • Images of activities you could engage in more fully when not under the influence.
  • Financial charts showing potential savings from removing alcohol purchases.

This creates a rich array of motivational cues, and every glance at the board reinforces the benefits of cutting back on alcohol, making the task feel all the more achievable.

4. Block Time for the Task: The Magic of Scheduled Intention

"I'll do it when I have time," is the hallmark phrase of procrastination. Somehow, though, that time never arrives. Behavioral science suggests that intentions are more likely to be carried out when they are specific and time-bound. Enter "time blocking," a productivity technique that allots fixed blocks of time for specific tasks.

For example, schedule 30 minutes on a Saturday afternoon to research alcohol-free drink recipes. Designate another block for checking out local or online support groups (we have several on our app!). Doing this transforms the intention into an action item on the calendar. It’s no longer a nebulous “should do” but a concrete “will do.”

5. Buddy Up: The Accountability Factor

Research in social psychology reveals that people are more likely to commit to a task when they're held accountable. Sharing a goal with a trusted friend or family member increases commitment and adds an external layer of motivation. If that friend or family member shares our goal of reducing alcohol, the mutual accountability becomes even more potent.

Imagine getting a message from your accountability partner saying they just tried and loved a new alcohol-free recipe. Not only does this encourage you, but it also instills a sense of collective achievement and communal struggle, which can be both comforting and empowering.

6. Celebrate Small Wins: The Neurochemistry of Rewards

Whenever a task is completed, it's crucial to celebrate that achievement. The principle here is "positive reinforcement," a concept rooted in behavioral psychology. A behavior that’s followed by a reward is more likely to be repeated. The brain's reward system, involving neurotransmitters like dopamine, plays a critical role in this reinforcement process.

So after attending a first support group meeting or spending a weekend without alcohol, reward yourself with something enjoyable. Whether it's a movie night, a spa day, or a new book, the reward should serve as a symbol of progress and a motivator for future tasks.

7. Seek Professional Help as Necessary: When DIY Hits a Wall

Let's face it: sometimes, changing our drinking habits can be too overwhelming to tackle alone. If procrastination becomes a chronic issue, delaying progress and causing distress, seeking professional help is not a failure. Many psychologists specialize in alcohol misuse and can offer evidence-based strategies to overcome mental barriers.

Therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be incredibly effective in addressing the root causes of procrastination and offering coping mechanisms.

A New Dawn Awaits

Transforming the desire to cut back on alcohol into actionable steps can be challenging, but with a strategic approach grounded in scientific principles, it becomes a lot more achievable. By breaking down tasks, prioritizing them, utilizing visual motivation, setting aside time, finding an accountability partner, celebrating achievements, and seeking professional guidance when needed, the path to changing our drinking habits becomes not just a possibility, but a reality.

Each step taken is a triumph over procrastination. Small actions lead to significant changes, opening up a new world filled with better health, enriched relationships, and renewed self-confidence. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step — and a well-timed, intentional step can halt the wheel of procrastination, propelling us toward a brighter, healthier future.

Summary FAQs

1. What's the psychological basis of procrastination in changing our drinking habits?

Procrastination in this context is often linked to social anxieties, emotional barriers like fear of stigma, the comfort of routine, and decisional paralysis. Understanding these layers can help in formulating a strategy to combat procrastination effectively.

2. How can I make the task of changing my drinking habits less overwhelming?

Break the overarching goal into smaller, specific tasks like researching the health benefits of reducing or quitting alcohol, finding alcohol-free recipes, or joining a support group. This makes the journey manageable and less daunting.

3. How do I ensure I actually complete these tasks?

Schedule specific times during the week that are solely dedicated to tasks related to cutting back on alcohol. Having a set time increases the likelihood of action, making intentions concrete and time-bound.

4. Is there value in sharing my goal?

Yes, sharing your goal with a trusted friend or family member can create an accountability mechanism. Mutual accountability is even more potent, making the journey less isolated and more communal.

5. What if I still can't overcome procrastination?

If procrastination becomes a chronic issue, consider seeking professional help. Psychologists specializing in addiction can offer evidence-based strategies and therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy to tackle the mental barriers hindering progress.

Drink Less, Live More, and Thrive With Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today! 

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