Ever a person to face the threat of procrastination, I’ve been reading a lot of stuff about this devil. And this article from Nautil.us is a good primer on why we procrastinate. I especially enjoyed this quote:
Or, as in the case of Parfit’s smoking boy, we can focus on that version of our self that derives pleasure, and ignore the one that pays the price.
Personally, I’ve discovered that most of my procrastination has two primary causes:
- When I loose focus on the task at hand, it’s often because the activities ahead of me are too big, unpleasant or lacking in fun factor (e.g. I’m not motivated).
- Other times I don’t even get to evaluate if I’m willing to pay the price of my procrastination, I simply act on impulse.
And this is where I find the quote spot on. Because when you dive into whatever your impulses tell you that you’d rather do, this is exactly what happens: You let the future version of yourself pay the price by giving in to impulses which gives us pleasure. The hard part being that it’s very difficult to visualize the future you in the actual situation.
This is also referred to by Clayton M. Christensen in a Harvard Business Review article,1 as ‘giving in to the marginal cost’:
The marginal cost of doing something wrong “just this once” always seems alluringly low. It suckers you in, and you don’t ever look at where that path ultimately is headed and at the full costs that the choice entails.
So it seems, that science and clever men agree that we’re not in touch with our future self, when we procrastinate. What to do?
A method which helps me is a simple 4 step method from the book ‘Search inside yourself’2 by Chade-Meng Tan . The method is called ‘S.N.R.R.’ which is an acronym for: Stop, Notice, Reflect and Respond.
The critical first part is stopping and being aware of the procrastination taking place. The second part is noticing the feeling you have in the situation. The third part, is actually reflecting upon it. Do you want to do this? Does it contribute to your goals and the future version of you? Last is responding according to your choice. So you see, during parts two and three, is where you should keep the future version of you in focus.
Another interesting read for me has been ‘Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It’3 by Kelly McGonigal, because it’s a really great mix of research, theory and practical appliance. She focuses a lot on three primary tenets: I will, I won’t and I want. These should be treated as the primary aspects we should constantly know for ourselves. So that when we get to evaluating the price of a given procrastination, we know what to compare it against.
I really recommend both books I’ve mentioned. They give many insights on the subject of self control as well as the neurology and research involved. Another aspect they cover is meditation, which will help you become even more aware of the desires and priorities of your future self.
So dive in before another pleasureful impulse leads you to letting down your future self!