pro-cras-ti-na-tion |prəˌkrastəˈnāSHən, prō-|
the action of delaying or postponing something: your first tip is to dodge procrastination.
WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT that after decades of struggle with procrastination, the dictionary, of all places, would hold the solution? Dodge procrastination. So elegant in its simplicity.
While we’re here, let’s make sure obese people dodge overeating, depressed people dodge apathy, and someone please tell beached whales that they should dodge being out of the ocean.
No, “dodge procrastination” is only excellent advice for fake procrastinators — persons people that are like, “I really go on Facebook a few times each day at work — I’m such a procrastinator!” The same people that will say to a real procrastinator something like, “Just don’t procrastinate and you’ll be fine.”
The thing that neither the dictionary nor fake procrastinators know is that for a real procrastinator, procrastination isn’t optional — it’s something they don’t know how to not do.
In college, the sudden unbridled personal freedom was a disaster for me — I did nothing, ever, for any reason. The one exception was that I had to hand in papers from time to time. I would do persons the night before, in anticipation of I realized I could just do them through the night, and I did that in anticipation of I realized I could really start them in the early morning on the day they were due. This behavior reached drawing levels when I was unable to start writing my 90-page senior thesis in anticipation of 72 hours before it was due, an experience that finished with me in the campus doctor’s office learning that lack of blood sugar was the reason my hands had gone numb and curled up against my will. (I did get the thesis in — no, it was not excellent.)
Even this post took much longer than it should have, in view of the fact that I washed-out a bunch of hours doing things like seeing this picture meeting on my desktop from a previous post, opening it, looking at it for a long time thinking about how easily he could beat me in a fight, then wondering if he could beat a tiger in a fight, then wondering who would win between a lion and a tiger, and then googling that and reading about it for a while (the tiger would win). I have problems.
To know why procrastinators procrastinate so much, let’s start by understanding a non-procrastinator’s brain:
Pretty normal, right? Now, let’s look at a procrastinator’s brain:
Notice anything different? It seems the Rational Pronouncement-Maker in the procrastinator’s brain is coexisting with a pet: the Instant Gratification Monkey.
This would be fine — cute, even — if the Rational Pronouncement-Maker knew the first thing about how to own a monkey. But unfortunately, it wasn’t a part of his schooling and he’s left completely helpless as the monkey makes it impossible for him to do his job.
The fact is, the Instant Gratification Monkey is the last creature who should be in charge of decisions — he thinks only about the present, ignoring lessons from the past and disregarding the future altogether, and he concerns himself entirely with maximizing the ease and pleasure of the current moment. He doesn’t know the Rational Pronouncement-Maker any better than the Rational Pronouncement-Maker understands him — why would we continue doing this jog, he thinks, when we could stop, which would feel better. Why would we practice that instrument when it’s not fun? Why would we ever use a computer for work when the internet is meeting right there waiting to be played with? He thinks humans are insane.
In the monkey planet, he’s got it all figured out — if you eat when you’re hungry, sleep when you’re tired, and don’t do anything hard, you’re a pretty successful monkey. The problem for the procrastinator is that he happens to live in the human planet, making the Instant Gratification Monkey a highly unqualified navigator. Meanwhile, the Rational Pronouncement-Maker, who was trained to make rational decisions, not to deal with competition over the controls, doesn’t know how to place up an effective fight — he just feels worse and worse about himself the more he fails and the more the suffering procrastinator whose head he’s in berates him.
It’s a mess. And with the monkey in charge, the procrastinator finds himself spending a lot of time in a place called the Dark Playground.
The Dark Playground is a place each procrastinator knows well. It’s a place where leisure activities happen at times when leisure activities are not supposed to be happening. The fun you have in the Dark Playground isn’t really fun in view of the fact that it’s completely unearned and the air is to the top with guilt, anxiety, self-hatred, and dread. Sometimes the Rational Pronouncement-Maker puts his foot down and refuses to let you waste time doing normal leisure things, and in view of the fact that the Instant Gratification Monkey sure as hell isn’t gonna let you work, you find yourself in a bizarre purgatory of weird activities where everyone loses.
And the poor Rational Pronouncement-Maker just mopes, trying to figure out how he let the human he’s supposed to be in charge of end up here again.
Given this quandary, how does the procrastinator ever manage to accomplish anything? As it turns out, there’s one thing that scares the shit out of the Instant Gratification Monkey:
The Panic Monster is dormant most of the time, but he suddenly wakes up when a deadline gets too close or when there’s danger of public embarrassment, a career disaster, or some other scary consequence.
The Instant Gratification Monkey, normally unshakable, is terrified of the Panic Monster. How else could you clarify the same person who can’t write a paper’s introductory sentence over a two-week span suddenly having the ability to stay up all night, fighting exhaustion, and write eight pages? Why else would an extraordinarily bone idle person start a rigorous workout routine other than a Panic Monster freakout about apt less striking?
And these are the lucky procrastinators — there are some who don’t even respond to the Panic Monster, and in the most desperate moments they end up running up the tree with the monkey, entering a disorder of self-annihilating shutdown.
Quite a crowd we are.
Of course, this is no way to live. Even for the procrastinator who does manage to eventually get things done and remain a competent member of society, something has to change. Here are the main reasons why:
1. It’s unpleasant. Far too much of the procrastinator’s precious time is washed-out toiling in the Dark Playground, time that could have been washed-out enjoying satisfying, well-earned leisure if things had been done on a more logical schedule. And panic isn’t fun for anyone.
2. The procrastinator ultimately sells himself small. He ends up underachieving and fails to reach his potential, which eats away at him over time and fills him with regret and self-loathing.
3. The Have-To-Dos may happen, but not the Want-To-Dos. Even if the procrastinator is in the type of career where the Panic Monster is regularly present and he’s able to be fulfilled at work, the other things in life that are vital to him — getting in shape, cooking elaborate meals, learning to play the guitar, writing a book, reading, or even making a bold career switch — never happen in view of the fact that the Panic Monster doesn’t usually get involved with persons things. Undertakings like persons expand our experiences, make our lives richer, and bring us a lot of happiness — and for most procrastinators, they get left in the dust.
So how can a procrastinator improve and become more pleased? See Part 2, How To Beat Procrastination.
This post was originally in print at Wait but Why and is reprinted here with permission. Wait But Why posts each Tuesday. To receive Wait But Why posts via email, click here.
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