Tag Archives: Procrastination

The Now You Versus The Future You

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

For Walt Whitman, astonishingly erudite poet of years gone by, it was a sign of intelligence, of passion, of an attempted understanding of the world’s infinite variations.

For most other people? Eh, not so much.

How many times have you had to defend yourself when you suddenly have a different opinion than one you previously held? In a politician, that’s called flip-flopping and it’s considered a bad thing. Not sure I understand that. I mean, if you continue researching a problem, come up with new information, why is it a good thing to hold to an outdated opinion, rather than reassessing what you do based on new information?

And that’s what I wanted to talk about today. How it’s likely that you as a parent are going to run afoul of you decreed as a parent years, months or even days before. And how, really, that’s all right, even though you’re going to have to fight the little dudes and dudettes about it.

There’s two concepts I want to include in this: Present bias and generalization.

Present bias is something we covered over the last couple of days when we talked about procrastination with David McRaney, from You Are Not So Smart. It’s the inability to understand that your desires will change over time. That what you want today is not necessarily what you will want next month.

The now you may see the costs and rewards at stake when it comes time to choose studying for the test instead of going to the club, eating the salad instead of the cupcake, writing the article instead of playing the video game.

The trick is to accept the now you will not be the person facing those choices, it will be the future you – a person who can’t be trusted. Future-you will give in, and then you’ll go back to being now-you and feel weak and ashamed. Now-you must trick future-you into doing what is right for both parties.

In this case, McRaney was talking about how the people who acknowledge that they will procrastinate and find ways to work around it are better prepared to counter that tendency to put off until tomorrow what needs to be done the day after tomorrow.

In dealing with the little dudes, it comes into how we set the rules. For instance, you might decide that it’s all right for the little dudette to stay up later for a week because there’s a great educational series on Discovery that you want to share with her, as a sort of father-daughter bonding experience. So you guarantee that she’ll be able to do it all week.

However, two days into it, you come down with a cold and decide you both need to hit the hay early, taping the show to watch later. When you promised up late every night, you didn’t conceive that the future you might want to change things.

So even though going to bed early is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, considering the circumstances, your little dudette is not going to be happy about it. Here’s the thing: You can’t beat yourself up about it. She, or any little dudes involved, will be more than happy to give you grief, you don’t need to heap any more on your own shoulders.

It’s important to know that, while you must do everything you can to keep your promises, to make sure that future you does what now you says he will, sometimes life makes other decisions when we’re not looking.

We can’t predict the future, but that doesn’t stop us from assuming that we will always be the same as time goes on. And when you add that to the idea of generalization. . .

Well, that’s a story for tomorrow.

 

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Put Off Until Tomorrow, And Then The Day After. . .

Procrastination is in every single aspect of our lives. We put off going to the dentist until we can’t stand the pain any more. We put off getting the car inspected until we get pulled over by the po po for an expired tag.

We put off spreading the quicklime in the shallow trench until we can barely go outside for the smell of decay. Or maybe that’s just me. Quite possibly.

Anyway.

David McRaney over at You Are Not So Smart recently put up a great post about procrastination and never once did he make a joke about how he’d been meaning to do it for a while now. He’s obviously a better man than me.

In going over some of the highlights, I talked about something called present bias. That’s the inability to understand that our desires will change over time. Think of it this way: You know you want to eat healthy, so you plan out your meals and decide that Thursday will be your vegetarian meal evening. However, when Thursday comes around, you find a couple of slices of cold pizza in the fridge and eat that instead of the healthy meal you had planned.

That’s present bias. It’s also why kids think they’ll have all the cool action figures when they grow up, because then they’ll have all the money they need to get the stuff they want.

McRaney: Procrastination is such a pervasive element of the human experience there are over 600 books for sale promising to snap you out of your bad habits, and this year alone 120 new books on the topic were published. Obviously this is a problem everyone admits to, so why is it so hard to defeat?

To explain, consider the power of marshmallows.

Walter Mischel conducted experiments at Stanford University throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s in which he and his researchers offered a bargain to children.

The kids sat at a table in front of a bell and some treats. They could pick a pretzel, a cookie or a giant marshmallow. They told the little boys and girls they could either eat the treat right away or wait a few minutes. If they waited, they would double their payoff and get two treats. If they couldn’t wait, they had to ring the bell after which the researcher would end the experiment.

Some made no attempt at self-control and just ate right away. Others stared intensely at the object of their desire until they gave in to temptation. Many writhed in agony, twisting their hands and feet while looking away. Some made silly noises.

In the end, a third couldn’t resist.

The important thing isn’t about what we learned about delayed gratification and the inability of most young dudes to even conceive of something like that. No, what’s important is what Mischel learned after. He followed the lives of his participants down through the years after the experiment and he learned something fascinating about metacognition.

Metacognition is thinking about thinking, or trying to understand why we think the thoughts we do, how we think and what it leads us to do.

The kids who immediately glommed onto the marshmallow were statistically more likely to have trouble in school, to be unable to sit still for lessons, to be behavioral issues, to have significantly lower SAT scores than the kids who were able to wait. And the kids who were able to wait? They were the ones who quickly developed strategies for not concentrating on that marshmallow. They watched the wall, their feet, anything but stare at that delicious marshmallow.

The kids who waited understood that the wait was torture for everyone, but they knew they’d think about the torture less if they didn’t see the marshmallow every single second. That’s metacognition.

In the struggle between should versus want, some people have figured out something crucial – want never goes away.

Procrastination is all about choosing want over should because you don’t have a plan for those times when you can expect to be tempted.

You are really bad at predicting your future mental states. In addition, you are terrible at choosing between now or later. Later is murky place where anything could go wrong.

Right now, you know you’ll start that report at 6 pm. I mean, you have to, right? It’s due tomorrow. There’s no way you’d be able to put it off past then. Until it’s 6 pm and you’ve got to make and eat dinner. Then something else comes up and it’s suddenly time for bed.

Later, that place you thought you had thoroughly mapped out in your now-brain, turns out to be a much more difficult-to-navigate place than you’d hoped.

There’s lots more at the link so you should really head on over there and take a read. McRaney has a really lovely way of taking difficult concepts and breaking them down into understandable bits. He’s good. Go make yourself smarter.

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Procrastination, Or Why We Keep Putting It Off

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, dudes.

I know what you’re asking yourself: Did I really dig up a bunch of information on procrastination just so I could use that joke in the opener. Yes. Yes I did.

However, that doesn’t mean that procrastination isn’t something we can just forget about. It seriously is a problem here in Casa de Dude, especially around me. I tried to adopt the motto: Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow. I tried, but I kept waiting to actually do it.

Heck, I think so much about procrastination, I made the character in my latest novel, Until Tomorrow, the godlet of procrastination. And, no I’m not kidding. The character’s name is Tom Sure, which is short for Tomorrow, For Sure. As in, that’s when I’ll get it done.

So, yeah. Procrastination. Let’s dig in.

David McRaney over at You Are Not So Smart put up a comprehensive post on procrastination the other week and I thought I’d share some of the highlights with you.

McRaney uses your Netflix queue as a great way into the idea of procrastination. Take a look at your streaming queue. There’s a ton of documentaries and important movies in there, isn’t there? I know it’s the case in my queue. It’s sad how many “great” movies I’ve got lined up to watch and, yet, never get to. Turns out, there’s a scientific reason for that. And it’s not because I’m a bone-headed ig-no-ramus.

Okay, sure, I probably am, but that’s not the reason I don’t watch all these movies.

Many studies over the years have shown you tend to have time-inconsistent preferences. When asked if you would rather have fruit or cake one week from now, you will usually say fruit. A week later when the slice of German chocolate and the apple are offered, you are statistically more likely to go for the cake.

This is why your Netflix queue is full of great films you keep passing over for “Family Guy.” With Netflix, the choice of what to watch right now and what to watch later is like candy bars versus carrot sticks. When you are planning ahead, your better angels point to the nourishing choices, but in the moment you go for what tastes good.

As behavioral economist Katherine Milkman has pointed out, this is why grocery stores put candy right next to the checkout.

This is called present bias, which is the inability to understand that our wants and desires will change over time. It’s why, as a kid, we’re always so shocked that adults, who have the time and the money, don’t really have any of the cool toys.

Present bias is why you’ve made the same resolution for the tenth year in a row, but this time you mean it. You are going to lose weight and forge a six-pack of abs so ripped you could deflect arrows.

One day you have the choice between running around the block or watching a movie, and you choose the movie. Another day you are out with friends and can choose a cheeseburger or a salad. You choose the cheeseburger.

The slips become more frequent, but you keep saying you’ll get around to it. You’ll start again on Monday, which becomes a week from Monday. Your will succumbs to a death by a thousand cuts. By the time winter comes it looks like you already know what your resolution will be the next year.

Yep, that’s procrastination.

And here’s some more. I’m going to put off the end of this post until tomorrow. McRaney just has so much good stuff I want to share, I think I’m going to have to come back for more. Join me, won’t you?

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