I'll Start Later: A Look At Why We Procrastinate

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I'll Start Later: A Look At Why We Procrastinate

We tend to assign descriptors like laziness to the concept of procrastination, but it really is closer to weak impulse control and not thinking about our thinking. Procrastination doesn’t inherently infer laziness. In fact, much of the concept of procrastination can be explained by looking at a cognitive bias called the Present Bias. (Read more about how Cognitive Biases get in the way of your goal)

Present Bias is our inherent tendency to put more value on rewards that are closer to the present time, even when the more distant reward would be much better. An example: If given the choice between $100 today or $200 a year from today, most people would take the $100 today. But if the choice were $100 a year from today or $200 2 years from today, most people would choose the $200 in 2 years because it is far enough removed from the present time that we make a more logical decision. $200 is clearly better than $100 anytime, but the proximity to the present time creates a cognitive bias and thus errors in our decision making.

How does this relate to procrastination?

Present bias creates a time-inconsistent preference. Imagine having this conversation:

"Do you want to workout more in the coming months?" Absolutely Yes
"Do you want to workout next week?" Yes
"So are you going to workout today?" Umm...

Our brains are terrible at now vs later thinking, the “want vs should” dilemma. We talk about how someday when we are rich we can afford certain things, and then instead of saving today's paycheck we immediately use it all to buy something we really want right now. Or we assume our future self will have perfect abs because we are totally committed to starting to get healthy, and then go through the fast food drive-through after work because we are starving and will just start eating healthy tomorrow.

In our brains, the “later” is a magical fantasy world where we have tons of time, make way more money, have perfect health, etc. But the later, in reality, is an accumulation of all of the now and want decisions. And quite brutally, the later is where all those now cheeseburgers and sodas turned into heart disease.

So how can we manage our present bias and procrastination?

The first step is to think about what you are thinking. Try to make a logical/rational case for why you should continue with a now vs later decision, isolate the wants and the shoulds.

The second step is to take some action, if even small. Moving forward creates inertia which makes each following step a little easier. (Read about why motivation comes after the first action)

The third step is to automate as much as possible. Since you know upfront your brain will be trapped in a present bias, try to remove choices from the now. Buy a week's worth of healthy food for the fridge and throw out the unhealthy options. Prepay for months ahead of a gym membership so that you have to do it and don't get a choice of quitting. Setup auto withdrawals from your paycheck into your savings account. Max out your contributions to your retirement now and not imagine a future self-bailing you out later.

There is no future self-ready to bail you out, your future self is counting on your right now self to take action! So don't let your future self down!

 - EVKM Chief Instructor Derrek

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