Wednesday, 21 November 2012


Why do we leave a task until the very last minute even though it causes anxiety, nausea, panic, stress & dread and we have decades of experience of saying "never again" - but we always do. There was a good radio programme exploring this and here are some notes I took from it, as I've always wanted to answer this question.
Note - the radio show was from September and I'm only just writing this up. And I only listened to 3/4 of it. I never got round to finishing up. You make your own conclusions on that


  • Problem - deciding to do one thing will prompt you to do another thing. You are in a game of “mental judo”
  • Is it fear that stops people doing things? A psychological hang up? Or a state of being? An anxiety disorder?
  • Writers who have writer’s block. Is it procrastination or perfectionism? Well, you don’t have “plumber’s block”, or “doctor’s block” do you?
  • Regret, self loathing and recrimination, depression all follow bouts of procrastination. Do we actually want to bring on these feelings in ourselves? People with ADHD or depression are huge procrastinators
  • Do you get to a certain stage, or age, of saying, “life is too short. I can’t delay any more”

  • Stop seeing a task as a big forest you have to get through. Even passing a tree will do, or a branch; a twig even. The important thing is to start because a body in motion stays in motion. Once you start it gets easier, things happen.
  • Give a third party a sum of money, If you don’t do it, they give the money to a charity.
  • Bear in mind that the idea of doing a task is always worse than actually doing it.
  • Procrastination comes with in-built self defence mechanisms. If you really want to change, 1.) be flamboyant, 2.) do it as soon as possible, 3.) no deviation from rules 1 & 2

Real life stories:
  • Writers block has been around for ages. The Ancient Greeks recognised and wrote about it. Aristotle had a word “ak-ra-sia”. Either means unable to master yourself, or you are not properly mixed or in harmony. Aristotle said that with procrastination you are attacking your future self. It is self sabotage. Hamlet was a procrastinator “to be or not to be”
  • Victor Hugo would write naked so he would not be tempted to leave his study
  •  “I love deadlines, I love the whooshing sound they make as they go buy” Douglas Adams. His publisher moved in to a hotel room with him to make him finish the book.

Another point of view:
  • Has procrastination got a bad name? The financial crisis was caused by snap decisions, they didn’t focus on long term risks or even think about them
There was a good podcast from Freakonomics which covered similar material. In particular, it was "how to save you from yourself", and the tactics people use to give up bad habits. It's fascinating the lengths people go to (eg commitment devices) and it's like a huge psychological war you are raging against your strongest enemy - yourself.

There is also a good article here which says that you do not identify with your future self and that is why you procrastinate - you think of this future you as a completely different person. 
This is similar to that idea of self sabotage. Maybe you are secretly willing that future person to step up and do a great job to resolve the mess the current you has made. It's like you are trying to make yourself the best you can be by making your future problems all the harder to solve. 

This article, with the Instant Gratification Monkey, Panic Monster, Dark Woods etc pretty much nailed it on the head!

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