Saturday, October 30, 2010

Procrastination and Metacognition

On impulse control, thinking ahead, and the power of marshmallows: Procrastination by David McRaney.

"You keep promising yourself this will be the year you do all these things. You know your life would improve if you would just buckle down and put forth the effort.

You can try to fight it back. You can buy a daily planner and a to-do list application for your phone. You can write yourself notes and fill out schedules. You can become a productivity junkie surrounded by instruments to make life more efficient, but these tools alone will not help, because the problem isn't you are a bad manager of your time – you are a bad tactician in the war inside your brain."

Raney has written a very interesting article on life skills, and at their roots, metacognition - thinking about thinking, or knowing about knowing.

"Thinking about thinking, this is the key. 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 know the age-old advice: don't do your grocery shopping when you're hungry. You'll make a half-dozen impulse buys along with the things you really need, and once you've brought those m&m's home, once the cheez-its are in the pantry... you can be sure you'll eat them now that they're at your fingertips!

"The tendency to get more rational when you are forced to wait is called hyperbolic discounting because your dismissal of the better payoff later diminishes over time and makes a nice slope on a graph."

But if those m&m's and crackers aren't in your cupboard; if you'd have to drive to the store to get your hands on the junkiest of junk foods, you'll be forced to wait before eating something you know you probably shouldn't, and voilĂ ! Hyperbolic discounting kicks in. You have time to remind yourself how the sugar would give you a headache, junk food makes you feel sluggish, the long list of unrecognizable ingredients couldn't possibly be good for you, the grease would go straight to your hips. You reach for an apple instead.

"You must be adept at thinking about thinking to defeat yourself at procrastination. You must realize there is the you who sits there now reading this, and there is a you sometime in the future who will be influenced by a different set of ideas and desires, a you in a different setting where an alternate palette of brain functions will be available for painting reality.

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."

[Hey, you! Should you be doing something other than reading my blog right now?]

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