Procrastination (II)Mar 18, 2015 4 minute read
In a previous post on procrastination I tried to figure out what procrastination actually is and why some people seem to suffer from it. I did not figure it out then and my opinion on it is still the same: I don’t procrastinate on work that I am driven to get done, and I am fortunate enough to most of the time do work that drives me. Reading that differently: I am probably the worst person to discuss procrastination.
But that won’t stop me of discussing it, of course. Take a moment to read the following paragraphs from Antifragile by enfant terrible Nassim Nicholas Taleb:
Few understand that procrastination is our natural defense, letting things take care of themselves and exercise their antifragility; it results from some ecological or naturalistic wisdom, and is not always bad—at an existential level, it is my body rebelling against its entrapment. It is my soul fighting the Procrustean bed of modernity. Granted, in the modern world, my tax return is not going to take care of itself—but by delaying a non-vital visit to a doctor, or deferring the writing of a passage until my body tells me that I am ready for it, I may be using a very potent naturalistic filter. I write only if I feel like it and only on a subject I feel like writing about—and the reader is no fool. So I use procrastination as a message from my inner self and my deep evolutionary past to resist interventionism in my writing. Yet some psychologists and behavioral economists seem to think that procrastination is a disease to be remedied and cured. Given that procrastination has not been sufficiently pathologized yet, some associate it with the condition of akrasia discussed in Plato, a form of lack of self-control or weakness of will; others with aboulia, lack of will. And pharmaceutical companies might one day come up with a pill for it.
Taleb likes to uses complicated words. For me this means that that particular procrastinating feeling (“I should do X but I reaaaally don’t want to so I shall check De Standaard one more time”) is a clear sign: why do I even want to do this? Is this what I want to do with my life? Yes, I am relating your reluctance to make that deadline, to the larger question you should be asking: why am I feeling like this? Do I even want to be in an environment where deadlines make me want to do the dishes instead?
Further, I like the tax example, as some things are not just a consequence of our life choices (studies, career, etc), they are a consequence of living in this society. So yes, you’ll have to fill in your tax forms and yes, you do not want to. That’s more or less unavoidable unless you want to go live in the wild. However (big, massive However), I’d argue that most procrastination happens on a different level: not the society level, but your daily practical life (you might remember your life, the thing that resulted from all the choices you made in the past – “I should really have taken a tall instead of a grande cappuccino, I don’t taste coffee in this thing anymore”). And on that level, my friend, you have no excuses. Instead of thinking of how to fix your procrastination, you should have a look at your life and change it. So, some non-medical advice to be taken at your own risk:
- You cannot get yourself to study for any of your exams? You are studying the wrong thing. Change direction. Or maybe you want to do instead of think? Quit college/university now.
- You drag yourself to meetings, you don’t manage to reply to emails, that report you need to write gets delayed and delayed? Find a new job, then quit.
- You are struggling with a book, forcing yourself to keep reading, never finding time for it? Throw it. Find another book, life is too short.
And so on and on, plenty of examples in that area. Learn to ask yourself Why do I not want to do this? Be ruthlessly honest with yourself, and be even more ruthless in the action you will take as a consequence of that honesty.
Now, time for some Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Go do something fun!