The Procrastinator’s Instant Gratification

Procrastinators are addicted to instant gratification and hence most of the times they are onto YouTube videos, chats, reading unnecessary articles etc. that give instant gratification second to second. On the other hand, most tasks that we do in our life have a longer gratification cycle. Therefore, a procrastinator’s subconscious mind sees these tasks as a ‘defeat of the purpose of instant gratification’. As the mind sees the task as a defeat, it tries to avoid it whenever possible and hence the procrastinator doesn’t want to start on the task proactively – ‘why get defeated, when you don’t need to be’. It is caused by the fear/anxiety of not being instantly gratified or the fear of possible failure (personally or socially) or the anxiety about starting something new.

Awareness of this behavior can help the procrastinator recognize and come out of this situation. One of the best ways I found is to wake up early morning and do the most difficult or the most important task that you want to be done in the next 2-3 days. It is important to be aware of the most important/difficult task and then think about it early morning while the rest of the world is sleeping. This helps you to structure the problem and then proceed to solve the problem slowly. Once this is done, you gain more confidence and happiness for the rest of your day.


The Gratification Cycle

My hypothesis is that: With the increased convenience and the fast pace of the world today, we want to be gratified instantly and our ability to wait for gratification is coming down. This is what I call as the gratification cycle and the cycle seems to become shorter and shorter. Our instant access to online movies, online shopping, answers to any question online, etc. has made us feel that we need to gratified instantly and we are not ready to delay gratification.

This is also the reason why our attention spans are coming down as we need more shorter and frequent pain-pleasure cycles. This is very evident for procrastinators as they don’t want to pursue a task that doesn’t have instant gratification. And even when they pursue a task, they tend to stop it frequently to seek gratification from the little work that they did so far. These frequent stops causes more inefficiencies and longer time to complete a work.

Also, refer to my earlier post on delayed gratification.

Conflict Management

In any situation, we have four choices of action:

  1. The right thing to do
  2. The easiest thing to do
  3. What you want to do (is more driven by emotions in the moment)
  4. The optimum thing to do (given the RAC)

Many times we do what we want to do and hope that change will come. But, change will only come by doing the right thing to do towards achieving a goal.

Some of the above might be overlapping – for example, the easiest thing (2) might be the thing that we want to do (3); similarly, many times the optimum thing to do is also the right thing to do.

In our daily life, the problem arises when these choices for task 1 conflict with the choices of task 2 or the underlying RAC for the task itself changes. The conflict can be in terms of a time conflict (an action on task 1 conflicts in time with that of a task 2) or a goal conflict (an action on task 1 conflicts in terms of goal with that of a task 2). Generally, every task has a zone of time in which the situation (RAC) doesn’t conflict with another situation (RAC) in terms of time and goal and the situation itself  doesn’t change. It is when the task is not done within that zone of time is when the task comes in conflict with another  or itself because of the changing RAC.

Our environment is constantly changing and with it the RAC of a situation itself. However, there is a zone of time when the situation is not changing and a task ideally should be completed within that time zone. If not completed, then it comes into conflict with other situations (RAC). Discipline is about doing something  to achieve a goal in a situation before the situation itself changes or your action conflicts in time or goal with another situation.

Since the RACs are constantly changing, one needs to keep a continuous track of the RAC. This is done by listening carefully to people, checking your mails and being aware of the RAC always.

What to do about low self-esteem?

This is an article from Psychology Today and the link to the original post is here.

A woman responded anonymously to my most recent blog post by saying, “…I really have nothing to offer. I can’t see why anyone would want to marry me.” Then she goes on to add, “I’ve been treated like a loser throughout my life (starting with my mother, who abused me.) Now I can’t shake this ‘loser’ mentality. I feel inferior to every single person I meet; and, of course, that leads to people treating me like crap…” She goes on to say that that “sense of worthlessness is “slowly destroying” her.

I know nothing about this woman’s age or circumstances. I do not know for certain that she is a woman, except that she describes herself as “attractive (not stunning, but decent,)” and “stunning” is a word not usually used in connection with men. The state of mind she is describing is what is referred to commonly as “low self-esteem,” which, in her case, seems to have reached devastating proportions.

She is correct in pointing out that the attitudes we have towards ourselves, and towards the world in general, grow out of the way we are treated growing up. Some children are told that they are “no good,” sometimes in subtle ways and sometimes explicitly. They may be compared unfavorably to other children. They may be ignored or abused. Sometimes, paradoxically, that message is communicated by parents who are always telling their children they are great, even when they are messing up. The message that comes through, then, is that it does not matter to the parents whether or not their child is doing well.

Having low self-esteem is not just a global sense of being worthless; it manifests itself in action—or in inaction–whenever the child–the grown child—attempts to do anything. That person feels inadequate in social situations, including dating, and incapable of accomplishing any demanding (and desirable) work. When these feelings are severe, that individual becomes a failure. Feeling profoundly pessimistic, he/she will not try to accomplish anything worthwhile. Anything challenging will seem to be too difficult. Expectations of failure become self-fulfilling.

Such persons are also likely to feel guilty besides feeling inadequate and ineffectual. They blame themselves for everything. They are suffering from a chronic, low-level depressionwhich does not respond to anti-depressant drugs, although psychiatric practice being what it is nowadays, they are likely to be given a trial of these drugs. This is the reason that some studies suggest anti-depressants are no better than placebos. This population of patients does not respond to them. They are not suffering from an illness, such as a major depression, which is a remitting and relapsing disorder; they are suffering from a set of long- held beliefs– from misconceptions they have learned growing up. From ideas. Treatment has to be directed towards changing these ideas.

Changing ingrained ideas is very difficult. Some people with low self-esteem continue to feel bad about themselves despite having had signal successes in the world. This is called the “faker syndrome.” They think that, although everyone thinks well of them, and they themselves know they have accomplished specific goals, that very soon they will be asked to do something beyond their abilities. The world will see, then, that they have been “faking it.”  One such man, a leader in his scientific field, came home from Europe with a plaque denoting his having won an international award. When he showed it to his father, his father shook his head sadly. “With your brains,” he said, “you could have been a doctor like your brother.” His experience demonstrates that sometimes these childhood influences continue into adulthood.

For the treatment of this chronic, low-level depression, ordinary conventional psychotherapy works best, although treatment usually has to extend over a period of years. When I refer someone for treatment I am more interested in whether or not the therapist is a sensible and caring person, rather than which professional credentials that person has. A psychologist or social worker can be as effective—or more effective—than a psychiatrist. The success of treatment will depend on the nature of the therapeutic alliance.

The first task of treatment is for the patient to come to understand the particular distortions of his/her perspective.  If that person thinks that in general people do not like him/her, that point of view must be recognized as a prejudice. If someone thinks that people of the opposite sex are likely to be exploitative, or unfeeling, that prejudice, too, must be recognized. Then, in those specific circumstances, the patient must learn to ask himself/herself whether this is one of those times when that feeling is justified, or whether it grows out of the prejudice.  It is like looking through a colored set of classes. If the glasses are colored brown, everything tends to look brown.  If something looks blue, that perception can be trusted, but when something looks brown. the wearer of the glasses has to be circumspect in deciding whether or not that object is truly brown. Someone who always suspects men of being insincere has to make a special effort to decide whether the particular man she is looking at is really that way, or whether he just seems that way. It is an argument for hesitating to make a judgment. It is an argument for doubting first impressions. We may continue to see things pessimistically, if that is our unintended practice, but we need to learn to compensate for those distortions.

There are some people who have a contrary experience growing up. They develop the fixed idea that they can accomplish anything. In general, being positive leads to success, but it is possible to get into trouble by being too optimistic. (See my blog post, “Is it possible to be too optimistic?”) Ideally, as adults, we should be able to see ourselves and the world around us realistically. The goal of therapy is to facilitate that judgment. Each of the patient’s mistaken assumptions has to be challenged individually. If the person who has low self-esteem imagines he/she is incapable of doing a particular task, that supposition has to be challenged. If the same person thinks he/she is unattractive to the opposite sex, that idea has to be examined properly and convincingly. It is not possible to simply get someone with low self-esteem to “buck up” and see the world more optimistically. Therapy has to deal with specific details.

The second goal of therapy is to encourage the patient, despite his/her doubts, to behave in ways that are likely to succeed. For example, if a woman such as the one who has commented above can be persuaded to give the next guy a real chance, her experience of men will change. Sooner or later, to a greater or lesser extent, her expectations will change. If some man will unmistakably care for her, her opinion of herself will change. Patients have to be encouraged to do the right thing. Sometimes they have to smile when they do not feel like smiling. Sometimes they have to pretend  to be friendly when they do not feel that way. We become the people we pretend to be. Unfortunately, they resist—for two reasons: they do not feel they are capable of being different, and doing the right things almost always means doing something that will make them uncomfortable.

Luckily, even small changes can have big effects. (see my blog post, “Psychotherapy: Small Changes Can Have Big Effects.”)  A woman who learns not to snarl at men meets someone, finally, who is caring and reliable. A man who pretends to be ambitious is better respected on the job and is promoted. Being taken seriously by others helps the chronically discouraged person to feel better about himself/herself.

I have been thinking about what few words of advice I can offer the young, demoralized woman who wrote to me above. (I am of an age where every woman is young.) Two things come to mind:

  1. DO NOT JUDGE ANYONE’S REACTION TO YOU TOO READILY. In particular, do not judge someone’s reaction when they are talking to you over the telephone. You are inclined to think the worst, and without someone’s facial cues, you are likely in particular to misjudge that person’s reaction.
  2. DO NOT SAY ANYTHING BAD ABOUT YOURSELF WHEN DATING—OR WHEN GOING ON A JOB INTERVIEW. If you tell someone with whom you have a relationship that you are not worthy of him, he may be flattered initially that you think he is terrific. If you say it again and again, it becomes annoying. After all, you are impugning his judgment. If you continue to say it, you become convincing.

It is possible for people with low self-esteem to rise above the influences of their childhood. After all, the world is full of people who are not their parents.

A patient of mine, a young woman, returns home for Christmas every year and is treated by the family as usual as a “silly and scatter-brained young girl.” However, since this young woman is now a physician and happily married, she can laugh off their caricature of her. It becomes possible to laugh at bad treatment.

I did not grow up experiencing any of the truly devastating childhoods some of my patients have had, but there were some moments. My father used to come at me with a strap unless my mother intervened. He also had the disconcerting habit of insisting that I perform on the piano for visitors—which I hated doing; and then afterwards, inevitably, he would say I was “no damn good.” He was a bad-tempered, stubborn, bigoted and veryreligious man; and I became (not by coincidence, I think) a liberal and irreligious. My attitude towards him changed as we both grew older, though, and it became possible for me to take him less seriously. (I have written about some of these early experiences in a vaguely autobiographical novel, “Superpowers.”)

When he was about 85, my father was admitted to a hospital with complications of diabetes. I went to see him. He was in a rage because the nurses had tied him to a chair.

“Get me out of this,” he yelled, going on to describe the chair in rude terms.

“Okay,” I said.

I went to the nurse who explained to me that my father was tied to the chair because he had fallen out of it twice. I returned to the ward and explained this to him.

He started cursing and knocked everything on his table to the floor, including a pitcher of water, which splashed onto the people standing next to the adjoining bed.

My father was discharged from the hospital a few days later and went back home, presumably to continue brow-beating his third wife as he had my mother and me previously and everyone else in the family. (His second wife had asked for a divorce a few weeks after the wedding saying she preferred to “grow old alone.”) I then found out from my brother that my father responded to the incident in the hospital by looking for a lawyer in order to sue me for medical malpractice. I had to explain to my father that he could not sue me since I was not his medical doctor and I was not involved in his care. He seemed disappointed.

About a month later, I got a phone call in my office from a woman who identified herself as someone who had been hired to help my father at home.

“You don’t know me, doctor; but I’ve been taking care of your father. I have been with him for the last three weeks. This is the kind of work I do. I have always taken care of old people. I feel I have a special calling for it. A special sympathy. I have done this work for thirty-five years. I’m calling now just because I want you to know that your father is the worst human being I have ever met.” I did not ask her to explain why she felt that way. I just laughed.

If my ability to shrug off my father’s deprecatory behavior seems surprising, I should point out that I had a second parent who always thought I was destined to win a Nobel Prize.


Procrastination As A Virtue For Creativity, Why It’s False

This is a post from Psychology Today and the link to the original article is here.

What better way to attract readers than to say that up is down or in is out. When we challenge basic assumptions about the world, we attract that limited resource of attention. Moreover, when what we say is that one of our failures may be a virtue, we really hit a sweet spot with the human psyche.

That’s what Adam Grant did in the New York Times this past weekend with his Op-Ed piece entitled “Why I Taught Myself to Procrastinate(link is external).”

There are several problems with his argument, and each is deserving of criticism, because his essay perpetuates a misunderstanding about procrastination.

The gist of Grant’s argument is that while he typically, almost compulsively (his depiction, not mine), got tasks done well ahead of time, he learned through one of his graduate students that she was most creative when she procrastinated. Here was error #1.

As proof of this causal relation between procrastination and creativity, Grant offers up his graduate student’s rather informal survey and correlational data. The thing is correlation is not causation. The relation of supervisors’ ratings of employees’ creativity with the employees’ self-reported procrastination does not demonstrate that more procrastination will result in more creativity.

To his credit, Grant acknowledged that he “wasn’t convinced,” and his grad student now a professor, Dr. Jihae Shin, did conduct experimental work. The trouble is she didn’t measure procrastination, she measured delay. This was error #2.  She didn’t have participants procrastinate. One group was asked to start right away, and the other was asked to delay by 5 minutes by first playing an online game. They did delay their work, but it wasn’t the voluntary delay of intended action with the expectation of a possible worse outcome (the psychological definition of procrastination used in the research literature); their delay was a purposeful delay. They did what they were told to do.

Now, here is where I agree with Adam Grant. Those in the delay condition were found to be more creative. Why? Well, we can speculate quite a bit about what happens when we delay a task and let a lot of nonconscious processing go on, but I won’t get into that. I will simply agree that giving ourselves time may be beneficial to our creativity. In fact, it may even be necessary!  So, we might even want to call this delay “sagacious delay,” but certainly not procrastination.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that every once in awhile we’ll actually procrastinate and it will pay off somehow, and this might be increased creativity, but this isn’t typical. We will certainly cherish these moments as they serve as a ready justification for future procrastination, but real creativity comes from choosing to delay, not rushing a process that shouldn’t be rushed. Procrastination typically results in rushed, last-minute efforts, not careful consideration of the task at hand.  Our research reveals this clearly.

In fact, Grant acknowledges this near the end of his essay. He writes,

“Of course, procrastination can go too far. Jihae randomly assigned a third group of people to wait until the last minute to begin their project. They weren’t as creative either. They had to rush to implement the easiest idea instead of working out a novel one.”

Notwithstanding that this study in no way measured “procrastination,” what we do agree on is that last-minute efforts can undermine, not enhance, creativity. It’s unfortunate that Grant saved this important bit to the end of his essay, because by this point most readers would have fallen prey to the confirmation bias, and were deeply convinced that their procrastination was simply a reflection of their truly creative selves, not the problem it seems to be.

In the last couple of paragraphs, Grant touches briefly on what to do if you suffer from that “destructive” kind of procrastination. This is error #3, an error that really permeates the essay itself.  Put most simply, while all procrastination is delay, not all delay is procrastination.

What Grant has written about is delay, purposeful delay at that. His lived experience and the research he draws on shows that “haste can make waste,” and that purposely delaying action can be beneficial. I couldn’t agree more. Many kinds of delay in our lives are strategic and beneficial, and many others are inevitable and benign. In contrast, procrastination is that particular form of delay which captures our self-regulatory failure, where we fail to act as intended even though we are aware that this delay will probably come at a cost. Unlike the other forms of delay noted above, there is no upside to procrastination. As my colleague Joel Anderson (Utrecht University) has written recently in book chapter for upcoming book I co-edited, procrastination is “culpably unwarranted delay.”

Let me end this rather long post where Grant does. He writes,

“But if you’re a procrastinator, next time you’re wallowing in the dark playground of guiltand self-hatred over your failure to start a task, remember that the right kind of procrastination might make you more creative. And if you’re a pre-crastinator like me, it may be worth mastering the discipline of forcing yourself to procrastinate. You can’t be afraid of leaving your work un”

Clever, I like it, but this notion of “the right kind of procrastination . . .” is the thesis and main error of the essay. The right kind of delay may make you more creative. I agree that being too quick off the mark for all of your tasks may be an ineffective strategy when careful thought is necessary first. But, please, let’s not play in this semantic cesspool.  All delay is not procrastination, and it’s important to know the difference. When you figure that out, you’ll probably use delay more effectively, and you’ll probably be more creative.

Self-efficacy, Autonomous motivation and procrastination

This is a post by PsychologyToday and the link to the original article is here.

The bulk of the research on procrastination has been conducted on undergraduate students. This isn’t surprising, as most psychological research has been conducted on this captive group of willing volunteers who often earn grade-raising credit for their participation. However, as the authors of a recent study note, it’s important to look at procrastination early in life, because it’s a habit that starts young.

Idit Katz, Keren Eilot and Noa Nevo (Department of Education, Ben-Gurion University, Israel) published a paper in the journal Motivation and Emotion that begins to address this gap in the literature. They collected data from 171 fifth-grade students (roughly split bygender) from four elementary schools in northern Israel. The students provided self-reports related to their homework. They rated items that measured their motivation for doing homework, their self-efficacy (their beliefs about their ability to complete this homework), as well as their homework procrastination. For example, in terms of motivation, students rated how much this item described them on a 5-point scale, “I do homework because of the value and contribution of the homework to my learning.”

Of course, if either of my children endorsed the item above as a “5” or “very much like me,” I would be elated, and I wouldn’t be too concerned about their learning. This type of response reflects an autonomous motivation. They’re not doing homework because they feel threatened by punishment or shame (a controlled motivation), they do it because they want to, and they probably won’t procrastinate much.

This is certainly what these researchers found as well. The higher the autonomous motivation, the lower the procrastination. But that was only part of the story.

What Katz and her colleagues found was that self-efficacy (confidence in their ability to do their homework) is important in conjunction with the type of motivation. Statistically, Katz and her colleagues found both mediating and moderating effects that can be summarized as: 1) self-efficacy influences motivation type, and 2) autonomous motivation interacts with self-efficacy to predict procrastination.

Put more simply, if students are confident in their ability, this leads to greater autonomous (intrinsic) motivation and less procrastination, but that autonomous motivation on its own isn’t enough. Even with strong intrinsic (autonomous) motivation to do homework, a child with low self-efficacy is more likely to procrastinate as compared to an autonomously motivated child with lots of confidence that he or she can complete the homework.

This study is a contribution to the existing literature, although not surprising in many respects. In fact, their findings were as hypothesized based on the existing literature and what we know about development and learning.

What is at issue is the chicken-and-egg like nature of the dance between motivation type and self-efficacy, and their study doesn’t address this specifically. We’re left to speculate based on developmental theory and our experience with growing up.  Of course, it’s probably the case that they feed on each other, so influencing either autonomous motivation or self-efficacy in a positive way will pay off.

As the authors do explain, they think their results underscore the important role of educational environments supporting the development of both intrinsic interest (autonomous motivation) and confidence in their ability at an early age, before students begin to use procrastination as a response; before the procrastination habit can begin. I couldn’t agree more.

Based on the Self-Determination Theory framework that guided their research, we know that educational environments that support the three basic needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness are key.  What these authors fail to note, but outstanding educators do well, is harnessing the need for relatedness to bootstrap students fulfilling their other needs. Why? Because social needs loom large in our children’s lives, and a focus on relatedness needs can drive a great deal of success in meeting other needs. Although some students may easily begin with a focus on their learning to satisfy autonomy and competence needs, many, if not most, students need to come at these needs in conjunction with their powerful relatedness needs. Doing this well is the art of teaching.