Do you like Cake? Delaying gratification

“Delaying gratification is a process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such a way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting and experience the pain first and getting it over with. It is the only decent way to live.” ~  M Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

A financial analyst was locked into a cycle of procrastination.

Peck asked, "Do you like cake?" She replied that she did.

"What part of the cake do you like better, the cake or the frosting?"

"Oh, the frosting!"

"And how do you eat a piece of cake?"

"I eat the frosting first, of course."

Having gained this insight, Dr. Peck started probing her work habits. Invariably she would devote the first hour or so of each day to the most gratifying and easiest of her tasks and the remaining hours never quite accomplishing the more onerous chores. He suggested that she force herself to do the objectionable tasks during the first two hours, then enjoy the remaining time.  

There is a critical moment early in your day when you make the decision as to whether you will plunge into the difficult tasks in front of you or not. Don’t allow yourself to decide – just act.  When taking the easy road is not an option, and you just plunge into the difficult tasks, you save yourself time and energy.. and make it easier to avoid those detours.

The Root of Your Procrastination

People envision outcomes so outstanding that their expectations become more intimidating than inspirational. "It's like you're practicing the high jump, and when you set the bar too high, you look at it, and you walk away," says John Perry, an emeritus professor of philosophy at Stanford. "Perfectionists aren't people who do something perfectly. Perfectionists are people who fantasize about doing something perfectly."  

At its core, procrastination represents shoddy treatment of the one person who should matter most to you: the future you. Resolving not to do some odious task today makes procrastinators feel good. Then they predict they'll feel just as good tomorrow, which will make the task easier. Of course, the next day they feel worse, which makes the task harder and the stress greater. Homer Simpson summed it up neatly: "That's a problem for future Homer. Man, I don't envy that guy."   

Leigh Buchanan writing in Inc.

The Indecision Cycle

No-brainer decisions, like jumping in a pool to rescue a drowning child, are driven by a very fast-thinking part of the brain (known as the prefrontal cortex). When you jump in to save a theoretical child in need, you’re driven by that emotional part of your brain — and you don’t spend time analyzing how deep the water is, how to best approach the rescue, etc.

Most tasks, however, utilize rational parts of our brain. Unfortunately, these are the same parts of our minds that helped us avoid danger in primitive times. As a result, we approach an Excel spreadsheet the same way we foraged for food as cavemen — by looking at all the possible dangers behind it, and constantly analyzing the best approach. It’s a slow and inefficient process that causes procrastination, and stress only makes it worse.

The key here is to end the indecision cycle by to activating the proper parts of your brain.

While you cannot immediately flush out procrastination out of your system, you can start by conditioning your mind into focusing on what is important and knowing that you can do it (or at least take a crack at it) during the 5-second window.

Elle Kaplan writing in Medium  

Defeating Procrastination

Procrastination is a side effect of the way we value things. Task completion (is) as a product of motivation, rather than ability. In other words, you can be really good at something, whether it’s cooking a gourmet meal or writing a story, but if you don’t possess the motivation, or sense of importance, to complete the task, it’ll likely be put off.

Getting something done is a delayed reward, so its value in the present is reduced: the further away the deadline is, the less attractive it seems to work on the project right now. 

People who characterize themselves as procrastinators…discount the value of getting something done ahead of time even more than other people. 

Procrastination, in psychological terms, is what happens when the value of doing something else outweighs the value of working now.

This way of thinking suggests a simple trick to defeat procrastination: find a way to boost the subjective value of working now, relative to the value of other things. You could increase the value of the project, decrease the value of the distraction, or some combination of the two.

Elliot Berkman and Jordan Miller-Ziegler writing in The Conversation

Defeating Procrastination

Procrastination is a side effect of the way we value things. Task completion (is) as a product of motivation, rather than ability. In other words, you can be really good at something, whether it’s cooking a gourmet meal or writing a story, but if you don’t possess the motivation, or sense of importance, to complete the task, it’ll likely be put off.

Getting something done is a delayed reward, so its value in the present is reduced: the further away the deadline is, the less attractive it seems to work on the project right now. 

People who characterize themselves as procrastinators…discount the value of getting something done ahead of time even more than other people. 

Procrastination, in psychological terms, is what happens when the value of doing something else outweighs the value of working now.

This way of thinking suggests a simple trick to defeat procrastination: find a way to boost the subjective value of working now, relative to the value of other things. You could increase the value of the project, decrease the value of the distraction, or some combination of the two.

Elliot Berkman and Jordan Miller-Ziegler

 

Jenni Berrett: Proof that I was a worthless piece of Garbage

I spend days at a time in bed, staring at the ceiling and thinking of all the things I could be doing but can’t because I know I would do them imperfectly. I lose countless hours to inner monologues filled with self-hatred and all-or-nothing thinking. I don’t read anything, instead preferring to slowly crush myself with the existential weight of knowing that I will never be able to Read All The Things.

For a very long time, I thought that I did this because I was lazy. I figured that if I just worked a little harder, tried a little more, then I would be able to accomplish the things I set out to do. Failing to do them was a failure of my character. It was because I was a bad person, or at least bad at being a person.

I told myself that I had to get my act together; I had to do all of these things so that I could prove I wasn’t the worthless piece of garbage I thought I was. When I inevitably cracked under that pressure, I took it as proof that I was a worthless piece of garbage.

If all of this sounds repetitive, that’s because it is. It’s a vicious, repetitive, monotonous cycle. It moves at breakneck speed, but also not at all. Experiencing it is the most damning case against perfectionism I have ever come across. Expecting perfection only leaves you with two options: do everything right on the very first try, or don’t even bother. Which is actually only one option, since 9 times out of 10, human beings don't do things right on the first try.

Jenni Berrett writing in Ravishly

It's a never-ending cycle

You start a project determined to execute it perfectly. You avoid it until you can “do it right,” but then you don’t do it at all. You feel frozen, stuck, incapable. You are paralyzed by the fear that you will be bad at the thing you want to accomplish. Which, of course, makes it impossible to accomplish anything.

It's a never ending cycle: perfectionism, procrastination, paralysis.

At my best, I am an efficient and organized person. I thrive off of hard work and high pressure, always ambitious, always reaching for the next thing to do or make or achieve. I am productive and full of ideas. I take charge and take action. I keep a clean house and read at least a book a week.

At my worst, I am flighty and frazzled. I spend far more time thinking about how I want to do something than I do actually doing it. I doubt every choice I make, every thought that flits across my mind. I let my apartment get increasingly messy, even though I know how much I need a clean space in order to be happy. I just can’t confront the glaring imperfection of a sink full of dishes, baskets of dirty laundry.

I recede further and further inside of myself.

Jenni Berrett writing in Ravishly

the science of putting it off

Chronic procrastination can feel like a character flaw, but a new study indicates that rather than lamenting your lack of will power, you can just blame your parents.

Researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder, surveyed pairs of identical and fraternal twins about their tendency to procrastinate and to set and meet goals, and their level of impulsiveness. Identical twins were much more likely to match answers than fraternals, showing that genetics plays a significant role in forming these habits. “Learning more about the underpinnings of procrastination may help develop interventions to prevent it,” study author Daniel Gustavson tells NatureWorldNews.com.

Researchers also believe impulsiveness, which overlaps with procrastination tendencies, may have given our ancestors an evolutionary advantage by helping them focus on day-to-day survival rather than long-term goals. Procrastination could be a by-product of that thinking, showing how behavioral traits that evolved millennia ago can clash with the demands of modern life.

The Week Magazine

Time to stop looking for signals and start acting

The more information we sift through, the more nuggets of truth we are likely to uncover. But this also means we raise the level of noise that we must cut through in order to find those nuggets. We don’t do a very good job of regulating our intake of information. In our hunt for certainty we assume more is better. We consume a ton of noise to gain an added ounce of signal. Picking a  time to stop gathering and start acting is critical to avoid paralysis and stagnation.

Stephen Goforth

Start before You’re Ready

A side effect of doing challenging work is that you’re pulled by excitement and pushed by confusion at the same time.

You’re bound to feel uncertain, unprepared, and unqualified. But let me assure you of this: what you have right now is enough. You can plan, delay, and revise all you want, but trust me, what you have now is enough to start. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to start a business, lose weight, write a book, or achieve any number of goals… who you are, what you have, and what you know right now is good enough to get going.

We all start in the same place: no money, no resources, no contacts, no experience. The difference is that some people — the winners — choose to start anyway.

James Clear