Human beings have been procrastinating for centuries. Famous artists like Victor Hugo are too the victims of the distractions of daily life. The problem is so timeless, in fact, that ancient Greek philosophers like Socrates and Aristotle developed a word to describe this type of behavior: Akrasia. Akrasia or simply called procrastination is the state of acting against your better judgment.
One reason why procrastination pulls us in has to do with a behavioral economics term called “time inconsistency.” Time inconsistency refers to the tendency of the human brain to value immediate rewards more highly than future rewards.
When you make plans for yourself — like setting a goal to lose weight or write a book or learn a language — you are actually making plans for your future self. When you think about the future that you have envisioned, it is easier for your brain to see the value in taking actions with long-term benefits.
When the time comes to make a decision, however, you are no longer making a choice for your future self. So your brain is thinking about the current state and consequently the present self inclined towards instant praises and not long-term payoff. This is one reason why you get the random urge to get you life together in the middle of the night or feel motivated to change before sleeping but when you wake up you fall into the same melancholy. Your brain values long-term benefits when they are in the future, but it values immediate gratification when it comes to the present moment.
Strategy 1: Design your future actions.
Victor Hugo once locked his clothes away because he wanted to concentrate on writing, he was creating a “commitment device.” as what psychologists refer it to. Commitment devices are strategies that help improve your behavior by either elevating the costs of bad behaviors or minimalizing the effort required for good behaviors.
You can alter your future eating habits by buying food in individual packages rather than in the huge quantities. Stop wasting time on your phone by deleting games or other social media apps. by hiding your TV in a closet and only taking it out on big game days that way you can reduce that mindless channel surfing. You can build an emergency fund by setting up an automatic transfer of funds to your savings account. These are commitment devices.
These can help you design your future actions. Plan your behavior beforehand rather than relying on willpower in the instant situations. Because procrastination is more likely to happen in instant situations. Be the boss of your future actions, not the prey of them.
Strategy 2: Reduce the friction of starting.
In the words of Eliezer Yudkowsky, “On a moment-to-moment basis, being in the middle of doing the work is usually less painful than being in the middle of procrastinating.”
So why do we still go for procrastination? The reason is that it’s starting the work that is hard and not actually being in the work that is hard. Theforce that prevents us from taking action is usually centered around starting the action. It’s often less painful to do the work once you start off with it.
Don’t worry about the results until you’ve developed a habit of starting something up without a stressful hiccup.
Strategy 3: Utilize implementation intentions.
“I will exercise for at least 30 minutes on [DATE] in [PLACE] at [TIME].” is an implementation intention as it is stated to implement a specific behaviour at a particular time in the future.
Simply put, planning out things in advance can make a difference. Implementation intentions can make you more motivated to perform that action in the future.
Our brains are habitual in a way that they prefer instant rewards to long-term payoffs. Thanks to this habit, we often have to resolve to crazy strategies to get things done. But if your goals are important to you it is worth it to spend time building these commitment devices.