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The Brain's Metaphorical Creatures

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Procrastination is a complex battle between these metaphorical creatures, often leaving us feeling defeated. This is not like Tylenol which can help ease your headache in an instant. It's important for us to recognize that progress takes time, and a strategic approach is needed.

Procrastination, the bane of productivity, often leaves me questioning, “Is this how our brains are wired?” As a procrastinator myself, I have always thought that this is something we could not change or that this is what humans are born with. However, I was enlightened by Tim Urban’s Ted Talk titled “Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator”, who is a writer himself and thought of procrastination as having these metaphorical creatures inside our brains that dictate our tendencies of delaying important tasks. Explaining how procrastination works in a literary manner, especially for a budding writer like me, truly helps me understand why this becomes a habit and how this affects my way of thinking.  

Getting to Know the Creatures

I am taking you now into the literary world, so I will introduce the first three characters that exist in a procrastinator’s brain. Meet the Rational Decision-Maker. Since my sexual orientation is a straight female, I would also label these creatures as an extension of my own and use the pronoun “she.” She (my rational decision-maker) is a woman of justice and uprightness. She knows what is best for me and makes me visualize the future, see the big picture, and make informed decisions. She basically plans my future both short and long-term. Name all the right things in this world and she has all of that in mind and never fails to remind me of those. In the neurological sense, our minds possess a sophisticated wheel, controlled by the prefrontal cortex, responsible for problem-solving, decision-making, and long-term planning. And she lives there. 

The second character is the Instant Gratification Monkey. She lives in the primitive part of the brain and she only cares about the present. Ignoring lessons from the past and disregarding the future, the Instant Gratification Monkey prioritizes immediate pleasure, often leading to procrastination. If I have a write-up to submit, she will definitely tell me to watch another episode of “Young Sheldon” because the deadline is still a month away. (Please keep this as our little secret because this is the reason why I submitted this article a little late.) Worse, she will even try to convince you that you’re just having another writer’s block as an excuse not to do it. This Instant Gratification Monkey is an expert of negotiation and prioritizes immediate pleasure, often leading to procrastination. 

The third and last character is the Panic Monster. Dormant most of the time, she is the one to blame for my hysterical reaction whenever the deadline is near. The fear of public embarrassment and impending deadlines awakens her. She doesn’t want me to suffer consequences from my boss for being complacent with my work and not being able to finish something on time. That explains the agitation and panic attacks. She is the one who makes me scream in the morning and keeps my Instant Gratification monkey’s mouth shut, allowing my Rational Decision-Maker to take control. She is a lifesaver though, because if not for this beautiful monster, my life would certainly be an ugly disaster. 

The Dark Playground and Its Consequences

When the Instant Gratification Monkey takes charge, we would most likely find ourselves in what Urban calls “The Dark Playground” — a place where leisure activities occur at inappropriate times. The consequences include guilt, anxiety, self-hatred, and dread, making it a space where everyone loses. This is when I keep on doing other “fun” things because I don’t want to think that I have a deadline to keep up. I tend to do household chores, read a book about self-help, and sleep. Well, these are good and important things to do but they are no more important than the deadline I have been avoiding. Hence, I then welcome myself to this dark playground and hang on the monkey bars so I won’t fall down to the ground of failures and guilt. How dark must that be?

Taming the Creatures: Can We Ever Get Rid of Them?

While it's not an overnight fix, we can bring these creatures to terms with the Rational Decision-Maker. Rather than killing all these characters in your head, I do believe that we still deserve leisure. We only have to make sure that they are well-earned and are done on a more logical schedule. The Instant Gratification can negotiate with the Rational Decision-maker to watch TV after all the work has been done. Rewards should be existent because life itself is a boring wheel of repetitive ups and downs and you would always want your wheel to have colors in it. 

As for me, I can work on having the panic monster within me, but panic isn’t for everyone. It can have detrimental effects on our behavior and our mental health. We can have preventive measures to keep these creatures functioning as they should. We don’t want them to be all over the place.

Strategies for a More Productive Life

I would like to deconstruct the heading. There is no exact strategy to a more productive life. I cannot impose any of these strategies but we can always start on something and these are ways to, at the very least, improve your productivity level without murdering these characters in our heads. It just needs: 

1. Effective Planning

Some of you might think that the Instant Gratification Monkey has no plans for you. Well, it does love planning. However, she only loves a specific kind of planning — an icky one. To overcome procrastination, you must know the difference between icky and concrete planning. Procrastinators often fall into the trap of vague plans that set them up for failure. For instance, an icky plan is “I should write a book” and a concrete plan is “I should write a nonfiction book about my biracial origins and finish it by December 30, 2023.” See the difference? Effective planning involves detailed consideration of tasks and realistic goal-setting while icky planning involves a vague and generic task that makes you question, “How do I start”? and end up not doing it because you don’t have the answer to that. 

2. Persistence and Methods

Persistence is key in defeating the Instant Gratification Monkey. Similar to relationships, you have to work it out yourself. I have used concrete time management techniques like the Eisenhower Decision Matrix and the Pomodoro Technique to break tasks into manageable intervals.The Eisenhower Decision Matrix, inspired by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, is a time management tool that categorizes tasks into quadrants based on urgency and importance, and it helps us in proper prioritization and goal alignment. With this technique, the tasks are classified as urgent and important, important but not urgent, urgent but not important, or neither. On the other hand, the Pomodoro Technique, developed by Francesco Cirillo, involves breaking work into intervals, typically 25 minutes each (Pomodoros), separated by short breaks. This technique promotes focused work, preventing burnout, and enhancing productivity by structuring tasks into manageable blocks with scheduled breaks, fostering concentration and time management skills.

3. Creating a Panic Monster

If you wish to keep the panic monster and in the absence of a looming deadline, create your Panic Monster by scheduling performances, booking spaces, or taking measurable steps to create pressure and urgency. I embrace pressure and let it consume me in a good way. We can find ways to deal with this monster without harming your mental health. For example, if you want to learn how to code, you have to awaken your panic monster to help you set a schedule of your enrollment. You can’t start learning to code “in November.” But you can start learning to code on November 21st from 6:00 – 7:00 pm. Instead of trying to make a drastic change from A to Z, begin with A to B and change the storyline gradually. Panic methodically. 

4. Just do it.

I bet Nike’s slogan says it all; you just have to master the act of “doing”. Procrastinators don't really mind the idea of getting work done; in fact, they imagine upcoming work sessions to be enjoyable and even fun. The catch, however, is that they tend to overlook the sneaky "Instant Gratification Monkey" in these optimistic visions. When the time comes to actually start the planned task, the procrastinator often falls under the sway of the monkey's desire for instant pleasure, leading to procrastination and a frustrating inability to kickstart the intended work. You’ve got to start somewhere and do it now rather than never. 

5. Use Reminders and Commit Financially

Employ reminders, post-it notes, and alarms to prompt positive choices. Commit financially to your goals through non-refundable deposits, reinforcing your dedication to the task at hand. If you’ve been wanting to stay fit or you have a target weight before the year ends, you have to pay your subscription to your local gym now. If money is all it takes for you to commit yourself, then hurting your budget would not hurt your goal. 

In a Nutshell

Procrastination is a complex battle between these metaphorical creatures, often leaving us feeling defeated. This is not like Tylenol which can help ease your headache in an instant. It's important for us to recognize that progress takes time, and a strategic approach is needed. Rather than convincing yourself of productivity, strive for genuine and gradual accomplishments, allowing the Rational Decision-Maker to sail and the creatures to take a back seat. Bid farewell to guilt and the panic monster, creating a path toward a more fulfilling and productive life!

References:

Poel, M. van der. (2022, January 9). Why the instant gratification monkey turns you into a master procrastinator. Helping Entrepreneurs Take Off. https://mikevanderpoel.com/instant-gratification-monkey/ 

Urban, T. (2023, August 2). How to beat procrastination. Wait But Why. https://waitbutwhy.com/2013/11/how-to-beat-procrastination.html 

Tags

#weekly talks #performance marketing

Author

Aime Umemura

Aime Umemura

Performance Marketing

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