Winter is coming in a metaphorical sense because our finals are just around the corner. Winter is also coming in a literal sense, which means food and alcohol and parties in copious amounts.
You’ve said it a million times to no avail, but this time, you are convinced that you will study for your exams, and you won’t gain weight over the holidays, etc. Except for the tiny fact that you won’t, not unless you change your strategy.
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein
I’m no different to most students, unless you count the fact that I stopped procrastinating a long time ago, and before I tell you how, you must understand why you procrastinate.
I’m a finance major, which means I’m a fan of cool graphs, like this one:
Those things up there are called Ainslie Curves, and they depict hyperbolic discounting. In short, Ainslie Curves show us that human beings suck at making decisions because we’re fucking sloths and hyperbolic discounting is a fancy name for when you prefer a smaller, short term reward to a larger, long term reward*. When you prefer to binge watch Netflix shows instead of studying for an exam, you’re a victim of hyperbolic discounting. You know that studying will get you a better grade (aka “what you should be doing”), which in the long term will make you happier than the hours you spent watching Netflix (aka “what you’re actually doing”), but OHMYGOD watching your show feels so necessary RIGHT NOW.
Refer back to the graph. You’ve just gotten the idea that maybe you should be studying, or exercising, or waking up earlier, so you care more about this than doing instantly-rewarding things like scrolling through Facebook, eating a muffin or attending a party. You’re determined to reach your long term goal. However, as time advances a few thoughts creep into your head… “Maybe one muffin isn’t so bad” or “I’ll just check Facebook really quickly”, you’re operating at the intersection between the two graphs above. Next thing you know, you start valuing what you’re actually doing over what you should be doing, and you justify your action by thinking “who cares, it isn’t that important” or “I’ll start later” or “fuck it, I’ll be a stripper”.
Everything seems okay when you’re procrastinating, until your Netflix show is over, you’re tired of social media stalking or the muffin is all gone, you’ve left your “fuck it I’ll be a stripper period” and then… “WHAT ON EARTH HAVE I DONE?!”, panic, panic, panic. “What you should be doing” once again tops your “things I care about” list, but now you have less time, now you can’t get that long term reward.
Just like in rehab, we start by admitting to ourselves we have a problem, and that is the fact that we are all a bunch of hyperbolic discounters, and that George Ainslie would be very, very unhappy with us. This is your first step to breaking the procrastination cycle. Now you understand that reaching most long term goals and refusing short term temptation will only get harder with time, but the reward you get in the end for it will be much more valuable.
You are a rational creature, which means you should aim to act rationally. The animal part in you will tell you to delay your long term reward, it is your job to tell it to sit down and shut up.
Make sure you stay tuned for part 2 with more grounded advice to stop procrastinating. SHARE this post if you know a few procrastinators who need a dose of Ainslie.
*Simplified concept, read more by clicking on the hyperlink