Saturday, July 11, 2015

Kazan on Discouraging Procrastination

In the May 12, 2015, edition of The Atlantic, Olga Kazan discusses recent research insights into discouraging procrastination. Excerpts:
Procrastination is, in essence, stealing from yourself. The reason goals are so hard to reach, many psychologists think, is because each person believes they are really two people: Present Me and Future Me. And to most people, Future Me is much less important than Present Me. Present Me is the CEO of Me Corp, while Future Me is a lowly clerk.

“Instead of delaying gratification,” people “act as if they prefer their current self’s needs and desires to those of their future self,” write psychologists Neil Lewis of the University of Michigan and Daphna Oyserman of the University of Southern California in a new study in Psychological Science. ... So Oyserman and Lewis asked themselves: What if people could be made to think of their future selves as more connected to their current selves? ...

Through a series of experiments, Oyserman and Lewis found that if subjects thought about a far-off event in terms of days, rather than months or years, they seemed like they would happen sooner.
Read the whole thing. Call it self-denial, ambition, an overactive ego, a goal-focused perspective, or what have you. Successful people think differently, and I believe that the way they perceive the future truly plays a part. A family member who achieved substantial success in the thoroughbred horse industry liked to tell a story about how he lost his first big management position before he ever worked a day. (The owner canned him to provide a position for a relative.) He kvetched to friends, drank a few too many, and woke the next morning with a headache and a plan. By keeping that plan in the present, he eventually managed to go places that made that first job seem trivial.

Of course, there are downsides to a future-oriented approach, particularly for writers. The first that seems evident to me is the danger of developing an auteur's attitude, the belief that the unwashed masses are fools for failing to recognize your genius, which time will undoubtedly soon reveal. The second is magical thinking, a conviction that you don't need to sweat the details because Things Will Just Work Out. That's nonsense. No one owes us acknowledgment, and knotty matters should wring the dew from our brows. Our job is to realize that the present makes the future, put our shoulders to the grindstone, and push.

(Picture: CC 2009 by Matt Gibson)

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