0197 – 4 parts to procrastination

There are 4 parts to procrastination.

Expectancy- What you believe the odds are that you’ll get it right. Do you expect to succeed? Sometimes this has a burst of “Yes I can” But then fades away.

Value– how important something is to you personally. Do you really care? Sometimes you’ll have to do something you don’t really care about- like school, for instance.  I was never able to successfully persuade myself to care about school, despite multiple efforts, threats, incentives, etc. I think a part of is giving yourself a clear vision of how doing it will lead you to somewhere you want to go. I didn’t really have that. But introducing that wasn’t enough. There was still the other 3 factors to worry about.

Delay. Humans experience something called hyperbolic discounting, or time-blindness. People with ADHD have It exceptionally bad. If you grew up without having to do chores, without having to be accountable, without bring responsible for anything, it would be even worse. The further away something is, the less it matters. Without prostheses, us procrastinators can only ever focus on anything that’s right in front of our faces. So it’s important I think to design and develop prostheses ourselves that help us achieve what we want to achieve.

Impulsiveness- this is maybe 25% innate tendencies, 25% habits and 50% environment. I’m pulling those numbers out of thin air- they might be totally warped. Maybe it’s 90% innate tendencies, as evidenced by people who experience brain damage and then become completely different people behaviorally. Regardless, it’s clear that we can build habits and adjust our environments to influence this factor to some degree.

The overall equation is loosely ( E*V / I*D ). If you want to reduce your odds of procrastination, increase expectancy, increase value, decrease impulsiveness and decrease delays. Each of those things lend themselves to several tactics. It’s important to diagnose the problem accurately. This is where I think I used to get messed up.  If something was a problem of delay- exams, for instance, reminding myself of why it was important value wouldn’t be the best approach. Rather, I would have to take littler, smaller problems on at more immediate dates, and then make those things costly through commitment devices, etc.

All of this applies to things that you know within yourself that you want to do, but aren’t doing, for reasons you don’t quite understand.

Sometimes you’re going to encounter a big hairy task that disgusts you and fills you with dread, discomfort and anxiety. These are lizard brain reactions. It made sense to our cavemen ancestors that if something turned your stomach, you ought to just avoid it. We don’t really have that luxury today. We have intractable problems that we can’t quite avoid or flee from. Or problems where the cost of fleeing is dramatically larger than the cost of facing it- but the cost of facing It makes us uncomfortable, so we hold our ground like deers in headlights. We stick our heads in the sand and wait for the storm to blow over, leaving behind wreckages of relationships, promises, commitments, even your own health.

There comes a point- often way further out than you’d like or expect- where you get tired of describing the problem, of confessing, of apologising. Yes, it’s therapeutic to confess- but that doesn’t address the root causes of the problem. At the end of the day there are subroutines of neurons firing in your brain that are making you do things that make your life and others’ lives unpleasant and Inconvenient.  And life is way too short for that stuff. Eventually you decide that taking action to fix things is the only option you have left- you’re tired, then you’re tired of being tired, then you’re tired of oscillating between those two states. You recognise that 2 or 3 layers of meta tiredness are enough. Get to 4 or 5 layers and you probably become outright suicidal.

(Guy next to me Is looking at pics of miss Philippines on Facebook.  Lady next to me Is playing candy crush. We have so much less autonomy than we believe. As the guy from Lesswrong said, it takes only marginally more autonomy to accomplish great things. The challenge Is to get good at the right things that subsequently compound into greater things.)
What then? Then you start doing stuff. What do you do? First you decide what to do, then you do it. How long do you spend deciding what to do? There are two ways I imagine approaching. One is the GTD system- which suggests that you set aside 2 whole days of your life to go through everything. This requires that you have 2 whole days of time. Unlikely. The other is to satisfice. List out the first bunch of tasks that come to mind, that you know are important and urgent. Then do anything that takes less than 2 minutes to do. Do up to maybe 5-10 of these.
There are other people who’ve written about this pretty extensively, so I need to sit down and read all of that shit. It shouldn’t take too long. I just need to make it a priority. I need to teach myself to prioritize. I need to learn to cut things short when they aren’t in my dominant interest. I need to lay down brick after brick after brick instead of planning each new bloody castle in the sky. I need to unwire 20 years of programming that has gone into my head. I need to do this daily. I need to do this every hour if possible. I need to do this as often as I can reasonably manage. I need to be kind and fair and stuff to myself, but I also need to get shit done because otherwise I don’t sleep well at night. Sleeping well at night is a function of me getting shit done. The more shit I done, the happier I get. And that’s as simple as it is. That’s all that counts. There is no grand insight there. There is no magic. No epic solution. Everything I need is already on the table.
Everything I need is already on the table. I just need to publish. Over and over and over again. For myself, for work, for everything.

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