So today I watched Tim Urban talking about procrastination on YouTube.
This is already slightly ironic, because the whole reason I was looking at YouTube was to distract myself from some work that I ought to be doing. You see, I am a master procrastinator.
Tim describes the brain of the procrastinator as occupied by three creatures. The first is the Rational Decision Maker. They’re the one who points out that we really ought to be doing something useful, sensible and probably difficult and/or boring.
Then you have the Instant Gratification Monkey. He doesn’t like stuff that’s difficult and boring, so he’d rather read the entirety of Wikipedia than do that tax return. Tax returns involve sums, while Wikipedia is stuffed full of useless but fascinating facts you can stun your friends with.
Fortunately for the existence of society, the third creature lodged in the brain is the Deadline Panic Monster. When a deadline looms, the Panic Monster wakes up and starts shouting at everyone. The Monkey is afraid of the Monster, so he shoots off and hides, leaving the Rational Decision Maker in that rare position, in charge of the ship. This allows you to do 6 months work in three days.
Given all that, most procrastinators don’t miss deadlines. Or if they do, they’ve got a really good excuse that they probably worked out from reading Wikipedia, so they get away with it. The problem comes when there isn’t a deadline. My tax return will be done on time because the Panic Monster will shout at me until I do it. But my social media schedule will never be finished, because there’s no deadline attached to it. I might have a new shiny idea which the Instant Gratification Monkey will be excited enough by to allow me to spend a bit of time working on my social media or write an insightful and amusing blog, but after a while he gets bored, wanders off and starts pressing buttons to see what happens.
You might say that the solution to this is to set myself deadlines. That’s not a bad idea, and sometimes it works. But if the task at hand is sufficiently boring or difficult, the Instant Gratification Monkey steals the keys and locks the Rational Decision Maker into the toilet. The Panic Monster, knowing they’re not ‘real’ deadlines (i.e. ones I’m going to be held to account for) takes the opportunity to have an extended nap.
I think everyone has an Instant Gratification Monkey, but sometimes they’re timid and repressed, and the Rational Decision Maker is able to prevent them from grabbing the steering wheel of the brain. And other times they’re behaving like a hyperactive three-year-old, charging around the place, grabbing hold of things and causing chaos.
This analogy works really well for me, because now I know that I’m allowing this tempestuous toddler to run my life I can do something about it. I can tell my Instant Gratification Monkey to go and play with something shiny and leave the grown-ups to run the show for a while. I can artificially excite the Panic Monster into scaring the Monkey away and leaving the Rational Decision Maker in charge. And I can get shit done.
Maybe I’ll do that tomorrow
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Caeredwen is a counsellor, coach and physical therapist based in Coleford in the Forest of Dean. If this blog has touched you and you would like to contact her in confidence, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via her website at www.magichandscalmminds.com.