Bind yourself to the mast

I managed to write 1897 words for my thesis yesterday and another 1651 for today, and if you were in my place I bet you could imagine how accomplished I am feeling at this very moment and I am determined to ride on this high for as long as it remains. Why couldn’t every day be this productive?!

I have been thinking about the idea of procrastination a lot, and how much I (and perhaps a lot of us here too) had been conditioned to think that procrastination equals to laziness. Well breaking news: laziness does not exist and procrastination — as derived from the Latin verb procrastinare which means ‘to put off until tomorrow’ — is just simply a functioning problem, as explained in the derivation of its ancient Greek word akrasia, which means ‘doing something against our better judgment’.

“Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem,” said Dr. Tim Pychyl, professor of psychology and member of the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Hence, having established that procrastination is about emotions, not about productivity, we now know what to tackle (and it’s not about downloading a time management app or learning strategies for self-control) in order to deal with procrastination:

  • Forgive yourself in the moments you procrastinate
  • Practice compassion in the face of mistakes and failures
  • Cultivate curiosity
  • Consider the next action
  • Make your temptations more inconvenient

Also, when you see someone struggling or procrastinating with any task, resort to curiosity rather than judgment: what are the situational factors holding them back? What needs of theirs are not being met?

I am also intrigued by this idea of pre-commitment as explained in this article. It basically works as having something set in stone before you start with any projects, and this can be in any forms of an outline of your thesis, sending an email to your advisor promising to send drafts at a certain date, setting up a calendar, asking a friend to be an accountability buddy, and so on so forth. As mentioned, “Pre-commitments of this sort are one way of getting around not only the lure of temptation, but our tendency to procrastinate on matters that have an immediate cost but a future payoff, like dieting, exercise, and cleaning your office.”

Another TIL: the sirens are never described as sexy or desirable in the original text. Credit: Bustle & Emily Wilson’s Twitter

As a fan of Greek mythology, I especially like how the idea of pre-commitment is explained using the story of Odysseus’ journey home from the palace of the goddess Circe, as she warns about passing by the island of the Sirens. Odysseus, a complicated man as he is, knows he won’t be able to resist to listen to the songs of the Sirens, so this is the advice dispensed by Circe:

The goddess Circe informs Odysseus that his ship will pass the island of the Sirens, whose irresistible singing can lure sailors to steer toward them and onto rocks. The Sirens are a marvelous metaphor for human appetite, both in its seductions and its pitfalls. Circe advises Odysseus to prepare for temptations to come: he must order his crew to stopper their ears with wax, so they cannot hear the Sirens’ songs, but he may hear the Sirens’ beautiful voices without risk if he has his sailors lash him to a mast, and commands them to ignore his pleas for release until they have passed beyond danger. “Odysseus pre-commits himself by doing this,” Laibson explains. “Binding himself to the mast prevents his future self from countermanding the decision made by his present self.”

So,if you are about to start on a project? Start by strategising to bind yourself to the mast before anything else (but be kind if you miss a day or two).

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