How I got here
Last week, while watching a Dan Gilbert TED Talk on why we make bad decisions, I heard a recurring theme: Human beings have a tendency to prioritize the present. Or as Esther Duflo says in a Challenges in Global Poverty Edx lecture, “We are thinking that today, the present is very important, but that tomorrow, we will start being reasonable people again. Now tomorrow comes, and tomorrow becomes today. And again, today is so important.“ We fool ourselves repeatedly.
What unifies my everyday psychology with the one that propels a poor mother to put off immunizing her child because she is so busy today is that today, is more important than tomorrow. She will immunize her child later. I will do it later. That is the power of now, and to Dan Gilbert’s point, why we make bad decisions.
My human psyche has been working against me all along.
Let me elaborate: the secret, giggly joy I used to take out of procrastination is suddenly not such a point of pride or innovative. Performing well despite having waited until the last minute in college to write a term paper or study for an exam is all of a sudden not something that speaks to my brilliant mind [look! I tricked them! I don’t even have to study all semester like the rest of the students! I can slack off all year and still get an ‘A’]; rather it now looks like a crutch that speaks to a common fallacy of the human condition.
What a terrible thing. There’s little worse than, after all these years of feeling invincible, brilliant and special, understanding that this is not it.
I walked forth with a new resolve following my realization: later may as well be never; do it now.
Of course, like many things, this is easier said than done. No, I don’t want to respond to this email right now, I’m going to do it later. No, I don’t want to call Comcast. No I don’t want to call the credit card company to dispute the charge.
How much mental real estate does it take to keep remembering to put off these things, but reminding ourselves not to forget them? How many times do we say that we’re going to start studying for the GMAT soon, but not today, and three months later, we still see not one, BUT TWO GMAT books sitting in the corner gathering dust? How many times do we put something off for so long that it no longer makes sense to even do it anymore?
And the longer we put off doing something, the more we create a mental barrier to doing it. It’s so uncomfortable to now address that we put it off for even longer.
So over the course of a week, I had to continually remind myself to just do it.
“No, you don’t want to do it, Lisa? That’s too bad. Do it.” Like pulling off bandaid, I had to keep reminding myself that a bit of discomfort here meant that an unpleasant task was done. Don’t want to have that uncomfortable talk right now? Just do it. Don’t want to write that quick memo. Just do it. Don’t want to write that blog post about doing it now? Just FUCKING DO IT ALREADY.
The result has been a whole paradigm shift in the way I think after 27 years. This is what the new pride looks like. Doing it now is the new procrastination. Being a ‘do’ person is what makes you special.
And the unintended consequence is [speaking back to a conversation I was recently having with my best friend], you are more present. By not taking shortcuts, you don’t feel like you’ve cheated the system with your apathy and procrastination. There is pride in digging into something and finishing it now in a different capacity than the “duping delight” kind of pride [another TED Talk by Pamela Meyer on “How to spot a liar”]. There’s pride in being someone who just gets things done.
And as I get more things under my belt—as I dust the corners now, now now—the more delighted I am at the de-cluttering that naturally occurs. Things don’t get muddled in process; they move.
I never considered procrastination, at least by name, in this whole process until last night, while reading a brief about entrepreneurship and being an independent consultant. Writes Larry Hendricks about the considerations individuals should take when deciding if they’re essentially up to snuff on working independently:
(1) Are you self-disciplined enough to manage yourself and your business?
(2) Can you psychologically manage money well enough to operate your business (have and keep sufficient working capital to finance your airfare and living expenses until you receive your first payment) without getting stressed because you do not have a steady paycheck?
(3) Are you a procrastinator or a ‘do it now’ person?
I know in our American society, there is no better or worse, yet here it was articulated and staring me in the face. If you want to be an entrepreneur, you’re sure not going to be successful as a procrastinator. So there’s more than just pride: this is what success looks like.
#JFDIN, just fucking do it now.