Today’s Solutions: November 28, 2021

One explanation for why procrastination can rule our lives and pull us in has to do with a behavioral economics term called “time inconsistency.” Time inconsistency refers to the tendency of the human brain to value immediate rewards more highly than future rewards. When you make plans for yourself — like setting a goal to lose weight or write a book or learn a language — you are actually making plans for your future self. You are envisioning what you want your life to be like in the future and when you think about the future it is easy for your brain to see the value in taking actions with long-term benefits. When the time comes to make a decision, however, you are no longer making a choice for your future self. Now you are in the moment and your brain is thinking about the present self. And researchers have discovered that the present self really likes instant gratification, not long-term payoff. To overcome this way of thinking and beat procrastination, try these three strategies. First strategy: design your future actions by creating a “commitment device.” This entails making a choice that will lock in future behavior, bind you to good habits, and restrict you from bad ones. For example, you may lock your phone away until you finish that essay you’re supposed to write. Second strategy: Reduce the friction of starting. We procrastinate not because the actual process of working is hard, but because starting the work is hard. To ease this pain, put your energy into creating a ritual that makes it as easy as possible to get started. Third strategy: Utilize implementation intentions. This is when you state your intention to implement a particular behavior at a specific time. For example, “I will exercise for at least 30 minutes on [DATE] in [PLACE] at [TIME].” Research suggests this actually helps get people to beat procrastination.

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