The colorful wolf

September 12, 2009

Procrastivation

Filed under: Thoughts — randy @ 22:19

The weather is shitty. I’ve been inside today, doing some programming. I’m always looking out of the corner of my eye to see if another cockroach might appear, but since yesterday I haven’t seen a new one. It’s really a mystery to me as to where they come from, as I only have two entrances to my room that are closed 99% of the time,  and I don’t leave food lying around. Let’s not get into that right now, as I wanted to talk about motivations, goals and procrastination, a topic which I’ve been putting off for a while, ironically.

I friend linked me to this article about procrastination. It’s an article wherein I recognize myself a lot. I’m trying to work on a website, but instead I find other things to do, like organizing my music, cleaning my room or going out to take photos. It’s interesting to note that some of these activities I like (organizing music, taking photos) but otherwise don’t do because of the same reason: procrastination. When the task is at the top of the priority list people don’t want to do them, and they start to do other things, which might have been at the top of the priority list before the new task came in. Interesting behaviour. Note that the opposite can also be true though. If people are too motivated for a task they might never finish it because they don’t accept anything less than perfection. (The perfect is the enemy of the good.)

In trying to isolate the WHY in this, why we don’t do certain tasks, I reached a personal conclusion: lack of motivation. It sounds lame, but it really is just that. By being able to reason, I am in my mind always capable of asking questions until the task seems meaningless. Rather than trying to explain this here, I think this article explains it much better than I ever could.

I think the two articles are very much related. Procrastination comes about because people don’t truly believe in what they’re doing. Compare a 25-year old social network designer in the year 2009 to a knight going on a holy crusade in the year 1200. Which one do you think is more motivated? Which one do you think contributes more to humanity?

The stronger your feelings about something, the easier it is to get motivated. But there is a downside to this, a rather big one. If you care about something strongly, you lose your freedom because you will be upset if something goes wrong. A small (or large) part of your mind that could otherwise be devoted to anything is now completely focused on a certain activity or task, and it will affect your mood strongly (either negatively or positively) depending on the outcome. I think this is why some people are reluctant to start a task (in other words: they prefer to procrastinate). They weigh how they would feel if the task completes successfully compared to if it completes negatively (or not at all), and then decide to do it or not. If people don’t feel they benefit greatly from the activity then they’re unlikely to do it.

Case in point: I am capable of running 10 kilometres every day but I cannot convince myself to lose weight. Internal priorities decide the order of tasks in the queue. In my case I’ve decided to not resist my internal ordering by doing whatever seems like a good idea at the time. This is how I prefer to spend my free time.

This cannot always be the case. If we list all the various needs a person might have hierarchically, one will find that this post talks mostly about the top tier. I have to admit I enjoy writing and talking about this, but I am only capable of doing this because the lower tiers’ needs have already been satisfied. For the moment, at least. And this is where the topic moves back to motivations and goals, because if it weren’t for the satisfaction of these lower tiers of needs then I wouldn’t even be able to write this!

So, rather than trying to find a direct answer to the question of what it is exactly that motivates me, I’ve decided to avoid the question entirely by answering: “my goal is to make sure that my basic needs are also satisfied in the future”. In other words, I consider anything that facilitates my ability to ‘self-actualize’ a worthy goal. Which is ironic, because I have not even decided whether self-actualization is a worthy goal or not. It’s like saying that the answer to ‘the meaning of life’ is to reproduce, so that your children might find the answer for you instead. While it’s not a direct answer and might not even help you personally to find the answer, a lot of good might yet come of it.

The second article ends with a quote that I hope will make you think:

Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die,
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams.
For if dreams go,
Life is a barren field
Covered with snow.

Until next time!

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