Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A recipe for procrastination: more options and an important goal.

(November 14, 2011). NYT writes that it is difficult for beginning runners to start running because they face a lot of choices. The finding is consistent with a 2000 paper by Ted O’Donoghue and Matthew Rabin, "Choice and Procrastination."
- Our first main finding is that providing a person with additional options can induce procrastination. If a new option has a sufficiently high long-run net benefit, the person will plan to do this new option rather than what she would have otherwise done; and if this new option has a sufficiently large cost relative to its immediate benefit, the person now procrastinates.

- Our second main finding is that people may procrastinate more in pursuit of important goals than unimportant ones, or equivalently that increasing importance can exacerbate procrastination. The more important are a person’s goals, the more ambitious are her plans. But the more ambitious are her plans — i.e., the higher is the effort she intends to incur — the more likely she is to procrastinate in executing those plans.
The second finding is interesting because it runs contrary to the common advice to aim high with your goals. That is, for most people aiming high is a recipe for procrastination, i.e. they will end lower if they aim high rather than low. On the other hand, a person capable of dealing with procrastination has an enormous advantage when aiming high. In a world full of distractions, the ability to avoid them carries a large benefit. The famous Marshmallow Experiment seems to confirm this finding.

One way to fight procrastination is to use commitment devices. A commitment device is a mechanism that prevents you from being tempted away from a long-term strategy. For example, tying Odysseus to the mast to avoid the temptation of the Sirens' song is a commitment device.

The Lunch Talk videos I started posting in this blog every day at noon is also a commitment device. It guarantees that, instead of aimless web browsing during lunchtime, I've got at least a good chance to listen to an interesting speaker every day.

tags: psychology, control, education, problem, solution, cognition

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