Tim Urban | Wait But Why (Episode 522)

Tim Urban (@waitbutwhy) of Wait But Why tells us how to build good patterns for defeating chronic procrastination and gain control over our own lives.

The Cheat Sheet:

  • Telling someone afflicted with chronic procrastination not to procrastinate is like telling someone with clinical depression to just be happier: it doesn’t work.
  • The chronic procrastinator experiences a constant struggle between their inner rational thinker — who sees the future and understands the value of goals and hard work — and an Instant Gratification Monkey that only lives for what’s easy and fun today.
  • Even when the inner Rational Decision-Maker knows there’s an impending task that needs to be completed (whether it’s a thesis or preparation for a TED Talk), the Instant Gratification Monkey will seize every distraction at hand to frustrate that task’s completion (until another entity — the Panic Monster — awakens).
  • How does the Procrastination Matrix compare to the Eisenhower Matrix, and what tasks does a present-day procrastinator put off for their future self?
  • Learn the different types of procrastinator — the disastinator, the impostinator, and the successtinator — and what it takes for the Rational Decision-Maker to overcome the incessant shenanigans of the Instant Gratification Monkey (without having to rely on the intervention of the dreaded Panic Monster).
  • And so much more…

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Anyone who’s ever struggled with procrastination knows what it’s like to dream big of an ideal future that will someday come to pass, yet lack a clear idea of how to get there through the everyday distractions that cloud the path ahead.

Tim Urban of Wait But Why joins us for episode 522 of The Art of Charm because he knows all too well what it’s like to be a procrastinator of extraordinary magnitude. He’ll explain why chronic procrastinators find it so hard to change their ways, and he’ll give us ways to persist through the doubts and distractions to build the better habits that lead to success.

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More About This Show

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” -Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

Like most procrastinators, Tim Urban of Wait But Why always approaches deadlines with the best of intentions. And as most procrastinators know all too well, those intentions invariably manage to slip through the gap of time between assignment and due date no matter how many months that gap may span.

In this 14-minute TED Talk, Tim tells us what happened during the year he had to prepare for a 90-page college thesis, and he explains some of the key elements that differ between the brain of a procrastinator and a non-procrastinator. He also reveals how these procrastinating elements interacted in his own brain during the six months prior to giving this talk.

If you consider yourself largely free from the shackles of procrastination, chances are pretty good there’s someone you know who personifies the very idea of procrastination. Chances are also pretty good that this person has annoyed and disappointed you during the time you’ve been acquainted, and perhaps you reacted by angrily telling them they’d be less annoying and disappointing if they just stopped procrastinating, already!

The thing is, this is about as effective as telling a clinically depressed person they’d feel better if only they would try harder to be happier, or an obese person who’s struggling to lose weight to just eat less food — that is, it’s not effective at all.

“The people who don’t have the problem routinely underestimate how bad the problem is,” says Tim. “Also, they overestimate how much it’s in your control because it’s in their control.”

For his part, Tim knows he’s got a procrastination problem. He would even go as far as to say (as he does in his TED Talk) that most people suffer from it to some degree. But as bad as the problems he’s endured as a result of his own procrastination have been, he considers himself “somewhere in the middle” and knows there are others out there who have it far worse. So, having an inquisitive mind that seeks out answers even if the path to get those answers may take some pretty wild detours, Tim sought a way to explain how procrastination works.

The Monkey, the Monster, and You

Three entities reside in the control room of a procrastinator’s brain:

The Rational Decision-Maker is your prefrontal cortex. It’s the part of the human animal — the higher consciousness — that woke up over the course of evolution and tries to guide you toward greatness. It sees into the far future, it remembers the far past, and it understands the value of hard work to get anywhere in life. It reminds you to keep evolving and overcome your tribal, primitive programming. Think of it as the captain of the ship.

The Instant Gratification Monkey is your limbic system. It’s “ancient and deeply intertwined” with your body. It’s where fear, hunger, sex drive, and more primal forces live. “It’s the fight or flight part of our brain,” says Tim. Its concerns are with what’s easy and fun. “The monkey only cares about the present. To him, there is no future, and there is no past.” It thinks you should always be doing what feels best right now, and will thwart the Rational Decision-Maker’s efforts at every turn.

The Panic Monster usually hibernates in the background. It has a very short-sighted glimpse into the future, so it’s only ever goaded into action when doom is imminent. It’s the Titanic lookout shouting about the iceberg dead ahead. The Panic Monster is the only thing that scares away the Instant Gratification Monkey long enough for the Rational Decision-Maker to course correct and navigate back toward responsible decisions and deadlines.

Listen to this episode of The Art of Charm in its entirety to learn more about the less obvious ways procrastination plays havoc with otherwise productive and fulfilling lives, the three types of procrastinator, the Procrastination Matrix vs. the Eisenhower Matrix, ways to break the bad habits that support procrastination and cultivate the good ones that make the most of today, and lots more.

Make sure to visit Tim’s Wait But Why blog when you get a chance — but be careful: trying to get through all of it in one sitting when you’ve got your own deadlines to appease may induce the very procrastination you’re trying to avoid.

THANKS, TIM URBAN!

If you enjoyed this session with Tim Urban, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out on Twitter:

Click here to thank Tim Urban on Twitter!

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Jordan Harbinger - author of 930 posts on The Art of Charm

Jordan Harbinger has spent several years abroad in Europe and the developing world, including South America, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East, and speaks several languages. He has also worked for various governments and NGOs overseas, traveled through war zones, and been kidnapped -- twice. He’ll tell you the only reason he’s still alive and kicking is because of his ability to talk his way into (and out of) just about any type of situation. Here at The Art of Charm, Jordan shares that experience, and the system borne as a result, with students and clients.

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