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  • So in college, I had to write a lot of papers.

  • Now, when a normal student writes a paper, they might spread the work out a little like this.

  • And I would want to do that, but then, actually, the paper would come along, and then I would kind of do this.

  • Now, I had a hypothesis that the brains of procrastinators were actually different than the brains of other people.

  • And to test this, I found an MRI lab that actually let me scan both my brain and the brain of a proven non-procrastinator, so I could compare them.

  • So, here's the brain of a non-procrastinator.

  • Now, here's my brain.

  • There is a difference.

  • Both brains have a rational decision-maker in them, but the procrastinator's brain also has an instant gratification monkey.

  • Now, what does this mean for the procrastinator?

  • Well, it means everything's fine until this happens.

  • So the Rational Decision-Maker will make the rational decision to do something productive, but the monkey doesn't like that plan, so he actually takes the wheel, and he says, "Actually, let's read the entire Wikipedia page of the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding scandal, because I just remembered that that happened."

  • The instant gratification monkey does not seem like a guy you want behind the wheel.

  • He lives entirely in the present moment.

  • He has no memory of the past, no knowledge of the future, and he only cares about two things: easy and fun.

  • Now, sometimes it makes sense to be doing things that are easy and fun.

  • But other times, it makes much more sense to be doing things that are harder and less pleasant, for the sake of the big picture.

  • And that's when we have a conflict.

  • Turns out that the procrastinator has a guardian angel, someone called the panic monster.

  • Now, the panic monster is dormant most of the time, but he suddenly wakes up any time a deadline gets too close or there's danger of public embarrassment, a career disaster or some other scary consequence.

  • But there's a second kind of procrastination that happens in situations when there is no deadline.

  • So if you wanted to have a career where you're a self-starter - something in the arts, something entrepreneurial - there's no deadlines on those things at first, because nothing's happening at first, not until you've gone out and done the hard work to get some momentum, to get things going.

  • There's also all kinds of important things outside of your career that don't involve any deadlines, like seeing your family or exercising and taking care of your health, working on your relationship, or getting out of a relationship that isn't working.

  • Now, if the procrastinator's only mechanism of doing these hard things is the panic monster, that's a problem, because in all of these non-deadline situations, the panic monster doesn't show up.

  • And it's this long-term kind of procrastination that's much less visible and much less talked about than the funnier, short-term deadline-based kind.

  • And it can be the source of a huge amount of long-term unhappiness, and regrets.

  • I had a little bit of an epiphany.

  • I don't think non-procrastinators exist.

  • That's right.

  • I think all of you are procrastinators.

  • Now, you might not all be a mess, like some of us, and some of you may have a healthy relationship with deadlines, but remember: the monkey's sneakiest trick is when the deadlines aren't there.

  • We need to think about what we're really procrastinating on, because everyone is procrastinating on something in life.

  • That's a job for all of us, and it's a job that should probably start today.

  • Well, maybe not today, but, you know, sometime soon.

So in college, I had to write a lot of papers.

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B1 US TED procrastinator deadline monkey panic brain

Why you procrastinate -- and how to still get things done | Tim Urban

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    Julianne Sung posted on 2021/07/20
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