OK, maybe I am late on the scene. I just watched the Tim Urban TED talk on procrastination. This is a must see into the amazing mind of a master procrastinator and his instant gratification monkey.
(Please watch the 13 minute video. Without it the next 3 articles will be a challenge, plus its funny.)
After watching this, I think Wow! Wow! This explains everything! Within 24 hours, I demanded that my husband watch the video. “See! See!” I said, pointing to the monkey. This is why I can’t stay focused! This is why I always have multiple things going on at once. The monkey is always moving away from the focused work to the Dark Playground. (Tim, I personally feel the dark playground needs theme music, maybe all of it needs a score, with special intro music for each character. You did want to be a composer once, right?)
Anyway, that plunged me into reading all the Procrastination Blogs on Tim’s site Wait but Why to my 10 year old son this past Saturday morning. Normally a good student, my boy has been struggling with staying on task in school this last semester.
My Instant Gratification Monkey in Action
We were totally charmed by Tim’s drawings; the drawings explained to both of us our struggle with the instant gratification monkey. Even more amazing (thank you Tim) my son and I now had a shared language in which to talk about our struggles in focusing on the task at hand.
As an example, this morning my son wanted to be early to church to participate in coffee hour. Of course, he tells me this 2 hrs in advance of the time we need to leave–plenty of time! I will finish cleaning up the kitchen, take a shower and we will go.
Then I proceed to spend 30 minutes checking Facebook for prices on model horses I want to sell. I am in the Dark Play Ground–da, da, tada ! OK, I do a time check–an hour until church. I will jump in the shower now! Umm, but laundry is piled up on the bed. Let me just work through that really quick. Finally, after my son reminds me, we need to go; I can’t find the keys and end up late to church totally missing coffee hour.
I am so sad; I could cry. I let him down, I let myself down, and I broke a trust. I take him to Starbucks after church and buy him exactly what he wants in decaf. ( He prefers decaf). When we get back in the car, I apologize again and say the instant gratification monkey got the best of me. He says “I know mom it happens to me, too.”
I asked my son, “what do you do when the instant gratification monkey takes the wheel? My son replies,
“I try to make friends with the monkey. We work better as a team. Remember the Rational Decision Maker flying off with the blue caped monkey. I want a blue cape like that for a pony. ( Pony is a Valentine Rabbit style member of our family. Pony is real, I am sure of it.) Then we could all be friends and work together. Then we could all go to the Happy Playground. Remember the monkey likes the Happy Playground just as much!”
My son is so forgiving.
Forgetting to Remember the Future
Dr. Gobar Mate writes about a version of the Instant Gratification Monkey in his book, Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do About It. This is how I know, I am not alone.
“It is not that I wish to be late.” Mate writes. He goes so far as to say he believes he has enough time to be at the hospital by 9 am. Here is his story; maybe it is yours, it certainly is mine.
At 8:50 I leap, into the shower, still confident: there is space between the big hand of the watch and the hour marker, so I am not late.
Traveling always takes longer than I expect, that ice will have to be scraped off the car, that I will not find the keys, that I may get stuck in traffic do not arise in the mind as concrete possibilities.
It’s only when nine o’clock strikes and I am searching for my car keys that irritability begins to set in. When I get outside and realize that frost has made the windshield completely opaque, I begin to curse. By the time I have to rush back up the stairs once, then twice, to find the briefcase or lunch or stethoscope, I feel utterly frustrated. Scattered, p. 36
At this point, my mind will often say why bother? Does yours? Dr. Mate goes on to say that he arrives 15 minutes late, makes a lame joke and the day continues framed by an early morning failure.
The panic monster, in this case, is the clock and waiting colleagues. While the Rational Decision Maker is tapping his foot saying hurry up that damn instant gratification monkey is saying, oh, but wait we could squeeze in one more round of internet golf!
Time Illiteracy-The Dark Playground
Tim Urban’s dilemma with the 90-page senior thesis assigned a year in advance that he completes in 72 hrs, illustrates his time illiteracy. For a child, only the present exists. Time is infinite. The same is true for the Instant Gratification Monkey; he does not remember the past, nor can he see the future.
ADD adults and children live with the Instant Gratification Monkey on their backs. Dr. Mate writes,
…like time literacy, self-regulation is also a distinct task of development in human life, achieved gradually from young childhood through adolescence and adulthood. We are born with no capacity whatsoever to self-regulate emotions or actions. For self-regulation to be possible, specific brain centers have to develop and grow connections with other important nerve centers and chemical pathways need to be established. Scattered, p. 38.
As a constantly late person, I did my own informal study of “on-time-people” several years ago. I asked every “on-time-person” I knew, what they did to be on time. I asked them specifically about getting up and getting to work or appointments.
What I found out was every single one of them were self-limiters.
Self-Limiters — A Path to Self-Regulation and Time Literacy
Self-limiter–a person who reduces their activity to smaller amounts of their choosing, no matter the outside pressure.
An example–leaving for school a little early.
Where I (a non-self-limiter) would see an opportunity to take 5 minutes and mop the desperately dirty kitchen floor before jumping in the car to take the kids to school. The self-limiter would look at the task and say this might turn into more than a 5 minutes project, it can wait.
The other thing the “on-timer” had in common was a very active Panic Monster around being late. Being 15 minutes early to their locations kept the Panic Monster asleep.
While for me, the procrastinator, (possible ADD candidate) my Immediate Gratification Monkey sneered at me if we were 15 minutes early. “Think of all the other things we could be doing instead of sitting here waiting, this is no fun!”
My Panic Monster did wake up. But Like Dr. Mate’s scenario, only after the fact. I hate being late as much as the “on-timers”. It makes me feel anxious and shamed.
Are we all procrastinators with some time illiteracy in some areas of our lives as Mr. Urban asserts–most likely yes?
Is it fatal? No, it is not unless we decide to go hide in the tree with the monkey.
For me, time illiteracy holds a huge key. Not just being on time, but timing in general. My to-do lists are impossible–mounds of ideas and plans. Procrastinators love planning.
Time illiteracy under compensates for the time it will take to complete tasks. Important areas of my life get absorbed into the unimportant, because of my this. There is hope–read on into the next episode. The instant gratification monkey remains but the rational decision maker gets a turn, too.