Anyway, I'll feel more like doing it tomorrow.
Well, at least that's what we want to believe. In fact, there's good reason to think that we really will feel more like doing it tomorrow. Certainly we believe we'll feel more like doing it then as compared to doing it right now.
Here's how I think this story goes:
- There's lots of things we don't want to do, at least not in that intrinsically desired sense. In fact, just thinking about doing some tasks makes us feel awful (pick your flavor here — frustrated, sad, angry, depressed, etc.).
Even when we have an intention to do something now, knowing that we'll probably be worse off for any delay, we still don't want to do it, and we feel negative emotions.
- We don't like negative emotions. We like feeling good. Freud called it the pleasure principle. Evolutionary psychologists think it's part of a "stone age brain in the modern world" sort of thing; much like we crave sugar and fat, we crave feeling good now. There's not much denying that we like immediate rewards. Skinner taught us that too.
- So, instead of feeling awful with the task at hand, we give in to feel good. We procrastinate.
- The moment we put off the task, even though there might be some rumblings of guilt somewhere inside, we are feeling better. At least we're escaping that task for the moment. And, we've made a new intention; we'll do it tomorrow.
- Now, put these two things together: feeling a little better (maybe a whole lot happier) about not doing the task now + the intention for tomorrow. When I focus on my current emotional state (a form of presentism) and think about doing the task tomorrow, I predict I'll feel more like it tomorrow, because I believe how I feel now is how I'll feel tomorrow. Research by Dan Gilbert, Tim Wilson and colleagues have shown us this over and over again. We're just not good at affective forecasting, at predicting how we'll feel in the future. We often predict that tomorrow we'll feel like we do now, and putting off the task with the "good intention" of doing it tomorrow leaves us feeling pretty good.
- On top of all of this, we know we work best under pressure. We've done it a hundred times before. In fact, we can't remember doing it any other way. In any case, it's not due until tomorrow. We can do it then, no problem.
Oops, this is in fact the whole problem. We call it procrastination. It's really just a form of self-regulation failure. When we actually needed to exert some self-control at #1 above, we didn't. Everything after is just a sad rationalization of our weakness of will.