My colleague Fuschia Sirois (Canada Research Chair, Bishop’s University) and I just published a paper entitled, Procrastination and the priority of short-term mood regulation: Consequences for future self. Fuschia has a keen focus on the discrepancy between the present and future self, as well as what this means for procrastination. I invite you to read the paper. I really like it (the complete reference is provided below, and here's a link to the abstract).
That said, I received an email from a reader of this blog and listener of my iProcrastinate podcasts who summarizes the tension between present and future self best. His strategy is one we all need to learn to use. I think it speaks for itself. With his permission, here is the text of the email message.
I have a technique that I figured out one day that I have been having great success with and wanted to share - you may have already mentioned it in your blog or podcast but I'm not sure. When I am aware that I am wanting to procrastinate I make myself think and FEEL the corresponding negative emotions I would feel in the future if the consequences of my procrastination became real.
My particular battle with procrastination is around not doing the necessary health behaviours to maintain a balanced life (I have problems with anxiety, and as a result have physical tension issues). Skipping these behaviours such as stretching, mindfulness meditation, and exercise has physical and emotional consequences, such as increased anxiety, back pain, depression etc. so the cost of my procrastination is high, and so is the emotional toll when confronted with the realization I am not helping myself. Because the negative emotion is so strong I can imagine it at the point of temptation and I can honestly tell you it is pretty hard to give in at that stage.
I guess simplified it is the process learning by mistakes - I do something, I have a negative outcome, then I change my behaviour – but only by conciously pulling the negative emotion from the past and projecting it into the future do I close that learning loop and manage the last step of behaviour change. I have to actively do it every time but I am getting better at it. It depends on awareness, and implementation intentions but it is working well for me.
I hope this is useful in some way.
Thanks again, James
Our thanks go to you, James. This is one of the most useful things I think any of us could learn. I want to put some emphasis on James' last point. He said:
". . . only by conciously pulling the negative emotion from the past and projecting it into the future do I close that learning loop and manage the last step of behaviour change."
Certainly we can all harness this strategy to motivate our daily health behaviors, but I would argue at this time of year, it’s an important strategy for our economic health as well.
Have you made your contributions to your retirement savings plan yet?
Sirois, F. & Pychyl, T.A. (2013). Procrastination and the priority of short-term mood regulation: Consequences for future self. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 7, 115-127. DOI: 10.1111/spc3.12011
If you would like to read more about our future selves, check out these blog posts: