The Rational, the Animal and the Monster

When applying for a position on the editorial board of Writer’s Block, I started preparing for the interview. I was informed of the kinds of questions that would come my way so I could prepare suitable answers. Mostly, it was an interview like any other I was used to (apart from the question of what my favourite Pokémon is, to which I believe my answer was Charmander (I panicked)), with a bunch of cliché questions that always come forward in those scenarios. For example, having to name three strengths and three weaknesses, and I knew I had to prepare for this one. I wanted to just be honest; I feel like that’s usually the best way to go, and felt that in this case there wasn’t much hanging in the balance. I was kind of struggling on my weaknesses. What are my weaknesses? Of course I have a lot of weaknesses, just as every other living being, but which of them are relevant to working in a position like this one? Eventually I only had to come up with one more, and decided that it would be my tendency to procrastinate. 

When discussing my list of shortcomings with a friend she made it seem like my ‘procrastinatorness’ would be my downfall in this interview. I always tend to get things done, even if it is last minute, so then why would it be such a bad thing? I must say that, despite this reasoning, I do see it as a weakness simply because it’s something I don’t really have control over. Also, it may imply some degree of laziness, passivity and/or sloppiness (all of which I’m not denying either, remember: honesty is key), but I still always meet the deadline, so it could be a lot worse, right? Analysing all of these thoughts made me wonder about procrastination in general: what does it mean to be a procrastinator? 

That’s what we will be discussing today! 

Are you excited yet? 

No? 

Just give it some time. 

There is this video on Youtube, a TedTalk called “Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator” by Tim Urban. In this video, Urban’s goal is to explain to non-procrastinators what goes on in the heads of procrastinators. He introduces three characters that inhabit the brains of procrastinators: the Rational Decision-Maker, the Instant Gratification Monkey and the Panic Monster.  

The Rational Decision-Maker, of course, makes the rational decision of doing something productive, things that ‘make sense’ to do, but the monkey doesn’t like that. The Instant Gratification Monkey, being an animal, lives entirely in the present moment and only cares about two things: easy and fun. He considers humans to be simply another kind of animal. So the Monkey takes the wheel to lead the procrastinator to activities that are easy and fun, also known as ‘the dark playground’. This is a place filled with things like wondering how many calories you consume by licking a stamp (1/10th apparently), finding out that there are more trees on earth than there are stars in the Milky Way, realizing that no matter how famous you get, you’ll never be as famous as cheese, and going on a YouTube binge that eventually leads to you watching videos of unlikely animal friendships or TedTalks on procrastination. Sometimes the interests of these two characters can overlap: everyone needs some mind-numbing entertainment every now and then. Most of the time however, the monkey is in the lead even when there are more important, ‘hard’ things to do. Luckily, the procrastinator has a guardian angel: the Panic Monster. He is usually dormant, but whenever a deadline comes to close the Panic Monster wakes up. He is the one thing that the Monkey is terrified of, thereby leaving the Rational Decision-Maker in charge again. This is how the work behaviour of procrastinators can be explained: how they can be immobilized for weeks, not being able to get to typing a single word for their article on procrastination, or cleaning their room, and then fart out 1321 words in a couple of days. All of this because of a deadline coming too close, whether that deadline is set by a university, a student magazine or a cute girl coming over that evening, thereby waking up the Panic Monster. 

As I mentioned, I didn’t think my procrastination was all that bad, and you might feel the same way. Yes, I wait ’till the last second with certain assignments, but I still tend to get them done in time. The problem is that in these examples we’re talking about deadlines that wake up the Panic Monster and contain the situation. But what if there are no deadlines?

This is where the procrastinator gets in some real trouble. Think about focusing on your health, starting your own business and investing in a certain career or personal relationships. Arguments could be made for these kinds of examples having some sort of a deadline as well, but those are simply not as clear. Because of that, there is basically no alarm going off that wakes up the Panic Monster. This is where we take a serious turn: it’s this kind of procrastination that involves the most long-term unhappiness, stress and regrets, all being held quietly and privately. At this point, Urban states that ‘the frustration is not that they couldn’t achieve their dreams, it’s that they weren’t even able to start chasing them.’ That’s the main problem. By not being able to undertake long-term personal projects you can start to feel like a spectator watching a life that is filled with merely the utmost basics. 

That’s why I wanted to join Writer’s Block.

For me, the reason I didn’t invest in my future was partly because I didn’t know what I wanted my future to be like. At the same time the procrastinator in me held me back from finding out by simply starting to try things that had the potential of becoming long-term projects, whether they would become them or not. At some point I wanted to get involved in writing, for example. I did try it out on my own, by keeping a journal, but noticed that writing everyday turned into once a week, and then once a month. There is simply no rush, no deadline creeping up, and, assuming I don’t die somewhere soon, enough time (fingers crossed, I guess). Right now I believe it’s been about two months. Writer’s Block came as a nice opportunity to be forced to write (by having actual deadlines!) and work on some sort of project outside of university. I was lucky since I got asked to apply by a friend who was already a board member and I didn’t have to put too much effort into it, so it just sort of happened. Still, I am happy that I did take this step, no matter how small it maybe was, because it’s a start, it’s something. 

P.S. I do recommend anyone who is interested to watch Tim Urban’s TedTalk. Besides actually having something interesting to say, which he explains a lot better than I do, he frames his message with a lot of jokes and personal anecdotes, making it an ideal fourteen minutes of not doing whatever it is you (think you) should be doing. 

Also, I feel reluctant to give any sort of advice on how to deal with procrastination, since I am still struggling with it, and that’s not why I wrote this article. All I can say is that, for me at least, starting is the hardest part. Once you commit yourself it’s easier to get into something and hold on, at least for a bit, and that is perhaps better than nothing. If you are looking for any more motivation, here’s someone who might be able help you out.

BUT, BEFORE YOU WATCH IT: go do what you have to do, this video can wait ’till tomorrow. 



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