Watch out for the monkey in your brain!
We all have moments in life where we would just like to do something else instead of the things that make sense. And sometimes we do that. For some of us this happens couple of times a month and for some it is everyday-ritual. For some this happens only when supposed to write essays and for some with everything. Whatever the situation is, it can be called procrastination. An annoying word that is probably familiar to everyone!
I find myself in one exact same situation year after year. I haven’t written my essays for school and there’s about two weeks to the deadline. I always start to wonder, do I procrastinate, even though I don’t usually find myself as a procrastinator type of person. With other things I’m usually pretty organized and able to lead myself well. But then I also wondered is it that simple? Can people actually be divided into non-procrastinators and procrastinators? What happens when we procrastinate? Is procrastination bad for us somehow? Those are the questions that I wanted to find answers to!
So I watched a ted talk called ”Inside the mind of a master procrastinator” (2016) in which Tim Urban opened up how procrastinating actually works in the human mind. I must say that I feel much more wise about my procrastination habits now. I recommend watching that video!
In the video Urban told first that the brain of a procrastinator is different than of a non-procrastinator. I thought there was going to be some brain researches coming up that prove this fact but it ended up being a joke. Instead Urban had drawn his own drawings based on his thoughts about how the brain of a procrastinator looks like.
There are two guys in the brain; rational decision maker and instant gratification monkey. Non-procrastinator only supposedly has the rational guy up there and a procrastinator has this annoying monkey in addition. So what happens in the brain of the procrastinator? Rational decision maker gets an idea to do something productive. Monkey does not like the plan. Monkey takes the wheel. Monkey wants to watch random videos with Justin Bieber’s mom and check if there’s anything new in the fridge since ten minutes ago.
This monkey of the brain simply lives in the present moment. It has no memory of neither the past or the future. Monkey only has two things in mind: easy and fun. Urban explains in the video that in animal world that’s totally okay. If you were a dog, doing things that are easy and fun would make you a huge success. Rational decision maker however differs us from the rest of the species on this planet. This guy in our brain wants us to do anything that makes sense right now and in the future.
Sometimes fun and easy and makin sense is happening at the same time! There’s no conflict. But when it would be a good idea to do things that might not be the funniest but make sense in the bigger picture, there’s going to be a conflict between these two guys in the brain. With procrastinators this fight usually ends the same way always. So the monkey wins the rational decision maker. This area where monkey wins and where there is ”no sense”, Urban calls the dark playground. This is because even though you have ”fun” it is actually not that fun. It is usually filled with guilt, shame and anxiety.
What happens next? One more character is added to the picture. It is called the panic monster. Yes, that’s right! This monster wakes up only when there’s a deadline coming or something bad could happen, like public humiliation. Panic monster is the only thing that the monkey is afraid of. So, the monkey leaves the wheel finally and rational decision maker can take its place. This is the point, where someone, who couldn’t sit down for an hour to think about a header for an essay, turns into someone, who writes fancy sentences for 8 hours straight.
Funny isn’t it? These 3 characters explain how procrastinators brain works. And it usually works. That’s the weirdest part; however bad this sounds, it still works. So what is the problem if this works? This is the part, where I got my answers: even though there’s actually no difference in people’s brains, there’s two types of procrastination. One, where there’s a deadline and one, where there ain’t. When you have a deadline, the panic monster wakes up. When you have no deadline, panic monster doesn’t wake up and nothing ever happens.
When you think about it, some of the most important things in life are ones dreams and future hopes. These don’t have deadlines. There’s nobody telling you when you should change you career or move out of Finland to your dream country for example. So isn’t it frustrating that you don’t fulfill your dreams just because you can’t start chasing them in the first place. There’s no panic monster waking you up to book a flight and pack your bags.
Next to your dreams, an essay is nothing. But at least you get your essay done with the help of the panic monster, right? Oh, but there’s one more thing… Remember the dark playground? The area which affects your happiness, even though your brain thinks it’s just fun. Usually these procrastination moments are just for a short period of time. And that’s okay then. You get your essay done and the harm it did you, was just temporary. But think about those dreams of yours. The time you spend in the dark playground with all the instant gratifications because of your dreams can be a very long time. Just because there are no deadlines and no panic monster. It creates a huge amount of longterm unhappiness because of the negative feelings the ”fun” involves.
So the conclusion is, there are no non-procrastinators. According to Urban, we are all procrastinating on something in our lives. You can be a procrastinator even though you have a healthy relationship with some deadlines in your life. You see, the most annoying trick of that monkey in our brains exists where the deadlines do not. We need to start thinking about our lives and be careful with the instant gratification monkey up there!
Urban, T. 2016. Inside the mind of a master procrastinator I Tim Urban. TED. Youtube-video. Julkaistu 6.4.2016. Viitattu 14.12.2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arj7oStGLkU