The psychological origins of procrastination – and how we can stop putting things off - Deepstash

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Procrastination and subjective value

Our choice to work on a project is guided by how much we value finishing that project in that moment. Psychologists call this "subjective value."

Procrastination, psychologically speaking, is what happens when the value of doing something else outweighs the value of working now.

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A trick to defeat procrastination

Find a way to increase the subjective value of working in this moment, related to the value of other things.

You can boost the value of the project you should be working on, decrease the value of the thing that is distracting you, or try combinations of these two.

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Delay discounting

Our tendency to devalue money and other goods based on time is called delay discounting.

This is an important aspect in procrastination because the completion of the project happens in the future. Finishing a project is a delayed reward, so its value in the present is reduced: the further away a deadline is, the less attractive it seems to work on the project right now.

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Effort makes a task less attractive

Mental effort is costly, so we generally prefer to work on an simple task rather than a hard task. We procrastinate more if we expect a certain task to be hard.

This happens because the more effort a task requires, the more someone stands to gain by putting the same amount of effort into something else. This is called, in economical terms, opportunity cost. Opportunity costs make working on something that seems hard feel like a loss.

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Increasing the subjective value of a project

Attach the work you have to do to your self-concept.

We generally want to keep a positive self-concept, so goals connected closely to our sense of self or identity take on much more value.

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