by Anupriya Jain
Are you that ‘nerd’ whose syllabus is not only complete, but revised thoroughly thrice an evening before the exam? Are you the first one to slap that assignment down on the table on the day of the deadline? Are you the ideal kid with the invisible halo who has the lawns mowed, the room cleaned and the homework neatly finished before Mumma returns from work?
Then move on, because this space is not for you. It is only and essentially for the ‘Brotherhood of Procrastinators’ or ‘Procrastinators Anonymous’ or whatever self-help group you want to name it, because we hardly care, or rather put off even the ‘I-give-a-damn’ till tomorrow. And please, if you chose to read this piece looking for a miracle pill, stop right here. There is no such thing, and if you happen to be one of those bizarre believers of the Sorcerer’s Stone, Bye Bye!
Yes, I confess I am a Procrastinator too and you can very well figure that out yourself – 197 words exhausted and I yet haven’t told you the solution to it. Anyway, almost everyone will agree it is a problem as irritating and sticky as weight loss – you know you have to lose it, you want to lose it but you’re too lazy to lose it. Then what must one sincerely hoping to improve do? A frantic research on the Internet revealed a startling fact to me, and so I decided to go the Compassion-in-Action way and share it with my fellow Procrastinators.
Till date I have been nagged by my mother to at least start the task I have been putting off for so long. The frantic Internet surfing that fateful day revealed how true my Mom was. And since teenage is synonymous with logic and it is hard to convince you to follow until I furnish you with some, let me introduce to you the study carried out by a Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik who founded the ‘Zeigarnik Effect’ in 1927.
While dining in a busy restaurant in Vienna, Zeigarnik observed a peculiar phenomenon. She noticed that the waiters seemed to remember only those orders placed which were in the process of being served. When they were completed, they evaporated from their memory. She went back to her laboratory and conducted a series of tests in which the participants were asked to perform numerous but simple tasks such as solving puzzles, stringing beads etc. They were interrupted and stopped between some of the tasks performed, while some remained uninterrupted. Later, when the participants were asked which tasks they remembered having performed; they were twice as likely to remember the tasks in which they were interrupted than those which they had been allowed to complete.
In 1982, Kenneth McGraw drew from this study and conducted another experiment in which the participants were asked to solve a really tricky puzzle. Before any of them could complete it, they were told that the experiment was over and were asked to stop. As per the observations, 90% of the participants continued to solve the puzzle despite being informed that the time had elapsed and the experiment was over.
Does it ring some bells?
Well, what both these studies aim to imply is that once you start something, or when something is in progress our mind tends to pay more attention to it. When the waiters are yet to serve the orders, they keep hovering in their consciousness. The participants of Bluma’s and Kenneth’s study were in the middle of solving a puzzle when they were asked to stop. Since the mind had already taken up a task and was working on it, it refused to stop. Therefore, the participants were still thinking about the tasks when the experiments had ended. And that is why they remembered uncompleted tasks better in the first study and refused to stop until the puzzle was solved in the latter.
Now let’s apply it to our poisonous habit. The list of ‘pending’ tasks keeps getting elongated because we refuse to START. If the studies are correct, you will find that as soon as you just take the first step towards doing it, you won’t be able to put it down until you had completed it. And this may well apply to the whole list.
For instance, if you begin a particular project, your mind records a statement ‘I started Project A’. Now, there are two roads to which you could get inclined –
- You complete the project
- You don’t complete the project
If the 1st road, well, good enough!
But if you happen to move to the 2nd road (what most procrastinators would tend to do even though they have started the project) the mind would record another statement “I didn’t complete Project A’.
This will lead to a case of Cognitive Dissonance in which you have two dichotomous statements –
“I started Project A”
“I didn’t’ complete Project A”
To achieve equilibrium, your mind will push you towards completing the assigned task, which is what you will end up doing. Success!
An idle mind can think up of a 1000 excuses to remain idle, and we surrender to it. The trick is to jolt that mind by just gathering a bit of incentive and taking the first step. Believe me, the irritated mind will itself lead you further without any effort. 🙂