Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Procrastinating 101: Decisions, Decisions

Are you (gasp!) a decisional procrastinator?    

Dr. Joseph Ferrari, author of Still Procrastinating?  The No Regrets Guide to Getting it Done, discusses "decisional procrastination" (DP in the trade, apparently,) in his third chapter.  It was not entirely clear to me whether he was saying that all procrastination involves indecision.  But implicitly, the procrastinator seems to be behaving indecisively when he or she puts off acting even after making a decision to, say, take on a project, or attempt a goal.

Ferrari tells us that difficulty with decisions may stem from the "diffuse identity" shared by most procrastinators.  This is a "style of identity," in which the individual avoids discovering her or his own weaknesses and strengths.  Such individuals "fail to commit themselves to any personal values and understanding of who they are."  (Are we procrastinators really that lame?) 

Ferrari goes on to explore the role of "information overload" and how it can compromise the "multithinking" required to self-regulate in order to perform a task.  To this reader, his treatment of this topic is a bit confusing, perhaps even confused.  He believes that many procrastinators would find the following scenario familiar:
You find yourself unable to decide which shirt to buy, which rug to order, which book to check out.  As a consequence, you buy three shirts, order two rugs, and check out several books from the library.  Then you fail to return the shirts, lose the receipt to the rugs, and pay overdue fines for the books.
I admit to defending myself from "TMI," and not only in the sense of embarrassingly personal disclosures by others.  But I believe it is more than financial limitations that prevent me from  purchasing multiple items because I can't make up my mind!  The library, of course, is another matter.  But then, can one really ever have too many books, if they are only temporary acquisitions?

Ferrari highlights research which finds that "decisives" gather more information about each possible alternative before choosing, while "indecisives" gather more information about the option they've already selected.  Ferrari believes indecisives "choose" (might we say "decide"?) to limit the amount of information they will deal with in making a determination, perhaps because they are easily distractible and wish to avoid being overwhelmed by information.  And he says that this is dysfunctional.

Indecisives appear to suffer decisional fatigue (which doesn't similary affect decisives) after making a certain number of decisions.  Ferrari speculates that indecisives have not built up their decision-making muscles, and prescribes more frequent decision-making.  

As to the genesis of indecisiveness, some studies show a link between being indecisive, and having had an indecisive mother and the ever-popular "cold and demanding" father.  You know, that ogre-father identified, it seems, in so many studies of negative psychological bents of one kind or another.  He erroneously--in my view--concludes that the existence of decisive individuals raised in the same house as their indecisive siblings "shows that procrastination is not genetic but learned."  But don't siblings differ significantly in their genetic makeup?  For example, cystic fibrosis, which is genetic in origin, will statistically affect one in four children of two parents who carry the genetic trait. 

But whether or not we may inherit a tendency to procrastinate because of indecisiveness, it seems reasonable to hope that the behavior itself can at least be modified.  Ferrari has this advice for those of us who would cure ourselves of the scourge of indecision:

  • Limit your options (to avoid "choice overload"; group options by shared characteristics)
  • Journal your thoughts (and challenge "irrational and unproductive" ones that keep you from acting)
  • Do the math (list pros and cons, and weigh them against each other)
  • Don't look back ("Move on, move forward.")
  • Take your time ("Take time to decide, don't take time to stall."  Aim to gather enough information to decide, not all the information.)
And for those of us who are becoming more grown up by the minute, Ferrari warns that
"...whatever helped you reach your goals in phase 1 [of adult life] might prevent you from attaining them in phase 2," when we must transition from the values and roles that brought us this far.  Indecision can rear its ugly head; it can "steal your right to choose."

I have not yet decided how valuable this book may be in my quest to understand how and why I procrastinate. . . 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this blog. I have realized I am a decisional procrastinator, I will not make a decision unless I am forced to.
    Thanks for all the information, i am learning lot of new things.