In his book Antifragile Nassim Taleb explains why we shouldn’t fight procrastination. Instead, we should embrace it.
Few understand that procrastination is our natural defense, letting things take care of themselves and exercise their antifragility; it results from some ecological or naturalistic wisdom, and is not always bad—at an existential level, it is my body rebelling against its entrapment. It is my soul fighting the Procrustean bed of modernity.
This really goes against the grain of common “wisdom” on the subject of procrastination. Most people treat procrastination as something to be cured and done away with. There is a ton of advice consisting of generic, motivational platitudes like “Be tough” and “Suck it up, buttercup!” It sounds like good advice for masculine, or wannabee masculine, men. Yet, it usually fails or has negative, unintended consequences.
It’s hard to argue with Nassim Taleb on this subject, let alone any subject. So I’d like to share some thoughts on what I picked up from Antifragile regarding procrastination:
Real vs. Imagined Danger
I do not procrastinate when I see a lion entering my bedroom or fire in my neighbor’s library. I do not procrastinate after a severe injury. I do so with unnatural duties and procedures. I once procrastinated and kept delaying a spinal cord operation as a response to a back injury—and was completely cured of the back problem after a hiking vacation in the Alps, followed by weight-lifting sessions. These psychologists and economists want me to kill my naturalistic instinct (the inner b****t detector) that allowed me to delay the elective operation and minimize the risks—an insult to the antifragility of our bodies.
Since procrastination is a message from our natural willpower via low motivation, the cure is changing the environment, or one’s profession, by selecting one in which one does not have to fight one’s impulses. Few can grasp the logical consequence that, instead, one should lead a life in which procrastination is good, as a naturalistic-risk-based form of decision making.
Writer’s block is a common issue for many writers. Some people say writer’s block doesn’t exist. Others say people just need to push through it. Yet no one considers the idea that writers should just skip over any content that doesn’t resonate with them:
If I defer writing a section, it must be eliminated. This is simple ethics: Why should I try to fool people by writing about a subject for which I feel no natural drive? Using my ecological reasoning, someone who procrastinates is not irrational; it is his environment that is irrational. And the psychologist or economist calling him irrational is the one who is beyond irrational. In fact we humans are very bad at filtering information, particularly short-term information, and procrastination can be a way for us to filter better, to resist the consequences of jumping on information, as we discuss next.
I have a lot of half-written drafts. They will never be published because my heart is just not in the content. If I pushed through it and “sucked it up” I’d be giving readers mediocre content with little value. I would know it and so would you.
What to Do Next Time You’re “Procrastinating”
Next time something comes up that you feel like you need to do, think twice.
Do you really need to do it?
Do the benefits outweigh the costs?
It’s likely that you’ll find out they often don’t. So the next time someone tells you to stop procrastinating tell them to read Antifragile by Nassim Taleb and then come talk to you.