Mindful Moments: Stories and Lessons of Procrastination

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Be “kaizen” till you’re “wabi sabi”.

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The Japanese concept of getting small improvements done: “kaizen” is kind of like “iterative” process. We’ve recently had 1, 2, and yes a whopping 3 posts about getting small things done. So let’s develop our theme somewhat:

Process concepts, like kaizen, play a big role in Japanese language because of the role that they have traditionally played in Japanese culture. Japan’s highest traditional aesthetic philosophy is the appreciation of transient and flawed beauty: the “wabi sabi”.

A tea cup would be considered wabi sabi if it was exquisitely made and if that making was in some way exquisitely flawed. The tea cup could still be functional, just not perfect. The wabi sabi position is that true perfection must necessarily be imperfect. We make things in the world and they are real and that is their beauty. This elegant imperfection is not to be confused with random or unpracticed sensibilities. Instead, wabi sabi artistry must be flawed if it is to retain its experimental intention toward perfection. (I know, there’s irony there… the reasoning is nicely imperfect.)

Procrastination can come from worrying too much about perfection. So an understanding of how imperfection is necessarily a part of the highest level of perfection is a contradiction worth embracing. Is that why the best bloggers don’t always spell too good?

I saw Peter Schumann talk the other night at MIT. He considers digital media to be a passing artform and compares it to the longevity of a cave painting. And he didn’t balk at telling “The holy halls of technology” so. It’s the “smallness” that he blamed for his non-interest. But I wonder if it’s also not the difficulty in creating anything that’s meaningfully wabi sabi over the digital (exactly duplicative) internet.


Written by clayward

March 12, 2010 at 8:44 pm

Do monkeys procrastinate?

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So why do we procrastinate?  I mean, as a species.  Well, we’re pretty complicated.  We’ve got all these virtues and vices and it’s not clear which are innate and which come from kindergarden.  Pride, perfectionism, and fear fall more on the vice side of things typically (certainly not always).  And they definitely play into the story of procrastination.  People use procrastination as an oddball way to amp their sense of self-worth, according to Burka and Yuen, authors of Procrastination: Why You Do It, What To Do About It.  The thinking goes like this: by procrastinating, we avoid feeling like a failure even when we do fail.   “‘Well, I could have done better if I’d started sooner and given myself more time to do it.'”  And even extremely successful people can be afraid of failure.

Why such an elaborate ruse to keep ourself prideful?  Because when we’re too focused on being judged or even judging our own results then it is easy to become afraid of those results.  Or so perfectionist that getting started seems daunting.  It can be easier to put something off than start something that could result in failure.

When we think through the consequences of our actions, us humans are what economists call “risk averse.”  We’re more afraid of doing badly than we are excited about doing well.  This can make starting new things very emotional.

Heck, monkeys feel the same way.

So is that it?  Is it inevitable to be paralyzed with fear and never get anything done?  Of course not!  We can value the work that we do in and of itself.  Failure and success are really beside the point.  It’s the effort that we put into the work that we do that gets put on the scale at the end of our lives.

And does being risk averse mean that monkeys procrastinate?  I really want to know!

So, procrastinating to protect our sense of pride?  That’s just fear (the mind killer) wearing a fancy dress.  I wonder if using a feel-good incentive for time management like ProcrasDonate can activate a different set of neurons than the more typical guilty procrastination…

Written by clayward

October 10, 2009 at 4:10 pm

Posted in questions, research, theory