CEFR_C2 (IELTS 8-8.5)

8. Inside the mind of a master procrastinator (subtitles)

2022-01-09 18:43:05 simyang 1


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0012

So in college,

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I was a government major,

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which means I had to write a lot of papers.

0019

Now, when a normal student writes a paper,

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they might spread the work out a little like this.

0023

So, you know --

0025

(Laughter)

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you get started maybe a little slowly,

0028

but you get enough done in the first week

0030

that, with some heavier days later on,

0032

everything gets done, things stay civil.

0034

(Laughter)

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And I would want to do that like that.

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That would be the plan.

0039

I would have it all ready to go,

0041

but then, actually, the paper would come along,

0044

and then I would kind of do this.

0046

(Laughter)

0048

And that would happen every single paper.

0051

But then came my 90-page senior thesis,

0055

a paper you're supposed to spend a year on.

0057

And I knew for a paper like that, my normal work flow was not an option.

0101

It was way too big a project.

0102

So I planned things out,

0104

and I decided I kind of had to go something like this.

0107

This is how the year would go.

0109

So I'd start off light,

0111

and I'd bump it up in the middle months,

0113

and then at the end, I would kick it up in o high gear

0116

just like a little staircase.

0117

How hard could it be to walk up the stairs

0120

No big deal, right

0123

But then, the funniest thing happened.

0124

Those first few months

0126

They came and went,

0127

and I couldn't quite do stuff.

0129

So we had an awesome new revised plan.

0131

(Laughter)

0132

And then --

0133

(Laughter)

0135

But then those middle months actually went by,

0138

and I didn't really write words,

0140

and so we were here.

0143

And then two months turned in o one month,

0146

which turned in o two weeks.

0147

And one day I woke up

0149

with three days until the deadline,

0153

still not having written a word,

0155

and so I did the only thing I could

0157

I wrote 90 pages over 72 hours,

0200

pulling not one but two all-nighters --

0202

humans are not supposed to pull two all-nighters --

0206

sprinted across campus,

0208

dove in slow motion,

0209

and got it in just at the deadline.

0211

I thought that was the end of everything.

0214

But a week later I get a call,

0215

and it's the school.

0217

And they say, Is this Tim Urban

0219

And I say, Yeah.

0220

And they say, We need to talk about your thesis.

0223

And I say, OK.

0225

And they say,

0227

It's the best one we've ever seen.

0229

(Laughter)

0232

(Applause)

0236

That did not happen.

0238

(Laughter)

0240

It was a very, very bad thesis.

0243

(Laughter)

0245

I just wanted to enjoy that one moment when all of you thought,

0249

This guy is amazing!

0251

(Laughter)

0252

No, no, it was very, very bad.

0255

Anyway, today I'm a writer-blogger guy.

0258

I write the blog Wait But Why.

0300

And a couple of years ago, I decided to write about procrastination.

0304

My behavior has always perplexed the non-procrastinators around me,

0307

and I wanted to explain to the non-procrastinators of the world

0311

what goes on in the heads of procrastinators,

0313

and why we are the way we are.

0314

Now, I had a hypothesis

0316

that the brains of procrastinators were actually different

0318

than the brains of other people.

0321

And to test this, I found an MRI lab

0323

that actually let me scan both my brain

0326

and the brain of a proven non-procrastinator,

0329

so I could compare them.

0330

I actually brought them here to show you today.

0332

I want you to take a look carefully to see if you can notice a difference.

0336

I know that if you're not a trained brain expert,

0338

it's not that obvious, but just take a look, OK

0340

So here's the brain of a non-procrastinator.

0343

(Laughter)

0346

Now ...

0348

here's my brain.

0350

(Laughter)

0355

There is a difference.

0357

Both brains have a Rational Decision-Maker in them,

0400

but the procrastinator's brain

0401

also has an Instant Gratification Monkey.

0405

Now, what does this mean for the procrastinator

0407

Well, it means everything's fine until this happens.

0409

[This is a perfect time to get some work done.] [Nope!]

0412

So the Rational Decision-Maker will make the rational decision

0415

to do something productive,

0417

but the Monkey doesn't like that plan,

0419

so he actually takes the wheel,

0420

and he says, Actually, let's read the entire Wikipedia page

0423

of the Nancy Kerrigan Tonya Harding scandal,

0425

because I just remembered that that happened.

0428

(Laughter)

0429

Then --

0430

(Laughter)

0431

Then we're going to go over to the fridge,

0433

to see if there's anything new in there since 10 minutes ago.

0436

After that, we're going to go on a YouTube spiral

0439

that starts with videos of Richard Feynman talking about magnets

0442

and ends much, much later with us watching interviews

0445

with Justin Bieber's mom.

0447

(Laughter)

0449

All of that's going to take a while,

0451

so we're not going to really have room on the schedule for any work today.

0454

Sorry!

0455

(Sigh)

0458

Now, what is going on here

0503

The Instant Gratification Monkey does not seem like a guy

0506

you want behind the wheel.

0507

He lives entirely in the present moment.

0509

He has no memory of the past, no knowledge of the future,

0512

and he only cares about two things

0514

easy and fun.

0516

Now, in the animal world, that works fine.

0519

If you're a dog

0520

and you spend your whole life doing nothing other than easy and fun things,

0524

you're a huge success!

0525

(Laughter)

0527

And to the Monkey,

0529

humans are just another animal species.

0532

You have to keep well-slept, well-fed and propagating in o the next generation,

0536

which in tribal times might have worked OK.

0538

But, if you haven't noticed, now we're not in tribal times.

0541

We're in an advanced civilization, and the Monkey does not know what that is.

0545

Which is why we have another guy in our brain,

0548

the Rational Decision-Maker,

0550

who gives us the ability to do things no other animal can do.

0553

We can visualize the future.

0555

We can see the big picture.

0557

We can make long-term plans.

0558

And he wants to take all of that in o account.

0602

And he wants to just have us do

0603

whatever makes sense to be doing right now.

0606

Now, sometimes it makes sense

0608

to be doing things that are easy and fun,

0610

like when you're having dinner or going to bed

0612

or enjoying well-earned leisure time.

0614

That's why there's an overlap.

0615

Sometimes they agree.

0617

But other times, it makes much more sense

0620

to be doing things that are harder and less pleasant,

0624

for the sake of the big picture.

0625

And that's when we have a conflict.

0628

And for the procrastinator,

0629

that conflict tends to end a certain way every time,

0631

leaving him spending a lot of time in this orange zone,

0635

an easy and fun place that's entirely out of the Makes Sense circle.

0639

I call it the Dark Playground.

0642

(Laughter)

0643

Now, the Dark Playground is a place

0647

that all of you procrastinators out there know very well.

0650

It's where leisure activities happen

0652

at times when leisure activities are not supposed to be happening.

0656

The fun you have in the Dark Playground

0658

isn't actually fun, because it's completely unearned,

0700

and the air is filled with guilt, dread, anxiety, self-hatred --

0704

all of those good procrastinator feelings.

0706

And the question is, in this situation, with the Monkey behind the wheel,

0710

how does the procrastinator ever get himself over here to this blue zone,

0713

a less pleasant place, but where really important things happen

0717

Well, turns out the procrastinator has a guardian angel,

0722

someone who's always looking down on him and watching over him

0725

in his darkest moments --

0726

someone called the Panic Monster.

0728

(Laughter)

0734

Now, the Panic Monster is dormant most of the time,

0739

but he suddenly wakes up anytime a deadline gets too close

0743

or there's danger of public embarrassment,

0745

a career disaster or some other scary consequence.

0747

And importantly, he's the only thing the Monkey is terrified of.

0751

Now, he became very relevant in my life pretty recently,

0756

because the people of TED reached out to me about six months ago

0759

and invited me to do a TED Talk.

0801

(Laughter)

0807

Now, of course, I said yes.

0808

It's always been a dream of mine to have done a TED Talk in the past.

0812

(Laughter)

0816

(Applause)

0824

But in the middle of all this excitement,

0826

the Rational Decision-Maker seemed to have something else on his mind.

0829

He was saying, Are we clear on what we just accepted

0832

Do we get what's going to be now happening one day in the future

0835

We need to sit down and work on this right now.

0837

And the Monkey said, Totally agree, but let's just open Google Earth

0840

and zoom in to the bottom of India, like 200 feet above the ground,

0844

and scroll up for two and a half hours til we get to the top of the country,

0847

so we can get a better feel for India.

0849

(Laughter)

0855

So that's what we did that day.

0856

(Laughter)

0900

As six months turned in o four and then two and then one,

0904

the people of TED decided to release the speakers.

0907

And I opened up the website, and there was my face

0910

staring right back at me.

0911

And guess who woke up

0913

(Laughter)

0917

So the Panic Monster starts losing his mind,

0919

and a few seconds later, the whole system's in mayhem.

0922

(Laughter)

0927

And the Monkey -- remember, he's terrified of the Panic Monster --

0930

boom, he's up the tree!

0931

And finally,

0932

finally, the Rational Decision-Maker can take the wheel

0935

and I can start working on the talk.

0937

Now, the Panic Monster explains

0939

all kinds of pretty insane procrastinator behavior,

0943

like how someone like me could spend two weeks

0945

unable to start the opening sentence of a paper,

0949

and then miraculously find the unbelievable work ethic

0952

to stay up all night and write eight pages.

0956

And this entire situation, with the three characters --

0959

this is the procrastinator's system.

1002

It's not pretty, but in the end, it works.

1005

This is what I decided to write about on the blog a couple of years ago.

1009

When I did, I was amazed by the response.

1012

Literally thousands of emails came in,

1014

from all different kinds of people from all over the world,

1017

doing all different kinds of things.

1019

These are people who were nurses, bankers, painters, engineers

1022

and lots and lots of PhD students.

1024

(Laughter)

1026

And they were all writing, saying the same thing

1029

I have this problem too.

1031

But what struck me was the contrast between the light tone of the post

1034

and the heaviness of these emails.

1036

These people were writing with intense frustration

1040

about what procrastination had done to their lives,

1042

about what this Monkey had done to them.

1046

And I thought about this, and I said,

1049

well, if the procrastinator's system works, then what's going on

1053

Why are all of these people in such a dark place

1055

Well, it turns out that there's two kinds of procrastination.

1059

Everything I've talked about today, the examples I've given,

1102

they all have deadlines.

1104

And when there's deadlines,

1105

the effects of procrastination are contained to the short term

1108

because the Panic Monster gets involved.

1110

But there's a second kind of procrastination

1112

that happens in situations when there is no deadline.

1114

So if you wanted a career where you're a self-starter --

1117

something in the arts, something entrepreneurial --

1119

there's no deadlines on those things at first, because nothing's happening,

1123

not until you've gone out and done the hard work

1125

to get momentum, get things going.

1127

There's also all kinds of important things outside of your career

1130

that don't involve any deadlines,

1132

like seeing your family or exercising and taking care of your health,

1135

working on your relationship

1136

or getting out of a relationship that isn't working.

1139

Now if the procrastinator's only mechanism of doing these hard things

1144

is the Panic Monster, that's a problem,

1146

because in all of these non-deadline situations,

1149

the Panic Monster doesn't show up.

1151

He has nothing to wake up for,

1152

so the effects of procrastination, they're not contained;

1155

they just extend outward forever.

1157

And it's this long-term kind of procrastination

1200

that's much less visible and much less talked about

1203

than the funnier, short-term deadline-based kind.

1206

It's usually suffered quietly and privately.

1210

And it can be the source

1211

of a huge amount of long-term unhappiness, and regrets.

1216

And I thought, that's why those people are emailing,

1219

and that's why they're in such a bad place.

1221

It's not that they're cramming for some project.

1224

It's that long-term procrastination has made them feel like a spectator,

1228

at times, in their own lives.

1230

The frustration is not that they couldn't achieve their dreams;

1233

it's that they weren't even able to start chasing them.

1236

So I read these emails and I had a little bit of an epiphany --

1242

that I don't think non-procrastinators exist.

1245

That's right -- I think all of you are procrastinators.

1249

Now, you might not all be a mess,

1251

like some of us,

1253

(Laughter)

1254

and some of you may have a healthy relationship with deadlines,

1258

but remember the Monkey's sneakiest trick

1300

is when the deadlines aren't there.

1303

Now, I want to show you one last thing.

1305

I call this a Life Calendar.

1308

That's one box for every week of a 90-year life.

1313

That's not that many boxes,

1314

especially since we've already used a bunch of those.

1318

So I think we need to all take a long, hard look at that calendar.

1324

We need to think about what we're really procrastinating on,

1328

because everyone is procrastinating on something in life.

1332

We need to stay aware of the Instant Gratification Monkey.

1337

That's a job for all of us.

1340

And because there's not that many boxes on there,

1342

it's a job that should probably start today.

1345

Well, maybe not today, but ...

1348

(Laughter)

1349

You know.

1351

Sometime soon.

1353

Thank you.

1354

(Applause)


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