— The Conversation (@ConversationUK) October 11, 2015
When we write that procrastination is a side effect of the way we value things, it frames task completion as a product of motivation, rather than ability.
In other words, you can be really good at something, whether it’s cooking a gourmet meal or writing a story, but if you don’t possess the motivation, or sense of importance, to complete the task, it’ll likely be put off.
It was for this reason that the writer Robert Hanks, in a recent essay for the London Review of Books, described procrastination as “a failure of appetites.”
The source of this “appetite” can be a bit tricky. But one could argue that, like our (real) appetite for food, it’s something that’s closely intertwined with our daily lives, our culture and our sense of who we are.
So how does one increase the subjective value of a project? A powerful way – one that my graduate students and I have written about in detail – is to connect the project to your self-concept. Our hypothesis is that projects seen as important to a person’s self-concept will hold more subjective value for that person.
It’s for this reason that Hanks also wrote that procrastination seems to stem from a failure to “identify sufficiently with your future self” – in other words, the self for whom the goal is most relevant.
Because people are motivated to maintain a positive self-concept, goals connected closely to one’s sense of self or identity take on much more value.
Connecting the project to more immediate sources of value, such as life goals or core values, can fill the deficit in subjective value that underlies procrastination.