Sunday, February 22, 2015

Procrastination and Deferred Gratification - Reading or Writing

On Friday Nicole and I had a good talk.  I thought we got a little bit further into ideas that I wanted to see us discuss.  I will review some of that conversation below.  But first I want to note that I know this is a busy time for you, about 1/3 of the way into the semester.  In addition, last Thursday was the Chinese New Year, a time for celebration.  Even with that, however, I was a bit surprised that it was only Nicole and me, so I wondered about the following.  Were some of the previous conversations not quite working for you?  You are all so polite, I wonder if you'll gave an honest response to that question.  Please do.  Also, if you have thoughts on how we should proceed in the future when you miss the discussion from the prior week, please include that in your comment.  I'm not sure how to get you caught up.  But I will try here.  I told Nicole I'd write the post this week because I didn't think it was fair to ask her to connect our discussion with what we should talk about next and I didn't see how David or Yuchen could write this post after not being there on Friday.

After some chit chat we began by trying to identify time when the learning seemed to be working well and what the mood was when that happened.  I think we got a little further on the identifying when things worked, part of which was about identifying times where the stress is too much and makes things unpleasant.  Nicole does not like to feel rushed.  So she likes to begin on assignments quite early and give herself plenty of time to do research online to get enough background on the subject she is studying.   If she is forced to do things at the last moment, that is uncomfortable for her.
We were able to talk about good stress and bad stress.  And example of bad stress was a team project where some of the team members skipped the team meeting, as it happened this was the guys on the team, the girls were more diligent about doing the work.  So their share of the work was allocated to the guys in their absence and it was unclear whether they'd complete the work or not (and if they did it whether they would do it well).  That, as I said is bad stress.  It is uncertainty about which you can't exercise very much control.  You just have to hope for the best.

Good stress is when you face a challenge that is a little beyond your current capabilities.  Nicole said this happens regularly in her psychology class.  Her assignments push her to learn things that she didn't know before.  She doesn't rush to do this.  Rather she develops a plan of what to read to get the requisite background and she spends as much time as she needs to feel she is understand the research in this area.  It seemed that this time when Nicole was gaining understanding was a time of joy for Nicole.  I observed that she must be a confident learner, because not everyone knows that they can master something they don't understand.  Many other students, with less confidence, put off the task till the deadline.  The result from this delay is that they learn less, and perhaps they don't learn at all.

The discussion triggered thought of this essay by James Surowiecki called Later, which I encourage you to read.  It is a very well written piece and has many ideas that should be useful to us.  One of those is the planning fallacy and that we humans tend to underestimate how long a task will take to complete.  Another is the divided self and that each of us is not of one mind in what we should be doing with our time.  There are several related ideas also articulated that I think are relevant to our discussion.

A notion that is somewhat opposite of procrastination, not mentioned in the piece, is deferred gratification.  It means something like not caving into temptation now but doing the responsible thing instead.  The article then talks about various ways of achieving deferred gratification.  One way is called binding, where constraints are imposed up front to prevent the temptation from materializing.  It occurs to me that you over program yourselves (here I'm talking about how many credit hours you are taking plus your commitments to extra curricular activities) as a form of binding.  Free time, which is unconstrained, then might challenge you too much and temptation would win out then.

The thing is being busy is not the same as being in flow.  You can be working hard yet still be very self-aware.  The higher state of flow may only be reached if you allow yourself to discover things that you didn't anticipate ahead of time.  The process of discovery, however, is open ended.  It is unclear when or if it will happen.  It is also unclear, once it begins, how long it will take to follow till its conclusion.

Finally, let me bring in this other idea of reading or writing. What I mean here is whether somebody else is directing your learning (reading) or if you are directing it (writing).  In what I said about about how Nicole goes about her research plan, the instructor is giving direction on the topic, but she subsequently gives direction by planning the research to read to give her understanding.  Yet she is content with making that plan once and sticking with it.  We talked briefly about a concept called rolling plans, where after a period of time when proceeding according to the plan, the plan is then revised to reflect what has been learned in the interim and then current realities.  I suspect the three of you plan quite a bit about the work you will do.

While I do plan too, I'm much more into serendipity in my reading when I'm writing a piece, say for my regular blog.  I will have an initial idea and start writing, then a thought occurs that I didn't have at the beginning so I will research it and begin to read what that search provides.  Then that becomes the universe for a bit and the writing moves into the background.  When I return to the writing I now have a different plan for it based on what I've learned in the process.  The piece I end up with is rarely anticipated at the outset except in the most broad stroke terms.

You may recall that at the beginning of our class in the fall I argued for a dual path approach to the learning - as both a reader and a writer.  I don't know that the message sunk it at all at the time I articulated it.  Perhaps it is a little more meaningful now.  Anyway, I wonder if you see yourself that way or not.

1 comment:

  1. The game about choosing one hundred dollars today or one hundred and ten dollars tomorrow actually is discussed in my class. I've never thought that as an example of deferred gratification. I believe that when the day people get one hundred and ten dollars is even later (a month later, or even a year later), the preference of choosing getting one hundred immediately would take more proportion. Because defferred gratification needs patience, which people have very limited amount of it. It is similar to the procrastination problem essentially. When people try to stick to things they don't like or they can't feel flow and leave relaxing things deferred, they put the gratification off. Self-control ability and self-awareness play important roles here.
    In terms of "planning fallacy", I do feel it happens regularly. That's why I always try to plan things ahead in case there are some accidents during the process I try to accomplish my goal. Maybe my concerning of failing to accomplish goal because of unanticipated factors is the motivation for me to avoid procrastinating. I also believe this tendency can be gained by practice. After people have a better idea about their ability, and be aware of the unanticipated factors, they would get over the fallacy and try to start ahead.But sometimes it may cause some unnecessary stress. One of my friends may have this problem of over concerning. Every time she has an interview, she will arrive more than an hour ahead. I guess the reason for it is that she doesn't want to be late for the important interviews, avoid any accidents, and get well prepared. While I feel this is too much that it might be seen as a stressful signals. When people are under stress it is hard for them to be in flow. It really takes some practice and time for every individual to find their own pace.