There is a paradox within procrastination. Take Dr Piers Steel’s excellent book “The Procrastination Equation” as a guide (and a thoroughly good read)
As creatures of impulse – driven by our limbic system in our brains – we evolved to be responsive. See food? Eat it. Opportunity to procreate? Take it.
That may have served us well when we were hunter gatherers but it does us no favours in today’s society.
The great paradox is this. Impulsiveness results in procrastination.
Doing things on impulse actually leads us to putting things off.
Steel suggests an experiment. If I offered you £500 now, in cash, you would take it, right?
If I offered to defer payment for a year, or still pay you now, would you choose to defer payment?
How about if I increased the amount I pay you next year? How much would I have to increase the sum for you to choose to defer away from the immediate gratification of being paid now?
Conflict resolution can be the same.
Hitting conflict can feel so good. There is often an immediate gratification within the angry or conflict led response.
That immediacy overshadows the repercussions which might be several months down the line. Steel uses the analogy of sexually promiscuous individuals. The gratification wins out. Repercussions of unwanted children, or other repercussions, are concerns for another day.
The delay leads the limbic system to disregard them.
We are in a constant struggle where our impulsive limbic system battles with our prefrontal cortex. This latter part of our brain takes a longer term view. It is more strategic. It thinks things through but is far less sensory or immediately gratifying.
It takes discipline and exercise to build up the influence of the prefrontal cortex.
Now, consider this in conflict resolution.
A frequent objection to talking things through, to understanding the other person’s story, needs and interests is this…
“Oh, I haven’t got time for that. We’ve got to get on with it!”
Within that is often what I refer to as the seduction of conflict. We can use the “Need to get on with it” as justification for all kinds of abusive behaviour – abusive behaviour which we actually find to be gratifying. It is the “Rocket up their backside.” or the “Letting them have it.” It is the getting our side of the story across. It winning the argument, proving them wrong. Telling them so…
Putting on this lens of immediate gratification can help us to understand our own conflict habits.
That conflict response you were about to offer, is that limbic or prefrontal? Immediate gratification or smart strategy, thinking it through?
The final paradox within procrastination, it seems to me, is to learn how to procrastinate on the impulses!
How can we bring the prefrontal cortex thinking to the front of our minds?
Here are my immediately gratifying thoughts on the topic…
- Ask yourself, is this conflict response gratifying to me right here, right now?
- Does it feel good?
- Am I being seduced?
- Have I fully considered the ramifications?
- If I held off from this immediate response, what other options are open to me?
- If I take a little bit of time now to work this through, how much time might I save through not having to deal with later repercussions?
- What might be the future rewards and benefits in holding off an impulsive conflict response and what can I do right now that will enable me to access those future benefits?
Neil Denny is a regular speaker and author on conflict and collaboration.