Creative Procrastination Insights with Dr. Adam Grant | Huberman Blog

Intro

Are you a master of delay or simply a creative genius in disguise? Many see procrastination as a vice, but what if this dawdling could actually be your brain’s secret weapon for unleashing creativity? Dive into the surprising link between putting things off and sparking brilliant ideas, discover the joy of task sequencing, and unlock the power of your most interesting thoughts. Get ready to flip the script on procrastination and reframe it as a tool in your creative arsenal. Let’s explore this unorthodox approach to productivity that might just change how you tackle tasks forever!

Creativity and procrastination

The relationship between creativity and procrastination is a fascinating topic, one that intersects with the science of motivation and performance. During a deep-dive conversation between neurobiologist and ophthalmologist Dr. Andrew Huberman and organizational psychologist Dr. Adam Grant, they explored how procrastination isn’t simply about laziness, but more about avoiding the negative emotions tied to certain tasks. For some, that emotion might be boredom; for others, it could be anxiety or confusion related to the task at hand.

Interestingly, moderate procrastination can be a catalyst for creativity. When people push back on starting tasks, but not so far that they rush them in a panic, they seem to hit a sweet spot where their subconscious minds work in the background, forging connections and feeding into the ideation process. By neither jumping in too early nor delaying to the last minute, people can promote creativity and even improve their performance.

Dr. Grant explained that deliberate procrastination involves incubating ideas over time rather than committing to the first thing that comes to mind. This approach, supported by empirical evidence, suggests that taking time to let ideas breathe and evolve can lead to more novel and creative concepts when you finally sit down to execute the task.

Additionally, the conversation touched upon the power of intrinsic motivation—our internal drive to perform tasks that we find inherently interesting or enjoyable. A key takeaway is that intrinsic motivation can be cultivated. Suppose one is not innately interested in a subject or task. In that case, it’s possible to nurture curiosity by finding a personal angle that makes the topic more enticing, effectively using self-persuasion to alter one’s emotional connection to the task. Similarly, by finding a sense of purpose—even in mundane tasks like raking leaves—you can imbue activities with deeper meaning, thereby motivating action and enhancing overall performance.

Overall, the nuanced discussion between Huberman and Grant adds a complex layer to our understanding of procrastination and creativity, revealing how delicate shifts in timing and mindset can have significant impacts on both our process and results.

Task sequencing and satisfaction

The impact of task sequencing on performance and satisfaction is more profound than you might think. Recent studies reveal that when you engage passionately in one task, your performance can actually suffer if the next task on your list is rather mundane. This phenomenon aligns with the psychology of contrast effects — the same way eating something delicious may make your least favorite food taste worse. This discovery has led many, including professionals from various fields, to reconsider their approach to organizing daily tasks.

Rather than starting the day with the most exciting task and subsequently struggling through the more boring ones, it might be beneficial to begin with something moderately interesting. This serves as a warm-up and keeps you looking forward to the exciting tasks, making the tedious but essential tasks more bearable. Interestingly, even high performers, including top musicians, deliberately engage in menial tasks after peak experiences, like performing on stage, to ground themselves and manage the transition back to routine family life.

This practice of mundane tasks creates a reset in the frame of reference, making the contrast between the high of a peak experience and the normality of daily life less stark. This also allows them to find greater appreciation and satisfaction in their everyday activities upon returning home. Moreover, these smaller or less enjoyable tasks might act as a leveling mechanism for expectations, helping maintain a more stable sense of happiness.

The balance between intrinsic motivation and the satisfaction gained from various life tasks appears complex. On one hand, finding joy in the mundane can keep our expectations realistic and allow us to be pleasantly surprised by tasks we didn’t necessarily love. On the other hand, the momentum gained from enjoyable experiences can carry over and potentially make otherwise dull tasks feel more meaningful.

Experts suggest that when dealing with a disappointing or negative experience, using strategies such as distraction or reframing can help prevent negative spirals and maintain a constructive mindset. By focusing on what was learned or how others were helped, even on a bad day, one can reframe the experience to find some value that contributes to a larger sense of purpose and satisfaction.

Finally, addressing the daily bombardment of digital communications and the importance of setting boundaries with devices, some individuals maintain a “to don’t” list, which might include not scrolling social media or not using the phone past a certain hour. This type of self-regulation fosters a healthy work-life balance and prevents getting caught up in digital distractions that can detract from overall satisfaction and personal well-being.

The power of interesting ideas

Narcissism, often portrayed as self-centered overconfidence, is rooted in envy, a profound pleasure deficiency where narcissists constantly feel they have less joy in life while others seem to possess more without craving it. Recognizing this shifts our understanding of narcissistic behavior and hence how to deal with narcissists, framing their actions as stemming from an inability to find satisfaction, driving that ceaseless comparison to others rather than an overflow of self-love.

Our fascination with human behavior stems from an innate interest in ourselves and others. Learning something new, particularly about human emotions or actions, doesn’t necessarily need to be actionable—it’s the surprise and self-relevance that captivates us and enriches our worldview. TED Talks on human behavior resonate so well because they articulate feelings or experiences we’ve had but lacked the language to express.

Certain cultures have specific words for nuanced emotional states, allowing individuals to identify and process their feelings more effectively. For instance, some Japanese and German words describe emotions we don’t have a direct translation for in English. Comprehending that you’re not alone in your feelings creates a cognitive shift, offers comfort, and connects you to others.

The “name it to tame it” concept, where labeling emotions is a powerful regulation strategy, emerges as a key theme in emotional health. Vocalizing feelings helps in processing them and prevents emotions from overwhelming us. An example given is the term “languishing,” popularized in a New York Times article. It denotes a sense of stagnation, the lack of well-being, informing people it’s a widely shared emotion especially relevant during the pandemic. Simply giving a name to that feeling allowed people to understand and normalize their experience.

Finding language to articulate thoughts and emotions truly matters. When people understand the neurological substrates of their experiences—thanks to advances in cognitive neuroscience—they appreciate and believe in their experiences more. Learning and sharing these insights, even if not immediate or practical, improve our understanding of ourselves and others.

Lastly, parenting efforts to encourage children to realize their potential were discussed. Instead of focusing exclusively on performance measures, which can create anxiety, it’s important to ensure children feel they matter by contributing and making a difference. By involving children in giving advice on similar challenges we face, we empower and instill confidence in them. This approach can have a profound effect on both a child’s confidence and a parent’s understanding of how to support their child’s growth.

Conclusion

Creativity flourishes not in the rush of urgency but in the deliberate pause before action. By harnessing the strategic interplay between procrastination and task sequencing, we unlock a unique satisfaction from our work. Embrace the subtle art of thoughtful delay, and let the power of interesting ideas propel you toward inventive solutions and enhanced performance. Remember, the magic often happens while we’re waiting for the right moment to strike.

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