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Hanlon's Razor: Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


I thought it particularly appropriate to post this story after such a long absence from my own blog. It's about why people procrastinate, which is a pretty important aspect of the human condition. Naturally there is an educational institution with a team of psychologist studying this problem.

For one experiment the team handed out questionnaires to a group of students and asked them to respond by e-mail within three weeks. Oh, and the 'subjects' wouldn't be paid until they responded; money being the ultimate motivator.

There were two types of questionnaires. One was filled with questions about implied personal traits based off of tasks. What kind of person has a bank account? The other questionnaire asked for the step by step instruction. How do you get a bank account? The idea was to get some students thinking abstractly and others concretely.

The students who were asked for the concrete explanations, the step by step instructions, responded significantly sooner than their counterparts. After more experiments, the findings showed that individuals primed for concrete thinking were much less likely to procrastinate.

So, in theory, there is a take-home experiment here. Take a task that you have trouble completing. Exercise is one of my favorites, and serendipitously it's also the example in the article. Stop thinking about the results, the WHY of the task. Instead focus on the step by step process to get it done: getting out of bed, putting on your shoes, each step of your routine etc.

If this works, we'll all be running marathons by next Christmas.


Blogger dvicci said...

Huh. That's actually pretty interesting. I'll put this into play for my indoor training. I'll be riding weekly centuries by this time in May.



12/25/2008 4:05 PM  
Blogger mattjustmull said...

Just think of the steps to clip in without using the wall... :)

12/28/2008 7:22 PM  
Blogger Panda said...

Isn't that how all exercise actually gets done?

12/30/2008 9:15 AM  

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