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The Panic Monster

The Panic Monster

Interesting fact: I love listening to TED Radio Hour podcasts. I listen to them everywhere—at the gym, in the car…in the car…

So, maybe not everywhere, but I usually listen to at least one a day.

Co-produced by NPR and TED, the TED Radio Hour is based on talks given by expert speakers. Each show is centered on a common theme—sometimes it's the source of happiness, finding success as an amateur, Maslow's human needs, or what it means to be afraid—and features sound clips from the original TED talk as well as original interviews with the speaker.

About a month ago I was driving back to Maine from N.J. (a 7-hour car ride) when I listened to a podcast about procrastination, a topic I am sorely familiar with.

The talk was given by Tim Urban, who writes the blog, “Wait But Why,” and it was as if he was speaking directly to me.

Here's Urban in his own words:

“I wanted to explain to the non-procrastinators of the world what goes on in the heads of procrastinators, and why we are the way we are.

Both brains have a Rational Decision-Maker in them, but the procrastinator's brain also has an Instant Gratification Monkey.

So the Rational Decision-Maker will make the rational decision to do something productive, but the Monkey doesn't like that plan, so he takes the wheel, and he says, 'Actually, let's read the entire Wikipedia page of the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding scandal, because I just remembered that that happened. Then we're going to go over to the fridge, to see if there's anything new in there since 10 minutes ago.'

Now, the Instant Gratification Monkey lives entirely in the present moment. He has no memory of the past, no knowledge of the future, and he only cares about two things: easy and fun.

Which is why we have another guy in our brain: the Rational Decision-Maker, and he just wants us to do whatever makes sense to be doing right now. Sometimes it makes sense to be doing things that are easy and fun, like when you're having dinner or going to bed or enjoying well-earned leisure time. But other times, it makes much more sense to be doing things that are harder and less pleasant, for the sake of the bigger picture. And that's when we have a conflict.

However, it turns out the procrastinator has a guardian angel—someone who's always looking down on him and watching over him in his darkest moments. Someone called the Panic Monster.

Now, the Panic Monster is dormant most of the time, but he suddenly wakes up anytime a deadline gets too close or there's danger of public embarrassment, a career disaster or some other scary consequence.

And the Monkey—remember, he's terrified of the Panic Monster—boom, he's up the tree! And finally, finally, the Rational Decision-Maker can take the wheel.”

Never in my life have I identified with a metaphor more, which brings us to this blog.

This morning I realized I haven't written one in a month and guess who woke up?


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