Tim Urban’s talk on procrastination is counted among the most popular TED talks of the year 2015. Here we combine Tim’s brilliant analysis of the problem with the deep wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita, and arrive at a solution.
To understand procrastination, we have to understand ‘gunas’
Madhavendra Puri: Procrastination can be a serious problem for many, and a lot of thoughtful people nowadays are trying to come up with a solution. For example, Tim Urban presented his thoughts in his TED talk recently.
Vidagdha Madhav: When I heard Tim’s talk, I thought, this is exactly in line with what the Gita says about procrastination. Gita says that procrastination is seen when we are influenced by Tamo Guna. When the Gita says that we are influenced by Gunas, what it means is, the pure qualities of the soul within us is covered over to varying degrees because of the influence of our physical body and our mind.
Radhagopinath: The self can be compared to the hand, and gunaas can be compared to different layers of coverings like the gloves. Like a surgeon’s glove, wicket keeper’s glove and boxing glove.
Now when the hand is in the surgeon’s glove, the qualities of the hand are more manifest, the most finer activities can be done. The same hand in a wicket keeper’s glove does very gross – relatively gross – you may have seen even a wicket keeper, after catching the ball, to throw it he has to take it, and then he throws the ball and wears it back. When the same hand is in a boxing glove, the fingers are not visible. It is used only for the grossest activity of punching on the nose.
Vidagdha Madhav: In sattva guna the covering is thin, in rajo guna the covering is thicker, and in tamo guna the covering is thickest.
Radhagopinath: When the mode of sattva is present, at that time a person is more godly, because that is the nature of the soul. In rajo guna certain human limitations come out, and tamo guna covers a person with subhuman behaviour, the person acts like an animal.
Related Article: Gunas – Unseen Forces That Impel Us
What happens when a person is influenced by tamo guna
Madhavpuri p: Tim Urban, in his talk, explains what’s going on inside the brain of a procrastinator. It is as if an animal has hijacked your brain.
Tim Urban: Here’s a brain of a non-procrastinator; and here’s my brain. Both brains have a Rational Decision-Maker in them, but the procrastinator’s brain also has an Instant Gratification Monkey. Now, what does this mean for the procrastinator? Well, it means everything’s fine until this happens.
So the Rational Decision-Maker will make the rational decision to do something productive, but the Monkey doesn’t like that plan.
The Instant Gratification Monkey does not seem like a guy you want behind the wheel. He 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.
Now, in the animal world, that works fine. If you’re a dog and you spend your whole life doing nothing other than easy and fun things, you’re a huge success!
Which is why we have another guy in our brain, the Rational Decision-Maker, who gives us the ability to do things no other animal can do. We can visualize the future. We can see the big picture.We can make long-term plans. And he wants to take all of that into account. And he wants to just have us do whatever makes sense to be doing right now.
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.That’s why there’s an overlap. Sometimes they agree. But other times, it makes much more sense to be doing things that are harder and less pleasant, for the sake of the big picture. And that’s when we have a conflict. And for the procrastinator, that conflict tends to end a certain way every time, leaving him spending a lot of time in this orange zone, an easy and fun place that’s entirely out of the Makes Sense circle. I call it the Dark Playground.
Now, the Dark Playground is a place that all of you procrastinators out there know very well. It’s where leisure activities happen at times when leisure activities are not supposed to be happening. The fun you have in the Dark Playground isn’t actually fun, because it’s completely unearned, and the air is filled with guilt, dread, anxiety, self-hatred — all of those good procrastinator feelings.
What happens when a person is influenced by rajo guna
Vidagdha Madhav:Tamo Guna is often translated as the mode of darkness or ignorance. Rajo Guna is called the mode of passion, because when covered over by rajo guna people work passionately, sattva guna is called the mode of goodness, because in sativa guna godly qualities of the soul are more visible.
Radhagopinath: All these gunas—sattva, raja and tama—are competing with each other for prominence
Vidagdha Madhav: Some people are in Tamo Guna most of the time, but circumstantially sometimes Rajo Guna takes over, for example when there is a deadline.
Tim Urban: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 importantly, he’s the only thing the Monkey is terrified of.
So the Panic Monster starts losing his mind, and a few seconds later, the whole system’s in mayhem.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….
Madhavendra Puri:Work does happen when there are deadlines, but you can’t call it a solution for procrastination. Because firstly, in many cases there are no deadlines. And secondly, the work that happens in anxiety, under the mode of passion, is not the best work.
What happens when a person is influenced by sattva guna
Vidagdha Madhav:Regulated work is characteristic of sattva guna, or the mode of goodness, and that’s actually the solution to procrastination.Also,in Sattva Guna you are at your best,because u are neither delaying things under the influence of Tamo Guna, nor rushing in under the influence of Rajo Guna.
Madhavendra Puri: Sattva guna is when the Rational Decision maker is on his own, and is neither under the influence of the monkey nor the panic monster. And the influence of Sattva Guna is what Adam Grant in his TED talk on original thinkers calls “sweet spot”.
Adam Grant:Now, here are our results. You actually do see that the people who wait until the last minute are so busy goofing off that they don’t have any new ideas. And on the flip side, the people who race in are in such a frenzy of anxiety that they don’t have original thoughts either. There’s a sweet spot where originals seem to live.
Can we overcome the influence of gunas and overcome procrastination?
Radhagopinath: Krishna says in the Gita that it is extremely difficult to overcome the influence of these three modes. However, through few things you can change. One is the kind of food, the kind of environment, also the kind of association. You become what you associate with. Associating with people who have divine qualities, qualities in the mode of goodness, brings out that kind of quality. Very passionate people, you are also influenced. Dull, procrastinating and lazy, you are also inspired to follow suit. However there is one process that is the most potent of all these, and that is Bhakti or devotion.
Bhagavad Gita 14.26:One who engages fully in Bhakti Yoga at once transcends the Gunas and comes to the level of Brahman.
Radhagopinath: Just like, for millions of years a room can be dark, but you light a match, instantly millions of years of darkness goes away. So devotional service which is non-different from the Lord’s mercy, you light up, and millions of years of darkness can go away. So the choice is ours.
Madhavendra Puri:Most people in this world are under the influence of at least some amount of tamo guna. So procrastination, in that sense, is universal. But if we act diligently, making the right choices, it’s surely possible to gradually increase the influence of sattva guna, by which procrastination diminishes proportionately.
Related Article: 10 To-Do Things to Raise Consciousness to Sattva Guna
Radhanath Swami: We are not created ill. The atma, the living force within us is perfect, it’s a part of God. But we have free will within this world. And according to the choices we make, it not only creates a reaction, but it also creates an internal inclination toward doing the same thing again. So we become habituated by the choices we make. These inclinations we have are very much due to how we have programmed ourselves, by how we have chosen to act in the past. And the present moment is how we are programming ourselves for experiencing the world in the future. What is going to be our inclinations? You can’t change what you have done in the past. But whatever comes as a reaction, we have the free will how we are going to respond.