We Are Predictably Irrational

Why We Procrastinate
Why do we procrastinate? Dan Ariely, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, had the same question. To answer it, and many other questions pertaining to human behavior, he probed a relatively new field of study, behavioral economics. His conclusion, certain aspects of human behavior, no matter how irrational, do make sense; humans are Predictably Irrational.

Spoiler Alert: Over the next few weeks we’re going to take a look at some of Ariely’s findings in his book, Predictably Irrational: The Forces that Shape our Decisions.
“The Problem of Procrastination and Self-Control: Why We Can’t Make Ourselves Do What We Want to Do” (Chapter 7)


“Americans have succumbed to rampant consumerism. The closet of today is a different breed [than years ago]. Walk-in closet means that you can literally walk in for quite a distance. And no matter how deep these closets are, Americans have found ways to fill them right up to the closet door.” But, Ariely doesn’t stop there with his beef toward consumerism. He also cites the rise in consumer credit (borrowing) and the decrease in our ability to save. “Why can’t we exert some good old-fashioned self-control?” Ariely asks us to think about all those promises we make to ourselves. “Why do we lose the fight against procrastination so frequently?”

Hot and Cool Emotional States

Procrastination, Ariely points out, is translated from the Latin for tomorrow, and is rooted in our emotions. Ariely explains that humans can be in a cool or hot emotional state. “When we promise to save our money… exercise, and watch our diet . . . we’re cool. But then the lava flow of hot emotion comes rushing in: just when we promise to save we see a new car, a mountain bike, or a pair of shoes that we must have. Just when we plan to exercise regularly, we find a reason to sit all day in front of the television.”

Ariely’s Study
Ariely conducted scientific studies with his own college students, offering some classes the option of setting their own due dates for assignments, and others a strict deadline schedule. The classes with firm deadlines were more likely to turn their papers in on time, and on average scored higher.

What We Can Do
So what are Ariely’s recommendations to combat procrastination? “We have problems with self-control, related to immediate and delayed gratification-no doubt there. But each of the problems we face has potential self-control mechanisms, as well. If we can’t save from our paycheck, we can take advantage of our employer’s automatic deductions option; if we don’t have the will to exercise regularly alone, we can make an appointment to exercise in the company of our friends. These are the tools that we can commit to in advance, and they may help us be the kind of people we want to be.”

For many, having an experienced professional, or a supportive working partner, can definitely help us get through those “hot” emotional times and keep us moving in the direction we want to go.

Predictably Irrational: The Forces That Shape Our Decisions
Dan Ariely
Harper Perennial, (2010), 349 Pages, $15.99
Predictably Irrational (2010) is just one of Dan Ariely’s New York Times bestsellers. To read more of his books that delve into the rationale behind why humans do what they do, consider The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic (2011) and The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone-Especially Ourselves (2013).

-Jenny Power, Absolutely Organized

Organizing Tool Kit
Predictably Irrational Book Link