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Some years ago, the economist George Akerlof found himself faced with a simple task: mailing a box of clothes from India, where he was living, to the United States. The clothes belonged to his friend and colleague Joseph Stiglitz, who had left them behind when visiting, so Akerlof was eager to send the box off. But there was a problem. The combination of Indian bureaucracy and what Akerlof called “my own ineptitude in such matters” meant that doing so was going to be a hassle—indeed, he estimated that it would take an entire workday. So he put off dealing with it, week after week. This went on for more than eight months, and it was only shortly before Akerlof himself returned home that he managed to solve his problem: another friend happened to be sending some things back to the U.S., and Akerlof was able to add Stiglitz’s clothes to the shipment. Given the vagaries of intercontinental mail, it’s possible that Akerlof made it back to the States before Stiglitz’s shirts did.

若干年前,美国经济学家乔治·阿克洛夫(George Akerlof)碰到了一个简单的任务:将一箱衣服从他所居住的印度邮递至美国。这些衣服是他的一个朋友兼同事来看过他之后落下的,所以阿克洛夫急着想将它们把它送回去。但是有一个问题:印度的官僚体系和阿克洛夫自己称作“我在这些事情上的无能”使之成为一件麻烦事——确实,他估计这将会占去一整个工作日的时间。于是他一周又一周地推迟处理这件事情。这样一直持续了八个月之久,直到阿克洛夫自己都快要回国了他才解决了这个问题:另外一个朋友恰好也要寄一些东西回美国,于是阿克洛夫得以将斯蒂格利茨(Stiglitz)的衣服连带着一同捎回去。考虑到洲际邮件的不稳定性,阿克洛夫很有可能比斯蒂格利茨的衬衫提早到达美国。
There’s something comforting about this story: even Nobel-winning economists procrastinate! Many of us go through life with an array of undone tasks, large and small, nibbling at our conscience. But Akerlof saw the experience, for all its familiarity, as mysterious. He genuinely intended to send the box to his friend, yet, as he wrote, in a paper called “Procrastination and Obedience” (1991), “each morning for over eight months I woke up and decided that the next morning would be the day to send the Stiglitz box.” He was always about to send the box, but the moment to act never arrived. Akerlof, who became one of the central figures in behavioral economics, came to the realization that procrastination might be more than just a bad habit. He argued that it revealed something important about the limits of rational thinking and that it could teach useful lessons about phenomena as diverse as substance abuse and savings habits. Since his essay was published, the study of procrastination has become a significant field in academia, with philosophers, psychologists, and economists all weighing in.
这个故事有一点让人感到安慰:就连诺贝尔经济学奖得主都会拖延!很多人生活中都充满着一大堆未完成的任务,或大或小,噬咬着我们的良心。但阿克洛夫将这再熟悉不过的体验看成是一个谜。他真心想把衣服寄回给他的朋友,但是,就像他在1991年的论文《拖延和顺从》(Procrastination and Obedience)中所提到的那样,“八个月里每早醒来我都决定第二天早上去把箱子寄给斯蒂格利兹。”他永远都将要把箱子寄出去,但那一刻从不到来。后来成了行为经济学的中心人物之一的阿克洛夫意识到,拖延可能不仅仅只是一个坏习惯。他认为这揭示了关于理性思维的限度的一些重要问题,并且可能帮助我们理解包括毒品滥用和储蓄习惯在内的形形色色的现象。自从他的论文发表以后,拖延症研究变成了学术界的一个重要领域,哲学家,心理学家和经济学家都争相加入。

Academics, who work for long periods in a self-directed fashion, may be especially prone to putting things off: surveys suggest that the vast majority of college students procrastinate, and articles in the literature of procrastination often allude to the author’s own problems with finishing the piece. (This article will be no exception.) But the academic buzz around the subject isn’t just a case of eggheads rationalizing their slothfulness. As various scholars argue in “The Thief of Time,” edited by Chrisoula Andreou and Mark D. White (Oxford; $65)—a collection of essays on procrastination, ranging from the resolutely theoretical to the surprisingly practical—the tendency raises fundamental philosophical and psychological issues. You may have thought, the last time you blew off work on a presentation to watch “How I Met Your Mother,” that you were just slacking. But from another angle you were actually engaging in a practice that illuminates the fluidity of human identity and the complicated relationship human beings have to time. Indeed, one essay, by the economist George Ainslie, a central figure in the study of procrastination, argues that dragging our heels is “as fundamental as the shape of time and could well be called the basic impulse.”
学界人士经常很长时间都在自我主导的形式下工作,因而特别容易拖拉:调查显示绝大部分的大学生有拖延现象,而涉及到这个现象的文章又往往以作者表示这是自己的问题而结束。(这篇文章也不会是例外。)但围绕这个主题进行的学术讨论并不是一群学究在试图合理化他们的怠惰。就像在《时间的小偷》一书中——由克里索拉·安德鲁和马克·D·怀特编写(牛津出版社;65美元) 的关于拖延的文集,囊括了从严格的理论探究到惊人的客观实际的一系列文章——众多专家讨论的那样,这种趋势向我们提出了基本的哲学和心理学问题。你可能认为,上次你中断准备presentation去看《老爸老妈罗曼史》只不过是你的一次小小的放松,但从另一个角度看,你事实上进行了一种能够揭示人类自我辨识的不稳定性和人类必须处理的复杂关系的行为。确实,拖延症研究的中心人物,经济学家乔治·爱因斯理(George Ainslie)在一篇文章中写道,拖延的习惯“就像时间的形态一样根本,并且不妨可以被称作基本冲动。”

Ainslie is probably right that procrastination is a basic human impulse, but anxiety about it as a serious problem seems to have emerged in the early modern era. The term itself (derived from a Latin word meaning “to put off for tomorrow”) entered the English language in the sixteenth century, and, by the eighteenth, Samuel Johnson was describing it as “one of the general weaknesses” that “prevail to a greater or less degree in every mind,” and lamenting the tendency in himself: “I could not forbear to reproach myself for having so long neglected what was unavoidably to be done, and of which every moment’s idleness increased the difficulty.” And the problem seems to be getting worse all the time. According to Piers Steel, a business professor at the University of Calgary, the percentage of people who admitted to difficulties with procrastination quadrupled between 1978 and 2002. In that light, it’s possible to see procrastination as the quintessential modern problem.
拖延被称作人类的基本冲动可能不无道理,但直到现代早期它才开始作为一个重大问题来被考虑。这个短语本身(由拉丁语衍生而来,意思是“推迟到明天”)在16世纪进入英语;到18世纪,萨缪尔·约翰逊(Samuel Johnson)将它描述为“每个人多多少少都具有的重大弱点之一”,并且对他自身的这种倾向感到失望和痛苦:“我无法克制责备自己一直忽视那些最终不得不做的事情,并且每一刻的闲散都增加了我的痛苦。”而这个问题看起来一直在变得越来越糟糕,根据卡尔加里大学商业教授皮尔斯·斯蒂尔(Piers Steel)的研究,从1978年到2002年,承认自己有拖延症困境的人数百分比翻了四番。从这个意义上说,把拖延症视为一个典型的现代问题是有可能的。

It’s also a surprisingly costly one. Each year, Americans waste hundreds of millions of dollars because they don’t file their taxes on time. The Harvard economist David Laibson has shown that American workers have forgone huge amounts of money in matching 401(k) contributions because they never got around to signing up for a retirement plan. Seventy per cent of patients suffering from glaucoma risk blindness because they don’t use their eyedrops regularly. Procrastination also inflicts major costs on businesses and governments. The recent crisis of the euro was exacerbated by the German government’s dithering, and the decline of the American auto industry, exemplified by the bankruptcy of G.M., was due in part to executives’ penchant for delaying tough decisions. (In Alex Taylor’s recent history of G.M., “Sixty to Zero,” one of the key conclusions is “Procrastination doesn’t pay.”)
这个问题同时也惊人地昂贵。每年,美国人都因为不及时报税而浪费上亿美元;哈佛经济学家大卫·莱布森(David Laibson)的调查显示美国工人已经在401(k)退休储蓄计划中放弃了一大笔的钱,只因为他们从来没有抽出时间去签订退休协议;百分之七十的青光眼病人宁愿冒着失明的危险也不定期使用眼药水。拖延症还给商业和政府造成了多余的成本:近期的欧元危机就是因为德国政府的踌躇不决;以通用公司的破产为代表的美国汽车工业的消退,部分是由于管理层喜欢延迟对棘手的问题作出决定。(在阿里克斯·泰勒(Alex Taylor)最近的通用公司史《60对0》里面,关键结论之一就是“拖延症无法创收。”)

Philosophers are interested in procrastination for another reason. It’s a powerful example of what the Greeks called akrasia—doing something against one’s own better judgment. Piers Steel defines procrastination as willingly deferring something even though you expect the delay to make you worse off. In other words, if you’re simply saying “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die,” you’re not really procrastinating. Knowingly delaying because you think that’s the most efficient use of your time doesn’t count, either. The essence of procrastination lies in not doing what you think you should be doing, a mental contortion that surely accounts for the great psychic toll the habit takes on people. This is the perplexing thing about procrastination: although it seems to involve avoiding unpleasant tasks, indulging in it generally doesn’t make people happy. In one study, sixty-five per cent of students surveyed before they started working on a term paper said they would like to avoid procrastinating: they knew both that they wouldn’t do the work on time and that the delay would make them unhappy.
Most of the contributors to the new book agree that this peculiar irrationality stems from our relationship to time—in particular, from a tendency that economists call “hyperbolic discounting.” A two-stage experiment provides a classic illustration: In the first stage, people are offered the choice between a hundred dollars today or a hundred and ten dollars tomorrow; in the second stage, they choose between a hundred dollars a month from now or a hundred and ten dollars a month and a day from now. In substance, the two choices are identical: wait an extra day, get an extra ten bucks. Yet, in the first stage many people choose to take the smaller sum immediately, whereas in the second they prefer to wait one more day and get the extra ten bucks. In other words, hyperbolic discounters are able to make the rational choice when they’re thinking about the future, but, as the present gets closer, short-term considerations overwhelm their long-term goals. A similar phenomenon is at work in an experiment run by a group including the economist George Loewenstein, in which people were asked to pick one movie to watch that night and one to watch at a later date. Not surprisingly, for the movie they wanted to watch immediately, people tended to pick lowbrow comedies and blockbusters, but when asked what movie they wanted to watch later they were more likely to pick serious, important films. The problem, of course, is that when the time comes to watch the serious movie, another frothy one will often seem more appealing. This is why Netflix queues are filled with movies that never get watched: our responsible selves put “Hotel Rwanda” and “The Seventh Seal” in our queue, but when the time comes we end up in front of a rerun of “The Hangover.”    
这本新书中大部分的作者都同意,这种怪异的非理性源自于我们和时间的关系,尤其是一种被经济学家们称作“双曲贴现”的现象。一个两级实验向我们提供了一个经典的示例:在实验第一阶段,人们可以选择今天得到100美元或者明天得到110美元;第二个阶段,他们可以选择一个月后拿到100美元或者一个月零一天后拿到110美元。这两个选择在本质上是完全等同的:多等一天,就可以多拿10美元。然而,很多人在第一阶段选择立即得到数目较小的那笔钱,而在第二阶段则更倾向于多等一天而得到那额外的10美元。换句话就是,“双曲贴现者”在考虑将来的时候能够做出明智的选择,但是,由于现实的切近,短期考虑压倒了他们的长期目标。类似的现象也出现在由包括经济学家乔治·卢文斯坦(George Loewenstein)在内的小组所进行的实验。实验中人们被要求为自己选择一部当晚观看的电影和一部第二天晚上观看的电影。对于前者,人们倾向于选择通俗喜剧和大片,但当他们在选择供以后观看的电影时,则更可能选择严肃、重要的题材。很显然,问题在于,当是时候看一部严肃题材电影的时候,另一部轻松花哨一点的通常显得更有吸引力。这就是为什么我们的Netflix中“想要观看”的影片队列里充满了从来都没人看的片子:我们那更有责任感的自我将《卢旺达饭店》和《第七封印》加入了影片队列,但时机成熟的时候我们却发现自己还是去了《宿醉》的重映。

The lesson of these experiments is not that people are shortsighted or shallow but that their preferences aren’t consistent over time. We want to watch the Bergman masterpiece, to give ourselves enough time to write the report properly, to set aside money for retirement. But our desires shift as the long run becomes the short run.

Why does this happen? One common answer is ignorance. Socrates believed that akrasia was, strictly speaking, impossible, since we could not want what is bad for us; if we act against our own interests, it must be because we don’t know what’s right. Loewenstein, similarly, is inclined to see the procrastinator as led astray by the “visceral” rewards of the present. As the nineteenth-century Scottish economist John Rae put it, “The prospects of future good, which future years may hold on us, seem at such a moment dull and dubious, and are apt to be slighted, for objects on which the daylight is falling strongly, and showing us in all their freshness just within our grasp.” Loewenstein also suggests that our memory for the intensity of visceral rewards is deficient: when we put off preparing for that meeting by telling ourselves that we’ll do it tomorrow, we fail to take into account that tomorrow the temptation to put off work will be just as strong.
这为什么会发生?一个共同的答案是,无知。苏格拉底相信akrasia严格地说是不可能的事情,因为我们不会希望看到对自己不利的事情发生;如果我们的行动违背了自己的利益,那一定是因为我们不知道怎样做才对。相似地,卢文斯基倾向于把拖延者看作是“不假思索”地被当下的回报所迷惑了。像19世纪苏格兰经济学家约翰·雷(John Rae)写的那样,“未来所展现的利益的前景,在这一刻看起来乏味而可疑,并且倾向于被忽视,因为日光所强烈照耀的物品正在我们伸手可及之处向我们展示它们的勃勃生机。”卢文斯基还认为我们对当下回报的强度的记忆是有缺陷的:当我们将对会议的准备推迟到明天,我们没能考虑到明天推迟这一工作的诱惑会跟今天一样强烈。”

Ignorance might also affect procrastination through what the social scientist Jon Elster calls “the planning fallacy.” Elster thinks that people underestimate the time “it will take them to complete a given task, partly because they fail to take account of how long it has taken them to complete similar projects in the past and partly because they rely on smooth scenarios in which accidents or unforeseen problems never occur.” When I was writing this piece, for instance, I had to take my car into the shop, I had to take two unanticipated trips, a family member fell ill, and so on. Each of these events was, strictly speaking, unexpected, and each took time away from my work. But they were really just the kinds of problems you predictably have to deal with in everyday life. Pretending I wouldn’t have any interruptions to my work was a typical illustration of the planning fallacy.
无知也可能通过被社会科学家乔恩·艾尔斯特(Jon Elster)称作“计划谬误”的现象来影响拖延症。艾尔斯特认为人们低估了“完成一项特定的任务所需要的时间,一部分是因为他们没有考虑到过去完成类似项目花去的时间,另一方面他们依赖于没有意外发生的顺利情境。”举个例子,我在写这篇文章的过程中,不得不把车送去维修,进行两次计划外的出行,其间一个家人病了等等,诸如此类。严格来讲,其中每一件事情都是意料之外的,并且都占去了我的工作时间,但它们是你每天实际上真正必须处理的事情。假装认为自己的工作不会受到任何的打扰是典型的计划谬误。

Still, ignorance can’t be the whole story. In the first place, we often procrastinate not by doing fun tasks but by doing jobs whose only allure is that they aren’t what we should be doing. My apartment, for instance, has rarely looked tidier than it does at the moment. And people do learn from experience: procrastinators know all too well the allures of the salient present, and they want to resist them. They just don’t. A magazine editor I know, for instance, once had a writer tell her at noon on a Wednesday that the time-sensitive piece he was working on would be in her in-box by the time she got back from lunch. She did eventually get the piece—the following Tuesday. So a fuller explanation of procrastination really needs to take account of our attitudes to the tasks being avoided. A useful example can be found in the career of General George McClellan, who led the Army of the Potomac during the early years of the Civil War and was one of the greatest procrastinators of all time. When he took charge of the Union army, McClellan was considered a military genius, but he soon became famous for his chronic hesitancy. In 1862, despite an excellent opportunity to take Richmond from Robert E. Lee’s men, with another Union army attacking in a pincer move, he dillydallied, convinced that he was blocked by hordes of Confederate soldiers, and missed his chance. Later that year, both before and after Antietam, he delayed again, squandering a two-to-one advantage over Lee’s troops. Afterward, Union General-in-Chief Henry Halleck wrote, “There is an immobility here that exceeds all that any man can conceive of. It requires the lever of Archimedes to move this inert mass.”
但无知仍然不是问题的全部。首先,我们拖延时做的经常不一定都是好玩的事情,而有可能是任何事情,它们唯一的诱惑在于不是那件我们不得不完成的任务。比如说,我的公寓一直都是这么乱,从来不会得到打理。人们也从经验获知:拖延者太清楚重要的当下的诱惑了,并且想要抵制它。但就是无法做到。比如,我认识一个杂志的编辑,一个周三的中午一个作家告诉她会在她吃完午饭以后将一篇具有时效性的稿子发到她的邮箱。结果,她收到那封邮件的时候已经是第二个星期的星期二了。 所以,拖延症的一个更完整的解释应该将我们对所躲避的任务的态度考虑进去。乔治·麦克莱伦(George McClellan)的将军生涯就是一个很好的例子。他在内战早期领导了波多马克(Potomac)军队,是历史上最伟大的拖延者之一。当他接管联邦军(北方军)的时候,他被认为是一个军事天才,但他很快因为长期的迟疑不决而出了名。1862年,尽管有一个绝佳的机会以另一支军左右夹击,从罗伯特·E·李(Robert E. Lee)的手中夺取里士满,但他犹豫再三,认定自己被成堆的同盟军(南方军)所堵截而失去了机会。那一年晚些时候,在安提坦(Antietam)战役前后,他都再次拖延,浪费了一个与李的军队二对一的优势。后来,联邦军总将军亨利·哈列克(Henry Halleck)写道:“……有一种超越任何人想象的惰性,只有阿基米德的杠杆才能撬动这个巨大的静止。”

McClellan’s “immobility” highlights several classic reasons we procrastinate. Although when he took over the Union army he told Lincoln “I can do it all,” he seems to have been unsure that he could do anything. He was perpetually imploring Lincoln for new weapons, and, in the words of one observer, “he felt he never had enough troops, well enough trained or equipped.” Lack of confidence, sometimes alternating with unrealistic dreams of heroic success, often leads to procrastination, and many studies suggest that procrastinators are self-handicappers: rather than risk failure, they prefer to create conditions that make success impossible, a reflex that of course creates a vicious cycle. McClellan was also given to excessive planning, as if only the ideal battle plan were worth acting on. Procrastinators often succumb to this sort of perfectionism.
Viewed this way, procrastination starts to look less like a question of mere ignorance than like a complex mixture of weakness, ambition, and inner conflict. But some of the philosophers in “The Thief of Time” have a more radical explanation for the gap between what we want to do and what we end up doing: the person who makes plans and the person who fails to carry them out are not really the same person: they’re different parts of what the game theorist Thomas Schelling called “the divided self.” Schelling proposes that we think of ourselves not as unified selves but as different beings, jostling, contending, and bargaining for control. Ian McEwan evokes this state in his recent novel “Solar”: “At moments of important decision-making, the mind could be considered as a parliament, a debating chamber. Different factions contended, short- and long-term interests were entrenched in mutual loathing. Not only were motions tabled and opposed, certain proposals were aired in order to mask others. Sessions could be devious as well as stormy.” Similarly, Otto von Bismarck said, “Faust complained about having two souls in his breast, but I harbor a whole crowd of them and they quarrel. It is like being in a republic.” In that sense, the first step to dealing with procrastination isn’t admitting that you have a problem. It’s admitting that your “you”s have a problem.
这样看来,拖延症不再仅仅是因为无知那么简单,而是一个由懦弱、抱负和内部冲突组成的混合体。但《时间的小偷》书中的一些哲学家对这种应做之事和结果所做之事之间的分割有一种更加彻底的解释:制定计划的和未能将其付诸行动的不是同一个人,而是被博弈理论家托马斯·谢林(Thomas Schelling)称作“分裂的自我”的不同部分。谢林提议我们把自己看成是各个不同的存在:为了得到控制权相互掐架、竞争和讨价还价。伊恩·麦克尤恩(Ian McEwan)回忆起他在写作最近的小说《太阳系》时的这种状态:“在进行重要决策的时候,内心可以被看成是一个议会,一个辩论厅。不同的派系之间相互竞争,短期和长期利益在相互仇视中确立自己的地位。不仅行动被搁置和阻挠,而且有些建议被提出用以掩盖其他的建议。会议进行得迂回而激烈。”类似地,奥托·冯·俾斯麦(Otto von Bismarck)写道:“浮士德抱怨他胸中有两个灵魂,而我胸中藏匿着一群灵魂,并且不断地争吵,就像是在一个共和国里面。”从这个意义上说,对付拖延症的第一步不是承认你有问题,而是“你”们有问题。
If identity is a collection of competing selves, what does each of them represent? The easy answer is that one represents your short-term interests (having fun, putting off work, and so on), while another represents your long-term goals. But, if that’s the case, it’s not obvious how you’d ever get anything done: the short-term self, it seems, would always win out. The philosopher Don Ross offers a persuasive solution to the problem. For Ross, the various parts of the self are all present at once, constantly competing and bargaining with one another—one that wants to work, one that wants to watch television, and so on. The key, for Ross, is that although the television-watching self is interested only in watching TV, it’s interested in watching TV not just now but also in the future. This means that it can be bargained with: working now will let you watch more television down the road. Procrastination, in this reading, is the result of a bargaining process gone wrong.
如果本体是相互竞争的自我的集合,其中的每一个都代表什么呢?简单地回答就是一个代表你的短期利益(享受快乐,推迟工作等等),一个代表长期目标。但如果那样的话,很明显你将无法做成任何事,代表短期的自我总是会最终获胜。哲学家唐·罗斯(Don Ross)提供了一个可信的答案。对罗斯来说,自我的不同部分都是同时在场的,始终相互竞争和讨价还价,一个想工作,一个想看电视等等。关键在于尽管看电视的自我始终只对看电视感兴趣,这一兴趣不仅存在于当下而且在于未来。这意味着这是可以讨价还价的:现在就工作可以让你在将来看更多的电视。在他的文章里,拖延是议价过程出了差错的结果。
The idea of the divided self, though discomfiting to some, can be liberating in practical terms, because it encourages you to stop thinking about procrastination as something you can beat by just trying harder. Instead, we should rely on what Joseph Heath and Joel Anderson, in their essay in “The Thief of Time,” call “the extended will”—external tools and techniques to help the parts of our selves that want to work. A classic illustration of the extended will at work is Ulysses’ decision to have his men bind him to the mast of his ship. Ulysses knows that when he hears the Sirens he will be too weak to resist steering the ship onto the rocks in pursuit of them, so he has his men bind him, thereby forcing him to adhere to his long-term aims. Similarly, Thomas Schelling once said that he would be willing to pay extra in advance for a hotel room without a television in it. Today, problem gamblers write contracts with casinos banning them from the premises. And people who are trying to lose weight or finish a project will sometimes make bets with their friends so that if they don’t deliver on their promise it’ll cost them money. In 2008, a Ph.D. candidate at Chapel Hill wrote software that enables people to shut off their access to the Internet for up to eight hours; the program, called Freedom, now has an estimated seventy-five thousand users.
分裂的自我这一概念尽管让有些人感到困惑,但在实践中却非常让人宽慰,因为你不用再将拖延症看作是通过努力就可以避免的问题。确实,我们应该依赖约瑟夫·西斯(Joseph Heath)和乔尔·安德森(Joel Anderson)在《时间的小偷》中的文章里称作"外在意志"的外部的工具和手段来帮助我们想要工作的那一部分自我。它的一个经典案例是,尤利西斯决定让他的手下将其绑在船桅上。尤利西斯知道当他听到女妖的歌声时将无法抑制自己去追赶她们而将船驶向礁石,于是他叫手下的人将他绑起来,那样就强迫他坚持自己的长期目标。类似地,托马斯·谢林曾说他愿意为一个没有电视的房间预付额外的费用。当今,问题赌徒和赌场签订合同禁止他们自己进入营业场所;试图减肥或完成某项工程的人有时会和朋友打赌,这样,一旦他们不能兑现承诺,就会输钱。2008年,教堂山(Chapel Hill, NC)的一个博士生写了一个软件,在人们上网8小时后自动断开网络连接;这个叫做“自由”的软件,现在大约有75,000的用户。

Not everyone in “The Thief of Time” approves of the reliance on the extended will. Mark D. White advances an idealist argument rooted in Kantian ethics: recognizing procrastination as a failure of will, we should seek to strengthen the will rather than relying on external controls that will allow it to atrophy further. This isn’t a completely fruitless task: much recent research suggests that will power is, in some ways, like a muscle and can be made stronger. The same research, though, also suggests that most of us have a limited amount of will power and that it’s easily exhausted. In one famous study, people who had been asked to restrain themselves from readily available temptation—in this case, a pile of chocolate-chip cookies that they weren’t allowed to touch—had a harder time persisting in a difficult task than people who were allowed to eat the cookies.
并不是《时间的小偷》一书中所有的作者都认同对“外在意志”的依赖。马克·D·怀特(Mark D. White)提出了一个基于康德伦理学的理念论观点:既然认识到了拖延症是一种意志的失效,那么我们就应寻求强化我们的意志而不是依赖于会使其继续萎缩的外在控制。这不是一项完全没有成效的任务:很多最近的研究显示,在某些方面,意志力像肌肉一样,可以被训练得更强。这个研究同时也表明我们绝大多数人的意志力都是有限的,并且很容易被耗尽。在一个有名的研究中,被实验者被要求不能碰伸手可及之处的一堆巧克力夹心饼干,他们在完成一项比较复杂的任务的时比那些被允许吃饼干的人碰到了更大的困难。
Given this tendency, it makes sense that we often rely intuitively on external rules to help ourselves out. A few years ago, Dan Ariely, a psychologist at M.I.T., did a fascinating experiment examining one of the most basic external tools for dealing with procrastination: deadlines. Students in a class were assigned three papers for the semester, and they were given a choice: they could set separate deadlines for when they had to hand in each of the papers or they could hand them all in together at the end of the semester. There was no benefit to handing the papers in early, since they were all going to be graded at semester’s end, and there was a potential cost to setting the deadlines, since if you missed a deadline your grade would be docked. So the rational thing to do was to hand in all the papers at the end of the semester; that way you’d be free to write the papers sooner but not at risk of a penalty if you didn’t get around to it. Yet most of the students chose to set separate deadlines for each paper, precisely because they knew that they were otherwise unlikely to get around to working on the papers early, which meant they ran the risk of not finishing all three by the end of the semester. This is the essence of the extended will: instead of trusting themselves, the students relied on an outside tool to make themselves do what they actually wanted to do.
考虑到这个倾向,这也就说得过去为什么我们总是不自觉的地依赖外界的约束来使自己摆脱困境。几年前,麻省理工学院的心理学家丹·艾瑞里(Dan Ariely)做了一个非常有趣的实验来考察对付拖延症最基本的外部手段之一:截止期限。学生们在一个学期中被要求完成三篇论文,并且有如下两个选择:他们要么设置三个独立的截止期限,要么在学期末将三偏论文一起上交。由于所有的论文都将在期末评分,提早上交论文是没有额外好处的,而且设置截止期限还有潜在的风险,因为一旦超过了一个截止期就会被扣除相应的分数。所以较理智的做法是选择期末一起上交,那样你仍然可以提早写作论文,但就算没能挤出时间也没有超期的风险。然而大多数的学生还是选择了为每个论文设置不同的截止日期,就因为他们知道否则的话自己不可能挤出时间提早完成论文,那就意味着他们有可能无法在期末上交全部的三篇论文。这是外在意志的实质:学生们依赖外部手段去迫使自己做他们实际上要做的事情,而不是相信自己。

Beyond self-binding, there are other ways to avoid dragging your feet, most of which depend on what psychologists might call reframing the task in front of you. Procrastination is driven, in part, by the gap between effort (which is required now) and reward (which you reap only in the future, if ever). So narrowing that gap, by whatever means necessary, helps. Since open-ended tasks with distant deadlines are much easier to postpone than focussed, short-term projects, dividing projects into smaller, more defined sections helps. That’s why David Allen, the author of the best-selling time-management book “Getting Things Done,” lays great emphasis on classification and definition: the vaguer the task, or the more abstract the thinking it requires, the less likely you are to finish it. One German study suggests that just getting people to think about concrete problems (like how to open a bank account) makes them better at finishing their work—even when it deals with a completely different subject. Another way of making procrastination less likely is to reduce the amount of choice we have: often when people are afraid of making the wrong choice they end up doing nothing. So companies might be better off offering their employees fewer investment choices in their 401(k) plans, and making signing up for the plan the default option.
除了自我捆缚,还有其他避免拖延的方法,大多数都基于被心理学家称作任务重组的方法。拖延症部分是由付出(现在需要做到的)和回报(将来才能得到,但不能保证)之间的断裂所驱动的。所以,不管用什么方法,缩小两者之间的距离会有很大帮助。由于截止日期较远的开放性的任务更容易被推迟而不是受到重视,选择短期任务,或者将工程分割为较小的、更明确的任务将会有用。那就是为什么戴维·艾伦(David Allen),关于时间管理的畅销书《尽管去做——无压工作的艺术》的作者,着重强调了分类和界定的重要性:任务越模糊,其所需要的思考越抽象,就越难及时完成。一个德国的研究表明只要引导人们思考一个具体的问题(像如何在银行开户),就可以使他们更好地完成工作——就算那是两桩完全不相干的事情。另一个减少拖延可能性的方法是减少选择:人们经常因为害怕作出错误的选择而结果一事无成。因此如果各公司都能够给他们的员工在401(k)退休储蓄计划中提供更少的选择,并将签订计划合同设为默认,那么就会好很多。
It’s hard to ignore the fact that all these tools are at root about imposing limits and narrowing options—in other words, about a voluntary abnegation of freedom. (Victor Hugo would write naked and tell his valet to hide his clothes so that he’d be unable to go outside when he was supposed to be writing.) But before we rush to overcome procrastination we should consider whether it is sometimes an impulse we should heed. The philosopher Mark Kingwell puts it in existential terms: “Procrastination most often arises from a sense that there is too much to do, and hence no single aspect of the to-do worth doing. . . . Underneath this rather antic form of action-as-inaction is the much more unsettling question whether anything is worth doing at all.” In that sense, it might be useful to think about two kinds of procrastination: the kind that is genuinely akratic and the kind that’s telling you that what you’re supposed to be doing has, deep down, no real point. The procrastinator’s challenge, and perhaps the philosopher’s, too, is to figure out which is which.
我们很难忽视这样一个事实:所有这些手段从根本上都是关于强加限制和减少选择,关于自愿地放弃自由。(维克多·雨果会赤身裸体地写作,让他的管家把他的衣物藏起来,这样在他该写作的时候他就无法外出了。)但在我们急着去克服拖延症之前,我们应该想想,有时候我们是否应该留心这样的冲动。哲学家马克·金维尔(Mark Kingwell)从存在主义哲学的角度写道:“拖延症最常缘起于一种有太多事情要做的感觉,于是并没有哪个方面的事情特别值得去做。在这种着实古怪的不作为的作为之下,是一个更令人不安的疑问:是否那些事情都值得去做。”从这个意义上说,也许我们应该考虑有两种不同的拖延:那种确确实实的违背最佳判断的结果,和那种告诉你你所应做的事情本质上并没有多少意义的。拖延者所受到的挑战,也许也是哲学家们受到的挑战,是分清哪个是哪个。

2010-10-22 23:06 编辑:kuaileyingyu