Training Your Brain to Stop Putting Off That Vacation

The New York Times ran an interesting piece yesterday about pleasure procrastination: our tendency to put off things we actually want to do. Researchers have found that there are a couple of reasons we don't redeem gift cards or use our frequent flier miles. First, we mistakenly believe that we are too busy to engage in pleasurable activities now and that we will have more time to do so in the future.  Second, we don't want to settle for a good experience now when we imagine that we can create a perfect experience in the future. The problem comes when we habitually deny ourselves fun in the present moment because we are holding out for tomorrow. At best, we wind up with a drawer full of unused gift cards and Banana Republic winds up a little richer.  At worst, we wind up with a severely out-of-balance life, unable to allow ourselves (and probably those who are unfortunate enough to work for us) the "luxury" of a long vacation, a long weekend, or a long lunch.

I would argue that in order to stop pushing pleasure off into the future, we need to practice being present. Just as practicing scales is the foundation of mastering the piano, regular mindfulness meditation is practice for being present in daily life.

Mindfulness meditation is as simple as sitting for 5 minutes and focusing on your own breathing. Each time your mind drifts toward "what's for dinner tonight?" or "did I pay that bill?" gently bring your attention back to your breath. That's it. This is the "practice" in meditation: returning your attention to the present moment again, and again, and again.

Neuroscience confirms what meditators have long experienced: the more you practice meditation, the more easily you will be able to shift your awareness from the stories in your head to the present moment before you.  David Rock explains how mindfulness meditation retrains the circuitry networks in our brains so that we can be less caught up in narrative and more attune to the present moment.  He writes that over time,

You perceive more information about events occurring around you, as well as more accurate information about these events. Noticing more real-time information makes you more flexible in how you respond to the world. You also become less imprisoned by the past, your habits, expectations or assumptions, and more able to respond to events as they unfold.

That story that you've been telling yourself about the much-delayed vacation you'll take once everything is perfectly under control at work?  Much less convincing, when you are attuned to the reality of your present experience.

Does the concept of pleasure procrastination resonate with you?  What do you do to curb it?