As I found myself procrastinating while writing this article, I began rationalizing this behavior: for all the hours spent postponing this task and that, I had subconsciously been preparing for the task, mentally organizing thoughts and data.

This made me think of the 2011 TEDx talk, where psychology and behavioral economics professor, Dan Ariely, painted the picture of a utopian society of productivity.

In the future we are wonderful people: we will be patient, we will not procrastinate, we will take our medication, we will exercise...The problem is that we never get to live in that Future. We live in the Present and in the Present we’re not that wonderful people.

Procrastination naturally bleeds into every aspect of life, from the routine of getting out of bed and paying one’s bills, to more serious things like going to the doctor for a check-up. Our brain sorts tasks into recognizable and retrievable patterns, assigning fear or pleasure intensities to these, which permits us to foresee the level of effort needed to complete a given task. But just imagine how much more productive we’d be if we eradicated procrastination, and how much we could improve ourselves.

Unattainable future

Rather than a necessary step to achieving our goals, procrastination is symptomatic of our self-perception and ambitions. Quoting Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, Erving Goffman wrote in 1959 in his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life:

There are indeed many precautions to imprison a man in what he is, as if we lived in perpetual fear that he might escape from it, that he might break away and suddenly elude his Condition.

While it can be difficult to remodel our socially-engrained personas, it’s important to remember that we are evolving beings and not fixed entities. It is when we engage in self-control exercises (ie banning chocolate from our homes), join motivational support groups, or carry out relaxation rituals, that we introduce meaningful change agents into our lives.

Designing for the future self

Psychologist and Director at the R&D Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University, BJ Fogg suggests that introducing tiny new habits into the everyday can influence behavioral change and make your desired goal reachable.

Using the same logic, Ariely suggests introducing “reward substitution.” This involves changing a part of the environment to fit the new behavior, by coupling a new habit with something you like. The Adidas miCoach wearable experience is a great example of this. miCoach is your personal trainer wrapped around your wrist (ie the change in environment), and uses the quantified-self as a way to make data more accessible and turning being fit into an aspirational and measurable goal (ie the new behavior).

Living Services: self-improvement interventions

So, how might we shift our focus from the invasive introspective chatter and gear our energy towards learning new behaviors in pursuit of our future, wonderful selves?

Design has now infiltrated a market where it can begin to positively impact the individual

Much is being done in digital to provide ways for people to improve their lifestyles. One digital trend that looms large in this space is Living Services. Big data, smart mobile technology and connected devices are combining to allow us to build a new type of smart digital service, capable of constantly evolving and learning our individual preferences and environments, almost as if it’s alive.

These Living Services are more contextualized and personalized than any we’ve experienced before. They will transform and improve the way we live, both by removing mundane tasks and offering services that constantly surprise and delight us.

Living Services can also help avoid procrastination and foster self-improvement. Achieving one’s goals was once dependent primarily on the support you received from others, but with Living Services, you can tackle self-improvement, well, yourself.

Here are a few services out there dealing with self-improvement:

  • Headspace allows individuals to take some time away from their day to navigate complex life challenges through “mindfulness meditation.”
  • HAPIfork helps consumers eat slower and lose weight by measuring and tracking the duration of meals and the frequency of fork servings per minute. Data is then reflected in the HAPI app to help people build healthier eating habits.
  • Mind Bloom is a suite of applications targeting self-development issues such as understanding the effect of habits on your energy levels.

Shifting mind-sets

Without a shift in mind-set there can be no cultural change, no growth, and no evolution in our intellectual lives. It is our perception of who we are within the confines of society, which determines whether we succeed in overcoming procrastination.

With the growth of sensor technology and the rise in new forms of UI, Living Services are making it possible to approach complex life conditions, and through digital innovations, affect our behavior. Living Services, like self-improvement apps, have the power to provide individuals with greater control over their bodies, as digital interfaces are starting to understand ever-changing user expectations.

Design has now infiltrated a market where it can begin to positively impact the individual. Over the years and decades to come, design will help drive meaningful change in the ways that individuals treat their body and interact with their various environments.

Image of young artist drawing courtesy of Shutterstock.