Make It Concrete

By January 31, 2009Uncategorized

Today, we're going to approach the problem of adherence from an interesting place. The real world. As a matter of fact, the extremely real world. The key, it seems to handling procrastination in the real world is to think of the task at hand in concrete, rather than abstract, concepts. Would this work for adherence?


Here's how an article in PsyBlog described this concept:

In a new study published recently in Psychological Science McCrea, Liberman, Trope & Sherman (2008)
examined one possible technique for decreasing procrastination. From
previous work they hypothesised that how much we procrastinate might be
affected by the level at which we construe it. Across three studies two
levels of construing tasks were examined:

  1. Abstract construal.
    Say you want to cut the grass, an abstract construal would have you
    imagining those beautiful stripes imparted by your roller-mower and how
    beautiful your garden will look once it's done. Perhaps you'll be
    reminded of the grass courts of Wimbledon and then how the smell takes
    you back to the time when…well, you get the picture!
  2. Concrete construal.
    Now, instead of being carried off by a flight of fancy,
    concrete-construers would concentrate on whether the grass is wet, what
    length to cut it and whether there's any petrol left in the mower.

The interesting thing about the tasks considered in this study, as well as several other referenced in the PsyBlog post is that they were all assumed to be fairly difficult, complex tasks, as well as being prolonged and sometimes unpleasant. Think of, for example, mowing the lawn. Because of this assumption, successful anti-procrastination techniques included things like setting artificial deadlines, thinking about the abstract, long-term benefits of completing a task while working on it, and so on.

Adherence typically does not involve any of this kind of task. Assuming there's a prescription in hand, the tasks involved are pretty easy — go to the pharmacy and pick up a prescription, and at a set time every day, simply put a pill in your mouth. That's it. That's all. Literally, a reflex.

Which, perhaps is the answer. If someone is having a really hard time with adherence, maybe the best approach is simply to train them to think of what needs to be done in the most concrete possible construal — just go to the medicine cabinet, put a pill in your mouth, and swallow. Leave thinking about the implications of this for another day.

Or, as Nike would say — "Just do it."

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