“Brains of procrastinators are actually different to brains of other people” -Tim Urban
In the scientific literature procrastination naturally falls under the wider topic of research on self-control.
In life we do things, some things are fun and take minimal effort and time, while other things are more tedious and less fun. For example: catching up on your most recent TV show vs. starting that next assignment.
Procrastination is known as the act of putting off important tasks that usually have looming deadlines, for tasks that will usually result in immediate happiness (perhaps to be followed by a last minute build up of stress, panic & self-hate).
As a university student that decided to return for ‘extra’ time (read: post grad) in this ongoing barrage of assignments, readings and presentations, I have definitely perfected the art of procrastination, learning what I am able to achieve in a small period of time.
It’s funny because the ‘typical student’ is someone whose life becomes lost to the system, riddled with late nights, poor diets and forgotten life basics. Laundry, exercise and basic hygiene are apparently not a part of the average students vocabulary. But, this isn’t the case. Students tend to be normal members of the community, able to carry themselves as the dignified adults their parents hoped they would one day become. The previous description arises when the student realises what they have done, and still have to do. They realise they have a mere few days to complete an assignment that was set two weeks prior to the hand in date. This is where everything goes out the door, breakfast, lunch and dinner become toast, toast and toast. Laundry piles up, resulting in a haphazard style comprised of sweatpants and baggy tee-shirts. Basic everyday hygiene will also sometimes take a hit. Brushing hair? Forget it. Shower? Deodorant has my back for another day.
Anyway … So I procrastinate … You probably do too … But why do we do this to ourselves?
If you are impulsive chances are you have traits of a procrastinator.
Impulsivity is linked to procrastination. If someone is highly impulsive they are likely to make rash decisions and just jump on a moment as it arises, and when we have something long and boring to do, there are just too many better, cool things to do so those who are impulsive will just jump on them, forgoing their boring responsibilities.
If your parents are procrastinators you probably are one too.
The science says that procrastination and impulsivity are heritable. The same as how eye colour or skin colour gets inherited from one parent, procrastination and impulsivity traits can get passed down from your parents.
It’s a cycle, just because you know you are a procrastinator doesn’t mean you can escape.
Usually we learn from our mistakes, but research has shown that chronic procrastinators don’t necessarily learn, that it all becomes one big cycle. They believe it might be because procrastinators have experience with such high stress that they then actively try to avoid it. In the process of avoiding the stressful tasks and maintaining manageable current stress levels they are unaware of what exactly they are putting themselves in for in the long run.
Procrastinators score lower in their assignments and exams. A study compared students work behaviours to their final grades and found that participants that were procrastinating more got lower marks.
Some of the not so obvious reasons you don’t want to procrastinate
- Non-procrastinators get more stressed and get more sick early on in the semester, but procrastinators are more likely to get sick and stressed at the end of the semester. Stress and illnesses are also higher and worse overall in the procrastinators.
- When students were read short scenarios the procrastinators would give feedback that would make themselves feel better rather than ‘teach them a lesson’. A story was told about a person who came back from holiday, saw they had a weird looking mole and put off visiting the doctors, in the story the person was worried the entire time about the mole but still put it off. The response of procrastinators was typically along the lines of ‘at least they went to the doctors before it got worse’ whereas the non-procrastinators approach was more regretful, they said things like ‘they should have gone to the doctors sooner’. One is almost pitiful and seems like they don’t want to make the situation worse, while the other is showing reflective thoughts and evidence of learning for next time.
- Non-procrastinators are less worried about social-esteem, they are less concerned about how others perceive them and usually have a stronger sense of self.
With all this under your belt I now introduce to you a short TED talk by Tim Urban, a fellow procrastinator, trying to explain what goes on when we procrastinate! He will introduce you to the concept of the instant gratification monkey! 🐵
If you are interested in following his blog or his social media here are the links:
Inside the mind of a master procrastinator | Tim Urban
Gustavson, D. E., Miyake, A., Hewitt, J. K., & Friedman, N. P. (2014). Genetic relations among procrastination, impulsivity, and goal-management ability implications for the evolutionary origin of procrastination. Psychological science, 25(6), 1178-1188.