I decided to write about procrastination because being a procrastinator has always been one of my biggest flaws and is something that everyone can relate to. My lack of determination and self-regulation has tormented me since I can remember myself. I always have this thirst of trying new things but I never have the strength to finish them. I have five language apps and four coding apps on my phone and guess how many times I’ve opened them? Probably less than five times. I bought a sewing machine in the hope of becoming the new Karl Lagerfeld, ice skates in the hope of learning how to do a triple axel, cooking books with the aim of becoming a chef and I have many more objects whose only purpose is to act as an everyday reminder that I haven’t progressed nor achieved anything yet.
Procrastination! What is it exactly? Procrastination is the avoidance of work or necessary task by focusing on more satisfying activities. More specifically, it is a fight between two parts of your brain: the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex. The limbic system, which is one of the most dominant portions of our brain, is always working and it controls our mood and pleasures in an unconscious way. The prefrontal cortex, on the other hand, is a weaker portion of the brain that makes decisions and makes us do tasks. One important feature of this prefrontal cortex is that it doesn’t work automatically and needs effort. As soon as we lose focus on a task and effort is decreased, the limbic system takes over and we become more interested in enjoyable activities.
According to APS Fellow Joesph Ferrari, everyone procrastinates but not everyone is a procrastinator. According to him, 20% of the population are chronic procrastinators. A false believe is that procrastinators are bad at time-management but procrastination has, in a matter of fact, nothing to do with time-management. If you tell a procrastinator to just do his task, he would be incapable of doing it not matter how much time he has on his hands.
Procrastination is a self-control failure. Chronic procrastinators, when faced with an unpleasant task, will either delay it because of the joy of temptation or because of perfectionism or fear of failure. Procrastinators therefore cannot regulate themselves! The effects of procrastination include under-performance in school or at work and high accumulated anxiety.
Moods and emotions
But if time-management has nothing to do with procrastination then what is wrong with procrastinators? The answer is emotions. Procrastinators, indeed, have the inability to regulate their moods and emotions. They calculate the utility of activities based on their pleasurability and how close the deadline is and prioritize short-term satisfaction rather than long-term hapiness. Additionally, studies have shown that procrastinators have feelings of guilt, shame and anxiety when deciding to delay their tasks and that they are aware of it. Procrastinators therefore recognize the harm they are doing to themselves but cannot overcome it.
Inability to change
We all know the negative impact procrastination can have on our grades, stress and anxiety levels and procrastinators are also aware of this. A question we can therefore ask ourselves now is : How come procrastinators do not learn from their mistakes and do not start working on their next task earlier on ? Mood regulation is the answer. Indeed when someone is focused on trying to feel good in the moment, he misses out on the opportunity to learn how to avoid problems in the future. Procrastinators only desire to improve their mood in the short-run and believe that they will be emotionally more ready to achieve more in the future. Procrastinators think that they will miraculously gain the skills needed to deal with their emotions in the future and are therefore focused on the present emotions.
Even if procrastinators can hardly learn from their mistakes, there still exist some remedies to procrastination.
One could perhaps divide tasks into smaller ones in order to make the tasks more doable or set personal deadlines that will have to be met.
But what makes it difficult to cure procrastination are the involved emotions. One could try to stop temptations by obstructing distractions but this requires the type of self-regulation that procrastinators lack. An alternative is to eliminate the need of short-term positive emotions by finding something positive in the task itself. Seeing the glass half-full instead of half-empty can therefore satisfy your thirst for short-term happiness (no pun intended).
The university could also join the fight against procrastination by rewarding the early birds instead of punishing lateness. Indeed, by rewarding the students who hand-in their assignments earlier, the procrastinators have an incentive to start working on the assignment earlier.
Nonetheless, according to Pychyl, a Psychology professor from Carleton University, the best remedy to procrastination is, as cheesy as it may sound, self-forgiveness. A Carleton University study published in 2010 showed that students who forgave themselves for procrastinating in their first exam were less likely to procrastinate for their second one.
This truly shows that our biggest enemy is no other than ourselves!