There are certain things generally accepted as separating humankind from the animals: empathy, our ability to accessorize, and, in my opinion, our tendency to procrastinate! I don’t think there’s a person alive (or dead) who hasn’t battled that demon of “Do-It-Later”.
As we learn more and more about the brain, an answer to why procrastination happens, and how we can circumvent it, should naturally be closer than ever. But as Stuart Langfield and Marco Patricio relate in their video “How to Overcome Procrastinating: Why it Happens & How You Can Avoid It,” answers are proving difficult to find.
This is due to the fact that we know very little about how the brain actually functions. The crossover between regions and their strengths can be hard to trace. The experts quoted in Langfield and Patricio’s video agree: all we have are theories. Dr. Tim Pychyl’s leading theory on the action of procrastination goes something like this:
“There’s one part of your brain that’s purely instinctual called the Limbic System. It’s your emotions, your fight or flight. All it cares about it is keeping you alive.
Then, over here, there’s this other part that’s kind of wiser and more rational. It’s responsible for your goals, your dreams, your plans for the future. That’s your prefrontal cortex.
And the theory is that when you get that feeling of not wanting to do something your instinctual part springs into action right away. It doesn’t think about the future. It just tells you to avoid the task. And you listen.
The other side, the rational side, is slower to act. It thinks things through. So you procrastinate until that part can remind you that you’re not dying — you’re just trying to doing something that’s really hard.”
So it seems the duel between limbic system and prefrontal cortex that results in procrastination is over which kind of happiness wins out: short term or long term.
Thankfully, we don’t have to be trapped in this limbic/prefrontal cortex tug-of-war, as the brain is a changeable organ. The principle by which we can change our cognition is “neuroplasticity,” and research is pointing to mindfulness meditation as a way of effecting that change. Dr. Pychyl cites studies in which mindfulness meditation changed the procrastination balance by literally shrinking the amygdala (part of that pesky limbic system), and adding more grey matter to the prefrontal cortex!
Unfortunately, the takeaway is that there is no easy way to stop procrastinating. One can use meditation to ultimately make it easier, but that itself takes time and effort. But, as another great wordsmith (and, as a human, likely procrastinator!) once said, “Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well.” And I for one am going to (try to) start doing right away!