Art by Iman Syed
If you’re like I am, you procrastinate… a lot. Procrastination does lead to higher levels of stress, higher susceptibility to illness and lower grades; that fact is scientifically proven by Dianne Tice and Roy Baumeister for Psychological Science. So why do we do this, why do we actively self-sabotage? And more importantly, how can we use the knowledge of why we procrastinate in order to prevent it?
While researching, I actually came across one really interesting point: while procrastinating, you actively look for distractions. Subconsciously maybe, but you still do. In this case, I think it’s fair to call myself out. Over the course of today, while trying to write this article, I’ve played a few rounds of an online game, watched several YouTube videos, spent forever trying to pick the right playlist to listen to, checked Instagram and my email several times, paced around my room for no reason and read my older sister’s blog. Yes, I am aware that it is a lot. Of course, I don’t want to procrastinate; I want to finish this article on time. Yet for some reason, I keep procrastinating. Why?
First, are there any particular traits that make someone more likely to procrastinate? Well…yes, actually. People who are more impulsive are more likely to procrastinate according to a study by psychologist, Piers Steel. According to his research, impulsivity is directly correlated with procrastination; the more impulsive a person is, the more they procrastinate. Weirdly enough, some of the research shows that procrastination could be genetic as well.
Several researches from the University of Colorado did a study focused on twins for a similar topic. This study looked at both identical twins (who have the exact same DNA) and fraternal twins (who share 50-75% of the same DNA). Since each pair of twins likely shares a similar home environment (decreasing some differences in environmental factors), the researchers can use the differences within the data from each pair of twins to figure out how much something like impulsivity is inherited. They found that there was a correlation between genetics and impulsivity. It seemed that people could inherit impulsivity (and therefore procrastination habits) from their parents. So, from this research, we can conclude two things. If parents procrastinate, then their child is more likely to procrastinate. And if someone is more impulsive, then he/she/they is more likely to procrastinate.
What else causes someone to procrastinate? For that, the research shows a simple answer: hyperbolic discounting. Essentially, hyperbolic discounting is the idea that a smaller short-term gain is more beneficial to our minds than a larger long-term gain. Hypothetically, let’s say you had to pick between $50 now or $100 in a week. Logically, waiting a week for the $100 is better. You do have to wait a week, but you also double the amount of money you receive. However, most people would pick the $50 instead. In this case, by picking the $50, your net increase over the week is less than if you picked the $100, yet you still choose the immediate reward of gaining $50. This idea, hyperbolic discounting, translates directly into procrastination; instead of having the long-term gain of a good grade, you opt for the short-term gain of watching cat videos.
Now that we know the causes of procrastination, what are the solutions? Lucky for all of us, there are several! To illustrate all of them, let’s introduce a hypothetical situation: it’s Saturday night, and you have two tests and a quiz on Tuesday. Of course, you don’t want to spend your weekend studying, even if it means cramming the night before the tests. So, what do you do? There are three main routes: make the benefit of studying more immediate, make the cost of procrastinating more immediate, or remove all distractions.
Let’s say you want to go with the first route. What can you do to give yourself an immediate gain? I don’t know about you, but I like chocolate, so we’re going to go with that for this hypothetical. You have three tests for which you should study for, and you know there’s chocolate downstairs. So, you tell yourself that you will enjoy the chocolate after studying. By doing this, you give yourself motivation to study, and you give yourself an immediate gain; you really want that chocolate bar.
Imagine that the first route failed. You can’t motivate yourself to study with the thought of a chocolate bar. What now? You could also make the cost of procrastinating more immediate. Right now, if you procrastinate, you won’t be affected until next week. However, because of hyperbolic discounting, next week doesn’t matter; you only care about now. So instead of the cost affecting you next week, you should come up with some sort of cost that will affect you now. For instance, if you agree to study with a friend, then you’re committed to studying with your friend because you’re essentially ditching your friend otherwise.
Nothing works, so you go to the last resort: removing all distractions. And when I say all distractions, I mean all distractions. Turn your WIFI off unless you need it for studying. Throw your phone across the room so that you don’t use it. Removing all distractions may seem extreme, but remember that you avidly look for distractions while procrastinating. If there are no distractions, then you can’t procrastinate.
Procrastination is terrible. It really is. But through knowing the causes, each of us can work to eliminate procrastination.
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