Why do we procrastinate?
Sometimes I procrastinate. In fact I spend so much time thinking about procrastination that it is in and of itself procrastination. It is also my sense that I am not alone.
‘Helpful’ clichés such as- “don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today” and “live each day like it’s your last for one day you’ll be right”, seldom achieve the goal of motivating us out of our lethargy.
So why do we procrastinate?
It’s not why you think…
David McCraney who, in his highly informative and entertaining debunking of psychological myths – “You are not so smart- Why your memory is mostly fiction”- suggests that procrastination is fuelled by ‘weakness in the face of impulse’.
We are easily distracted from our drives and goals because our natural impulsiveness is our Achilles’ heel. We procrastinate more now than ever because we are immersed in a world driven by distraction and enticement. The very goal of marketing is to pull us away from our most ambitious and meaningful goals.
Impulsiveness is not simply a sign of immaturity; it is the core challenge of well adapted adult. It may not seem so but we are all addicts to our impulses, the only question is to what degree our addictions are socially irresponsible and damaging to others. But every addict suffers from their addictions, some physically and obvious but others emotionally with few obvious symptoms. Emotional addictions have their victims too, but it is only after many years that the damage can be seen in hindsight, the wasted opportunities and unfulfilled dreams. Our addictions need not necessarily be substance based; they can also be the seemingly incontrollable urge to succumb to our impulses.
The alcoholic cannot ‘just give up booze’; he cannot go to a bar and just not drink, he has to avoid any alcoholic interaction. He is best served by completely avoiding it altogether. Similarly the procrastinator cannot simply stop procrastinating.
Procrastination is not a problem- it is a symptom. The underlying problem is our impulsivity, a problem best dealt with by avoidance.
If TV is your distraction, remove it. If Facebook pulls you away from your work then close your account. If YouTube pulls you, create a blocker or sensor for your computer that someone else has the code. You cannot fight your impulsiveness constantly.
In a study by the University of Minnesota it has been suggested that the impulsive trait may have evolved because the snatching up small rewards like food morsels rather than waiting for something bigger and better to come along would lead to more rewards in the long run. The work may help explain why many modern-day humans find it so hard to turn down an immediate rewards –for example, food, money, sex or euphoria–rather than investing and waiting for a bigger reward later.
Fighting our nature is possible, but very difficult. Prevention is better than cure. Avoiding the temptations is far easier than overcoming them.