Monday, November 9, 2015

Understanding -- and Countering -- Procrastination

“Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?” the old adage goes. Evolutionary psychology explains that the inclination to procrastinate is not a personal defect but rather a part of human nature that developed as an adaptive survival mechanism. When frequently faced with important survival goals in our immediate surroundings, it would have been maladaptive to focus attention and energy on long-term tasks. A student in today’s classroom is likely not preoccupied with finding shelter while avoiding being attacked by a jaguar; however, his brain is similar to that of an ancestor faced with such concerns. Therefore, while attention to a long-term research paper may certainly be important, it is certainly not natural.

Understanding this is key not only to explaining procrastination, but to countering it. People like to feel that their actions will be beneficial now or in the near future, and even non-survival tasks can be facilitated by linking them to the prospect of such benefits. For example, breaking long-term goals into short-term goals and connecting them to one’s personal interests is a way to capitalize on our brain’s natural reward systems to help counter procrastination. A recent article explains this and shares some other helpful tips for doing today what you could put off until tomorrow. These tips include keeping charts to track progress and breaking tasks down into smaller, more achievable steps. Why not give them a try... maybe tomorrow?

Photo Credit: Vic via flickr cc

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