There's a reason why people are such bad procrastinators. It's easy: Procrastinating feels great. But it's not so great for your brain since it pits two of your brain's heavy hitters, your limbic system, and your prefrontal cortex into a literal head-to-head match.
Most of us have procrastinated at some point in our lives. But about one in every five of us are compulsive about it. Putting off tasks and chores nearly every chance they get.
They're called chronic procrastinators. And it turns out, this behaviour does a lot more damage than you might think.
We get it, doing work is hard.
But when you choose to watch TV over doing laundry or washing the dishes you've just launched an all-out battle in your brain.
On one side is your prefrontal cortex. That's the part of your brain that sets long-term goals and regulates self-control. It's telling you that those dishes aren't going to clean themselves.
On the opposing side is your limbic system. It deals with pleasure, arousal, and reward.
And it's telling you that washing dishes is no fun, and you'll have a better time doing something else. So, procrastination essentially puts your brain in its happy place.
It feels good. That's why you do it. But just because it feels good doesn't necessarily mean it's good for you.
For example, several studies have found that undergraduate college students who procrastinated had a lower GPA in the latter half of the semester compared to non-procrastinators.
They were also more likely to get sick, based on their healthcare visits.
Moreover, other studies have found that procrastinators report higher levels of guilt and anxiety when they choose to procrastinate in the first place.
And if you keep it up, researchers have found that chronic procrastination is linked to: low self-confidence, low energy, and depression.
Overall, your quality of life will probably be worse than if you just listened to your prefrontal cortex. And you may think that you just have a different workflow or that you perform better under pressure.
But, sorry to say, there are no studies to support any benefits of chronic procrastination. Bottom line: it's unhealthy. But not all hope is lost.
In fact, researchers have conducted dozens of scientific studies in search for ways to help procrastinators. What they've found time and again is that how you think about tasks can make a huge difference in how likely you are to procrastinate on them.
Tasks like saving for retirement, for example, can be abstract: There's no immediate deadline, so you can always start tomorrow. And it's this mentality that can lead you to procrastinate.
Instead, make your tasks more concrete in your mind.
For example, a study in 2011 discovered that people given an illustration of how they might look at retirement age were more likely to say they would save money for retirement, than people without an illustration.
The image was something tangible. And, therefore, painted a more concrete picture of their inevitable future.
Whatever the task, do your health a favour and do the work. You might just enjoy that TV show even more once you get to it.
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