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Why Do We Procrastinate?

A Social Brainly War

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By Prathamesh Kapse | 30th April, 2023

Discover why procrastination is a common human behavior and how social influence, mental and physical aspects, and organizational factors contribute to it. Learn practical techniques to overcome procrastination and achieve your goals.

“I was going to complete my project work but then I realized I had more free time the next day so I postponed it.”, “I am writing right now but I don’t think I’m doing it effectively, I’ll do the rest tomorrow,”. These are two of the reasons that we give to ourselves when we are basically procrastinating. For starters, procrastinating means postponing a task for guilty-pleasure reasons that you can do right then and there. Everybody procrastinates. It’s human nature to procrastinate and when we do, we find reasons to do so. “I’m tired because I walked home from school (my school is 1 kilometer away) so I’ll do it tomorrow.”, “I overslept and I’m just not feeling it right now. So I’ll do it when I feel better”. I used to give these reasons myself and sometimes I still do. But why do we do that? Why do we procrastinate? There are a lot of factors as to why we procrastinate. Some are social, some mental, and some organizational. We’ll discuss these one by one. 

The Social Aspects.

I just got home from school. All my friends are online, they’re playing games, discussing what happened in their classes, blah-blah. So I’ll join them now and I’ll do my homework after that. This was the first step toward procrastination. Once you give in, it’s difficult to come out. This is due to the influence of peers. Under peer pressure, we sometimes choose to postpone the task at hand. Long deadlines are another critical thing contributing to procrastination. When we get a sense of urgency from a task, we tend to get it done quickly. But, when we know that the deadlines are a long time away, boy-oh-boy, do we do it quickly. This is because we tend to give more importance to urgency over the importance of getting the task done itself. We shy away from things that put us under pressure or if those things are inevitable, we tend to get them done as soon as possible and in any way possible with a slight hint of panic. To overcome this issue, I used a technique called The Eisenhower Matrix. You would understand it better with a photo. 

Categorize all your tasks according to their importance and urgency. If a task is important to you as well as urgent, put it in the first quadrant. Then, schedule it. If a task is unimportant but urgent, Do it as soon as possible, and so on. 

Procrastination can be seen as mood regulation. We don’t perform the task because we want to feel better and performing the task won’t help us do that. Completing the task would, but performing won’t. There’s a difference. As I said earlier, we tend to shy away from tasks that put us under pressure. As human as that sounds, it’s a result of evolution. Wherever you sense stress, danger, and discomfort, you run away. This is the same thing. What you have to do to overcome it is get out of your comfort zone. I know it sounds very cliché but that’s the least you can do. Build mental toughness. Do things that put you in uncomfortable situations. Practice voluntary discomfort. When you go for a shower, take cold showers instead of hot showers. After a while, you’ll become used to it. It’ll still hurt, but you won’t be afraid to do it anymore. You won’t run away from the task. You’ll take the cold water like a champ. Walk to work without your earphones plugged in. Reach up to strangers if you feel nervous to do so. Do things that make you uncomfortable. 

The Mental And Physical Aspects.

When we are stressed out, anxious, or nervous about doing something, our brain tends to push the task further to avoid those feelings of discomfort. This also happens when you’re not in perfect health. You’ve gained/lost a lot of weight due to multiple reasons, you don’t feel fit, which might be some of them. Facing actual diseases or disorders might be others but as these are serious issues, we can’t consider those tasks to be procrastinated. All the mental aspects of procrastination become clearer when we understand the basic layer of the scientific reasoning behind procrastination. 

The Organizational Aspect.

Procrastination does not only occur because we don’t want to perform the task. There are some more reasons. If you have homework to do, but your homework books are kept inside a safe and you have to enter 4 sets of passwords to access it, you won’t feel like doing it. You are not making the task easier to perform. The more difficulty you face in performing the task, the more you procrastinate it. This relates to the mental aspect in a way that your brain naturally tends to walk away from stressful- mental and physical, and difficulties. An obvious thing to do here would be to make all tasks easier to do. When we have our books instead of our phones and laptops right on our table after we get back from breaks, it would be much easier to get homework done. Organize yourself in all ways that would make tasks easier and more entertaining.

The Scientific Reasoning Behind Procrastination.

Procrastination inside your brain is like a war. There are two kingdoms, The Limbic system, and the Prefrontal cortex. One of them is the greedier one and the other stands by its principles and values. The Limbic System is the greedier one. It is responsible for regulating our emotions, behaviors, long-term memory, and olfaction- the sense of smell. It plays a pivotal role in managing our behaviors. On the other hand, the Prefrontal Cortex kingdom stands for intelligence. They know what they’re doing, and they know what they should be doing. Whenever they see a task to perform, they get on each other’s nerves. They start fighting. The Limbic System, which is the default kingdom in authority, is not willing to give the throne to the Prefrontal cortex. The Prefrontal cortex however knows that they have to take the throne and perform the task. So, they fight for the throne. The throne is our consciousness by the way. The funnier thing is, we can control the war. The throne can decide who sits on it and takes charge. Since the limbic system is always on the throne, we are almost never willing to change authorities and let the prefrontal cortex take over. That’s what we call not getting out of our comfort zone. When we get out of our comfort zone, we change authorities and let the best ruler take over. That is basically what goes on in our subconscious mind. We realize that this is happening but we let the decisions become a habit and the subconscious mind takes over. There is another great explanation about what happens inside the brain during procrastination. It’s a totally different approach but it’s analogical. It was explained at a TED event by Tim Urban: Inside The Mind of a Master Procrastinator.

Conclusion? Yes. Let's Jump To It.

Procrastination, Procrastination, and Procrastination. It is something none of us want to have in our lives. The feeling of having fun when you’re not supposed to at the expense of having fun when you’re supposed to is a deadly one resulting in all kinds of negative thoughts and emotions. Self-hatred, guilt, regret, disappointment, and lack of self-confidence are the major ones. All of us want to get rid of it. It’s for that reason important to understand the motive behind procrastination and why, how, and when it occurs. 

Good Luck beating The Limbic System!

Thumbnail Design by Mudit Jha

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