I’ll finish this blog … later.

Imagine if you had an assignment due on Sunday, 27th of October and you’ve been putting it off until it’s 11:59 pm

Author’s own image

Procrastination – you probably do it casually; I seem to do it like it’s a competitive sport. Let’s be honest, procrastination affects all of us. Even though you’re stressed and know that you’ll have to do that big assignment eventually, the temporary relief you feel when pushing it back to tomorrow is far too alluring. But when tomorrow inevitably comes, you start being burdened by that same familiar stress and it drives you to push back the assignment again, thus the vicious cycle continues until it’s an hour before the due time and you’re staring at a blank Word document, thinking where all the time went. So why do we do something that’s so obviously negative and counter-intuitive, surely there is something to blame other than my own indolence … right?

Blame your ancestors 

No, I’m not talking about your great grandparents, I’m talking about your Pro-Magnon ancestors that went around clubbing mammoths. According to a research in 2014, procrastination may have given our ancestors an evolutionary edge.

To figure out if there was a genetic component to procrastination, the researchers asked identical twins (who share all of their DNA) and fraternal twins (who share some of their DNA) about their work habits. The researchers found that in about 50% of the cases, differences in procrastination habits could be a result of differences in genetics; similar to many other inherited behavioral traits. Additionally, the researchers also reproduced the findings of other studies and discovered that procrastination habits seem to be correlated to another trait – impulsivity, suggesting that these two traits may be inherited together.

Currently, it is believe that procrastination habits are caused by an imbalance between the prefrontal cortex – an area of the brain that is in charge of planning and decision making, and the limbic system – a series of structures that house the pleasure and reward centers of the brain. Anatomically, the prefrontal cortex is less developed than the limbic system, every time we think about procrastinating, these two areas of the brain go to war, but most of time the limbic system is able to bully the prefrontal cortex into submission. Thus, our brain often prefers receiving short term pleasures over making long term goals. This anatomical difference is believed to be an evolutionary relic, left behind by our ancient ancestors.

“Caveman”, by cuurchk via Flickr

Early hunter gathers had a focus on short term survival, you don’t have time to think about the distant future when you could be mauled by a saber-toothed tiger tomorrow. It was hypothesized that our ancestors chose to focus on making short term objectives, which often involved making impulsive decision and procrastinating goals that had distant and uncertain rewards. By constantly making short term decisions, our ancestors were more likely to survive and pass down their behavioral traits and genes to the next generation. But in modern times, as life expectancy increased, our focus in life shifted from surviving each day to making long term goals like: “plan for your career”, “save for your retirement”, and “know what you’ll be doing by the end of university”. So the thought process that prioritized short term goals had suddenly become obsolete, but the genetic factor that made us prone to procrastination still remained. Thus what made our ancestors successful had become detrimental to us.

However, it is rather deterministic and childish if we just blamed everything on genetics. Everyone is affected by their genes to a certain degree, but we’re not dictated by it. Many studies have found that managing procrastination often has a psychological factor and just by adjusting the way we think about a daunting task, we could overcome it. So get out there and finish whatever it is that you need to finish. As for me? I’ll start … tomorrow.

3 Responses to “I’ll finish this blog … later.”

  1. ddnguyen says:

    This is extremely relatable, I’ve been trying to stop procrastinating for a long time. But through reading this I understand a lot now.

  2. Aashwiny says:

    Totally relatable! I enjoyed reading the science behind procrastination, especially since I have been procrastinating lately!

  3. Alona says:

    As a serial procrastinator, it’s nice to learn that my limbic system is just overdeveloped and it may not be my fault? đŸ˜‚