Procrastination. It makes me feel awful, it takes a toll on my grades, and it feels impossible to avoid. Much of my academic stress comes from the mismanagement of time and avoiding beginning, even when those assignments are on topics I feel genuinely passionate about. Why would someone who is interested in a class put off those same class’s obligations? In case someone who is reading this can relate to my struggles with this problem, I will go over some possible explanations offered by The New York Times article titled “Why You Procrastinate (It Has Nothing to Do With Self-Control)”. Here are some of the points that resonated most with me:
- Procrastination is an exercise in basic behaviorism. The relief that comes with postponing an especially stressful task feels great, so we begin to crave it the next time we are faced with another burdensome job to complete. As Dr. Sirois, professor of psychology at the University of Sheffield, puts it simply: “you’ve been rewarded for procrastinating”.
- Coping with challenging emotions is difficult. Why are these tasks so stressful in the first place? According to the article, procrastination is a means to cope with the slew of “challenging emotions and negative moods” that are associated with certain tasks. The paper also suggests that there could be something inherently unpleasant about the assignment, or that self-doubt and low self esteem could also be playing a role in the increased stress.
- Evolution is partially to blame. Allow me to elaborate: procrastination is a manifestation of present bias, or our innate tendency to prioritize short-term needs over long-term ones. As Dr. Hershfield, professor of marketing at UCLA, explains this in a more scientific context: “[Humans] really weren’t designed to think ahead into the further future because we needed to focus on providing for ourselves in the here and now”.
With the knowledge of some of these causes of procrastination, it can hopefully become easier to avoid these patterns in the future. Knowing that I am essentially training myself to crave watching TikToks every time I encounter a difficult assignment is something that will make me hesitate from being distracted by it. Being aware of the nature of stress and difficult emotions will incentivize me to incorporate stress-relieving activities like running and getting coffee with friends into my weekly schedule. Blaming evolution for my personal flaws sounds like a cop-out, but I see it as a reason to be more compassionate and forgiving of myself in moments when I do slip up. All in all, it is important to understand how you think and behave in order to work on fixing a problem as insidious as procrastination.
Lieberman, Charlotte. “Why You Procrastinate (It Has Nothing to Do with Self-Control).” The New York Times, The New York Times, 25 Mar. 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/25/smarter-living/why-you-procrastinate-it-has-nothing-to-do-with-self-control.html.