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What Is Procrastination and How to Overcome It? (Video)


Tim Pychyl, neuroscientist, explains one theory of procrastination and how to mitigate it.

How many things might one do if one never procrastinated? If we’d not postponed doing homework to play videogames or delayed the delivery of work by surfing social networks? Though it seems that chronic procrastination is just bad time management (suffered by everyone), it’s actually an emotional tool for dealing with stress, says neuroscience. Procrastination can lead to significant problems in relationships, work, finances and health. This might be more widely known, but that doesn’t mean it’s something easily changed.

But neuroscience also says that procrastination can, in fact, be changed. In the video above, creative director, Stuart Langfield, asks Tim Pychyl, a neuroscientist who studies procrastination, about the mechanism of the attitude. Pychyl say there are two regions of the brain (the limbic system and prefrontal cortex) that compete with one another when we’re at odds over something.

The limbic system is concerned with immediate reward. It takes over when we feel cravings, (as for food, sex, sugar). But it cancels completely any consideration of long-term benefit. Then there’s the prefrontal cortex, which is much more evolved than the limbic system, and also much more flexible. This one is concerned with reason, with future plans and ambitions. When you postpone something, the limbic system is instinctively opaque to the prefrontal cortex. Let’s say that you receive news of something that makes you angry or sad and instead of taking charge of the situation, you ignore it. When you begin looking for something to make you feel good immediately, the limbic system is taking over.

We procrastinate until the prefrontal cortex thinks that things are right and reminds the rest of the brain that it’s not dying. You’re simply trying to do something difficult. And then that, (arguably), you’ve already lost so much time. The good news is that the brain can change. There’s a thing called neuroplasticity – an ability to train the brain to form and to break habits.

Thus, Langfield’s suggestion in this video is not only to understand the biology of procrastination but to overcome it. How? According to Pychyl, with mindfulness.

“The more you meditate, the better you become at making decisions. And the easier it is to keep on at tasks when you know have something important to do,” explains Langfield. “That’s because studies show that it shrinks that amygdala, that instinctive part of your brain and it adds more gray matter to the part that helps you make decisions. And that’s what we know works.”

The brain will change with meditation, but it takes a lot of practice. It’s not a simple solution, but all we have to do is decide what matters most in life and then do whatever is necessary to begin to get it. How much of our lives have we deferred? We’ll never know, but we can stop. Or at least we can reduce the percentage of delayed time. Ten minutes of meditation a day can return years to us.


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