Why Do We Procrastinate—And Can We Stop?

Vimeo / Vimeo

Most of us spend hours of our day simply avoiding the task at hand, drawing out the amount of time it takes to do anything. If we could just stop procrastinating, what else could we be doing with that time? Creative director Stuart Langfield thought the same thing, and he called on Tim Pychyl, a psychologist who studies procrastination, to explain just what’s going on in the brain when you click away from your work to check Facebook, and whether or not it’s possible to quit procrastinating for good.

If you really want to stop procrastinating, it won’t be easy. The brain is incredibly complex, and even neuroscientists don’t know everything about how it works. There are many theories, though, and Langfield's video (below) focuses on a particularly compelling one. It posits that two brain regions, the limbic system (which covers basic survival instincts and emotional responses like fear, sexual desire, and hunger) and the prefrontal cortex (which deals with reasoning, future plans, ambitions, and the like), compete with each other, and procrastination might be the result. When you put things off, your instinctual limbic system may be reacting faster to a situation than your more reasonable side. Say you get an email from your boss that makes you feel angry, fearful, or just put upon. You might think, “I don’t want to answer that email,” and you immediately click away to something that feels good, like watching a video of pugs running through a grassy field.

That email isn't life threatening, but your limbic system might interpret your strong response to it that way. “You procrastinate until that part can remind you that you’re not dying, you’re just trying to do something really hard,” as Langfield puts it. There’s no quick fix for procrastination, but brains are also flexible. You can change your habits, especially with techniques like mindfulness meditation. Studies have found that meditation can actually shrink the amygdala, a limbic-system area in the brain involved in fear and the fight-or-flight response. Just try not to procrastinate too much on the meditation training that you’re using to fight your procrastination.

Check out the video below.

How To Overcome Procrastination from Stuart Langfield on Vimeo

[h/t Kottke.org]

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