Updated: Aug 1, 2019
Are you a master procrastinator? Studies show that 20% of us are chronic procrastinators. Okay, maybe you're not that bad, but we all have that one thing that we know we should do, but... not today. Maybe it's cleaning the garage or organizing the closet. Maybe you really want to write a book or you have a vision for a blockbuster screenplay, but you just can’t seem to get it done.
We all procrastinate sometimes. Recent studies indicate that procrastination isn’t just bad for our goals; it also impacts our health. Putting off important tasks makes us feel guilty and that guilt increases stress. That stress contributes to a host of health issues such as poor sleep habits, higher anxiety and depression, and lower immunity. Research maintains that chronic procrastinators are even more prone to cardiovascular disease and hypertension.
New studies indicate that our brains are actually wired to procrastinate because we see our present selves and our future selves differently. Research conducted at UCLA analyzed fMRI scans of people’s brains as they thought about themselves in 3 different states: themselves in the here and now, as a celebrity like Matt Damon or Natalie Portman, and themselves in the future. They found that brain activity when describing ourselves in the future is similar to the brain activity when describing ourselves as a celebrity. But brain activity when describing ourselves is the present is completely different. Even though intellectually we know that our future self is the same person we are today just a little older and hopefully a little wiser, wesee him or her almost as a different person who doesn’t benefit or suffer from our present actions.
All of this happens because of a battle between the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex. The limbic system (also known as the instant gratification seeker – it lives in the now and loves pleasure and reward). Your limbic system is one of the most dominant parts of the brain. It generates cortisol when you’re stressed out about something and dopamine when you experience pleasure. And it all kind of happens automatically.
The prefrontal cortex is the rational decision maker that can visualize, plan, reason, identify the benefits of reaching the goal and the consequences of putting it off. There’s nothing automatic about the rational decision-maker. You have to intentionally activate it. And the moment you’re not consciously engaged in a task, your default mode is to put your limbic system back in charge. You give in to what feels good for your present self.
Psychologists call this present bias. It just means that we tend to give stronger weight to payoffs that are closer to the present time. The farther in the future the reward is, the less value we put on it – even when the value is exactly the same.
The next time you think about putting off that thing that you really need to do, remember that if your instant gratification seeker always wants to be in charge. But you have the power to outsmart it.
And for more strategies to overcome that master procrastinator that prevents you from reaching your goals, check out my article published on BizCatalyst360.com.
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