Beat Procrastination More Easily By Treating It Like An Involuntary Bad Habit

Beat Procrastination More Easily By Treating It Like An Involuntary Bad Habit
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When we look at procrastination, we see it as a choice. Instead of doing our work, we opt to watch television (for example). What’s really happening when we procrastinate is allowing an involuntary action to take place. This is because free will isn’t exactly what we think it is.

Photo by Rennett Stowe

Dr Timothy A. Pychyl, writing for Psychology Today, points to a study by Benjamin Libet that took place in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Libet was trying to figure out what happened when people made choices, and what he discovered was kind of surprising. When we decide to do something, we assume that we think about it, make the choice, and then carry out the necessary actions. In reality, Libet found that the brain was getting instructions to carry out an action about 200ms before the person was aware of their choice. This brought up a debate of whether or not free will actually existed, and Dr Pychyl suggests that free will as we know it is essentially our ability to override actions that occur involuntarily, rather than the other way around.

So what does this have to do with procrastination? We see procrastination as a choice we make when we want to do (basically) nothing instead of what we need to do. In reality, according to Dr Pychyl, procrastination is just our involuntary behaviour and we’re choosing not to override it. While making the choice to not procrastinate is easier said than done, looking at it this way turns it more into a bad habit than a poor choice — and we have plenty of ways to break those.

For more interesting stuff about how your brain doesn’t necessarily work the way you think it does (and how to fix those problems), check out our other brain hacks. In particular, David Eagleman’s studies on the brain’s perception of time are particularly interesting and relevant.

Free Won’t: It may be all that we have (or need) [Psychology Today]


  • PROTIP: Procrastination also occurs when you’re not really “into” the task you’re supposed to be doing.

    What I have found, is that trying to mash together boring jobs with stuff you love. For example, I’m not fond of doing dishes. But if I have to, I’ll grab my iPad and watch some TV shows while doing it. If I’m at work and have a boring job, I turn it into a game or listen to my audio books so that I’m less likely to procrastinate because I’m making it more fun.

    But I’m typing this out while at work, so clearly it doesn’t work all the time. S’Pose I’d better get back to being a data ninja.

  • I find I have to listen to music to power through the jobs I don’t want to do. In the office it has the added bonus of getting people to move along and not stop or a ‘quick chat’ every 30 seconds.

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