Procrastination is a vice many of us indulge in, and there’s a reason it’s so hard to quit. However, the long term effects of putting things off are actually hurting your brain.
Part of the reason we love to procrastinate is because it literally makes us feel good, as discussed in this recent video from Business Insider. There are two things happen when we decide to delay an annoying task. There’s the activity in your pre-frontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that regulates self-control and makes us do things like fold laundry and pay bills.
On the the other side is the limbic system, which is basically a pleasure center. The limbic system is saying that doing something more fun is better, and when you listen to it, you get a little chemical happy reward. That’s why it feels so darn satisfying to delay! But wait, there’s more. Under that pleasure there is building guilt and anxiety, which leads to a variety of ailments:
…Several studies have found that undergraduate college students who procrastinated had a lower GPA in the latter half of the semester compared to non-procrastinators.
They were also more likely to get sick, based on their healthcare visits.
And procrastinators are more likely to feel “low self-confidence, low energy, and depression.” This was backed up by Vox in an interview from 2014, who spoke with Professor Joseph Ferrari, who has been studying procrastination since the 1980s.
“Chronic procrastinators have low self-esteem, low self-worth,” says Ferrari. “They are high on self-consciousness, high on self-handicapping. Experimentally, they handicap, they do worse, and they know it too. That’s an experiment we did. Procrastinators were poorer in self-regulation, and they knew that they were poor in this, as well. And relationships suffer. So there’s nothing positive.
There are things you can do to help yourself get out of this pleasure and pain loop of procrastination. The most immediate is visualisation. Picture yourself as you will be when you complete the task, and then if you don’t. Having a concrete image of the consequences in your head will be better motivation than just vaguely knowing you should do something. This is especially effective with deadlines for things that can always be put off—like saving for retirement.
Ferrari also recommended that we rely on public accountability:
Surround yourself with people who are doers. People who are into social media, publicly post what you’re going to do so you’re held accountable by other people.
I may find posts about gym goals and small accomplishments a bit annoying on my newsfeed, but for the people posting them, it’s changing their life. It could change yours, too, if you would just get around to it.