We’re all guilty of putting off important tasks in favour of literally anything that’ll keep us sufficiently occupied; whether it’s scrolling through Instagram; alphabetising the spice drawer; or counting how many times your cat meows in an hour.
Voluntarily delaying work may lead us to believe that we're inherently lazy. Oftentimes, we beat ourselves up over this alleged laziness.
What if instead, there was a better explanation behind why we procrastinate, other than a lack of willpower or motivation? Here’s a recent discovery that scientists have made.
In 2018, researchers studied the brains of people who struggle with procrastination and those who don’t.
The results found that the brains of chronic procrastinators had a higher volume of amygdala – an almond-shaped set of neurons that process emotions – with a weaker connection to the part of the brain that is responsible for self-control and emotion regulation. These findings illustrate a condition referred to as an “amygdala hijack”.
What that means is that when procrastinators enter high pressure situations which incite memories of negative experiences, the amygdala triggers a fight or flight response. This overtakes their ability to assess the long-term consequences of their actions as the situation is perceived by their minds as a threat to their safety.
Procrastination offers an escape from that threat and allows procrastinators to temporarily feel better. And surprise, surprise, the feeling does not last long, and they find themselves continually avoiding negative emotions and procrastinating further. The cycle of avoiding negatives emotions and rewarding themselves by procrastinating transforms the one-off action into a long-term habit.
The bottom line: procrastination may seem like a spell of laziness, but to the brains of procrastinators, it is akin to a life and death situation.
Photos: Instagram and Unsplash