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The Root of Procrastination Lies In Our Ancestors – How To Change It



Procrastination is ultimately just a lack of self-control. Around 20% of the population can consider themselves a procrastinator. And there isn’t only one type of procrastination! I will tell you three:

  1. Arousal types. These are the thrill seekers. They wait until the last minute just to get the euphoric rush from it.
  2. Avoiders. They put things off due to fear of failure or fear of success. Their fear stems from their overpowering concern of what others will think of them.
  3. Decisional procrastinators. They just can’t make up their mind. Then, they justify it by thinking that by not making a decision it absolves them from the responsibility of the outcome of events.

Not only is procrastination stressful and destructive to personal relationships and teamwork in the workplace, but it is also bad for your health. Its side effects include insomnia, immune system and gastrointestinal disturbances.

stress can be a cause of procrastination and procrastination can be a cause of stress

So why do people do it?

The root of the problem stems back to our ancestors, the cavemen. They lived in an Immediate Return Environment where stress and anxiety were useful emotions because the feelings helped them take action in the face of immediate problems. Their choices had instantaneous results. This is probably why the human brain values immediate rewards more highly than future rewards.

In the modern world, on the other hand, the choices we make now will benefit us later on. For example, you work today but get your paycheck a couple of weeks later. This goes against what the human brain values which is why procrastination seems to pull us in despite our good intentions.

So here’s a solution: if you can find a way to make the benefits of long-term choices more immediate, then it becomes easier to avoid procrastination. Or, my favorite strategy is something called temptation bundling. It involves taking a temptation you want to do and joining it to a task you have to do by doing them simultaneously. For example, only watching Netflix when exercising, or only checking Facebook when eating lunch.

In the end, I could list millions of ways not to procrastinate. But the truth is, it’s all about willpower. Acknowledging that the behavior is unproductive and that you can (and should) do better is the first step to maintaining self-control. There are so many opportunities and amazing things you can do with your life. Don’t waste time… life is shorter than it seems!

Tim Urban explains the mind of a procrastinator nicely in this presentation:

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