If you’re used to procrastination saying “I’ll do it someday”, you should know that “someday” is not one of the 7 days of the week. The habit of procrastination ad infinitum – or until you have no choice but to face the situation – is not a good and it will end up taking your toll because the problems not resolved tend to continue growing in that area where we relegate them.
The weight of unresolved problems
We are often overwhelmed by the reminder of pending tasks, rather than facing them. Delaying tasks and decisions will not make their weight disappear from our mind, on the contrary, they will become an additional burden. Each time we postpone something, our subconscious mind marks a post-it, a warning that remains active as a red focus.
If we assume the habit of postponing everything that we do not want to face, our mind will end up full of mental post-it. These constant reminders become a source of tension, bad mood and mental confusion. As a result, the weight of the problem we have postponed is added to the weight of the constant reminder, plus the uncertainty of not knowing how everything will end.
When we have many mental post-it we run the risk of suffering a mental block. The perspective of all the problems and issues we have to solve is simply overwhelming. And our mental balance succumbs under its weight. In many cases, this attrition translates into psychophysical symptoms, from recurrent anxiety dizziness to constant exhaustion or dermatological problems.
If procrastinating is so bad, why do we do it?
Biopsychologists from the Ruhr-Universität Bochum have the answer. They examined the brain of 264 people to understand why some have the tendency to procrastinate instead of addressing problems directly. They found that people with poor control had a larger amygdala. In addition, the functional connection between the amygdala and the so-called dorsal anterior cingulate cortex was weaker.
What does this mean?
The amygdala is a kind of emotional epicenter that activates the fight or flight response. When faced with a situation, whatever it may be, the amygdala brings up similar experiences from the past to determine if that stimulus is dangerous or not. It also warns us about the possible negative emotional consequences of our actions. In other words, it makes us decide in a matter of seconds if that situation is dangerous and, therefore, something that we should avoid.
The amygdala also chooses among a series of behavior options, prioritizing some and inhibiting others. That means that people with a larger amygdala have learned from their past mistakes and evaluate their future actions and consequences in a more meticulous way. However, what might seem positive has a downside.
The dorsal anterior cingulate cortex uses the information provided by the amygdala to choose the actions that we must put into practice. If the interaction between the amygdala and the anterior dorsal cingulate cortex is weaker, the amygdala will perform its emotional analysis work but we cannot execute the corresponding actions successfully. In fact, the researchers found that people with a larger amygdala feel more anxious about the negative consequences of an action, so they tend to doubt and procrastinate.
We are not “condemned” to procrastinate
This “defective” connection between the amygdala and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex has been formed over the years, is the result of past behaviors in which we decided that it was better to postpone the problem.
The good news is that we can correct it because our brain has a large neuroplasticity, which means that we can change the functional connections. Neuroscientists at the University of Pittsburgh, for example, showed that 8 weeks of transcendental meditation are enough to reduce the volume of the amygdala, so that it is less reactive and stops considering it all as a threat, while increasing the volume of the prefrontal cortex, which is the one that helps us make rational decisions, improving the connection between both.
Therefore, the next time you consider leaving that task for “someday”, try to discover why you’re procrastinating and consider developing a plan to stop it.
Schlüter, C. et. Al. (2018) The Structural and Functional Signature of Action Control. Psychological Science; 1-11.
Taren, A. A. et. Al. (2015) Mindfulness meditation training alters stress-related amygdala resting state functional connectivity: a randomized controlled trialSoc Cogn Affect Neurosci; 10(12): 1758–1768.