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The Science of Procrastination

Writers: Tim Park

Editor: Jimin Kim

We will all find ourselves procrastinating at several points in our high school careers. Some common causes of procrastination include reaching for perfection in whatever we do in and out of school, fearing failures, having difficulty focusing, and lacking energy and motivation. A habit of procrastination can carry into adulthood and negatively impact relationships and careers. It can decrease self-esteem and possibly lead to depression and even job loss.

Understanding procrastination from a psychological point of view, according to research conducted by Dr. Hal Hershfield, a psychologist and professor of marketing at U.C.L.A. Anderson School of Management, there are parts in our brain that register our tasks that we put off as somebody else’s problem. Because of the stress caused by a looming deadline, we’re often less able to make thoughtful decisions regarding the future. The ‘amygdala’, commonly known as the ‘threat detector’ part of the brain, identifies tasks as genuine threats to our well-being and self-esteem as they can make us feel anxious or insecure.

Unfortunately, solving the issue isn’t as simple as telling ourselves to stop procrastinating. At its core, procrastination has less to do with productivity and more to do with emotions. As such, it would be effective to learn to manage our emotions differently. We have to find a better reward than the guilty pleasure of just avoiding the task at hand. This should be something that can relieve our negative emotions in the present without causing significant harm to our future selves. A 2010 study found that students who forgave themselves for procrastinating when studying for an exam procrastinate less while studying for their next exam. There is no one way to ‘solve’ procrastination. It may not even be a matter of solving it, but rather finding ways to minimize its impact.

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