Procrastination is a silent killer.
Whether it’s putting off a daunting project… delaying on important deadlines… or allowing your to-do list to pile up - procrastination is a stressful and destructive habit.
Growing up, I was the king of procrastination. Some of my friends would wait until the night before an assignment was due, to finish their homework. I’d wait until the morning before. I’d set my alarm for 5am and pound out page…after…page… until that puppy was complete. Sometimes I got away with it. Other times I wasn’t so lucky. It was extremely stressful, and I paid for it royally.
Yet, I kept resorting to it despite the consequences.
According to a 2007 review by the University of Calgary, psychologist Pier Steel found that procrastinators performed worse… struggled with more medical problems… were more likely to waste money on taxes… and put off pressing decisions such as retirement or saving money.
The thing is most procrastinators know it’s hurting them...
So why do they keep doing it?
The brain may reveal some answers.
Researchers from Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany, had 264 healthy subjects undergo MRIs. When looked at the results, they found two key differences between the brains of procrastinators’ and action takers’.
Difference #1: Procrastinators Had Larger Amygdala’s
Here’s what the amygdala does:
The amygdala is basically the “smoke detector” of the brain. It’s on constant lookout for threats such as an attacker, wild animal or other dangers. If it detects one of those, it sounds the alarm, signaling your body for the flight-or-flight response. Yet, just like a regular smoke detector, it’s susceptible to false alarms. This can happen even if the fear is simply imagined.
According to researcher Erhan Genc, here’s what a larger amygdala means:
“Individuals with a higher amygdala volume may be more anxious about the negative consequences of an action -- they tend to hesitate and put off things.”
In essence, a larger amygdala means more sensitivity to fear, which stops them from acting. It’s this fear or uncertainty that creates hesitation. The interesting thing is that taking action is one of the many things that can actually “calm” down the amygdala (and limbic system).
According to Dr. Alex Korb, in his book The Upward Spiral:
“Making decisions includes creating intentions and setting goals — all three are part of the same neural circuitry and engage the prefrontal cortex in a positive way, reducing worry and anxiety. Making decisions also helps overcome striatum activity, which usually pulls you toward negative impulses and routines. Finally, making decisions changes your perception of the world — finding solutions to your problems and calming the limbic system.”
Difference #2: Procrastinators Had Fewer Connections Between the ACC & Amygdala
Action takers had more connections between the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the amygdala. One of the roles of the ACC is assisting decision-making and regulating emotions. Thus, their ability to keep negative emotions at bay (such as fear) is enhanced because they have more connections between those two parts of the brain. Procrastinators on the other hand, had fewer.
According to Erhan Genc:
“Due to a low functional connection between amygdala and dorsal ACC, this effect may be augmented, as interfering negative emotions and alternative actions might not be sufficiently regulated.”
Because there are fewer connections between these two parts of the brain, it’s harder for procrastinators to regulate negative emotions such as fear. The ACC usually helps them cope but since they have fewer connections, it makes it more difficult.
Studies like these can put the blame on the brain, and it’s easy to believe there’s nothing that can be done since it’s “in our heads”.
So are procrastinators hopeless?
Hardly, while it’s interesting to see the differences in the brain, the question becomes:
Do procrastinators’ brains start that way?
Or does the brain develop that way because of the act of procrastination?
In fact, there are studies showing that the size of the amygdala can be reduced by things such as meditation. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
For more ways to overcome procrastination, check out my upcoming program Primal Discipline.
This new program focuses on developing intense self-discipline for consistently taking action. It’s not about educating you on procrastination, but giving you the skills to break-free from it. It’s about giving you the confidence in yourself to consistently finish projects and quit putting things off.
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The Renegade Life Coach