Procrastination – The Science of ‘putting it off’

Calvin and Hobbes

Let’s face it, we all procrastinate. We can put in a huge amount of effort in trying to avoid some other task. Sometimes more effort is put into avoiding something than just actually doing it.

Maybe you’re procrastinating right now, browsing the web, reading this article in the hope of avoiding having to do what you know you should be doing. But the clock is ticking. So why can’t you seem to stop?


Though the psychological causes are still debated, most of us tend to overor underestimate the value of a reward based on its temporal proximity – that is how close it is to us in time. This is often referred to as temporal discounting.

For Example :
If you were offered £100 today, or £110 in a month, you most likely would take the £100 now.

But what if, instead, you wer offered £100 in a year, or £110 in a year and one month. Suddenly, you might say to yourself, “If I can wait a year, I can wait the extra month.” But the time and value difference are the exact same in each example.


Hyperbolic Discounting


It turns out that hurnan motivation is highly influenced by how imminent the reward is perceived to be. The further away the reward is, the more you discount its value. This is often referred to as present bias or hyperbolic discounting.

hyperbolic_discounting-now_greater_than_later

So reading, or being on Facebook, reddit, Twitter, or YouTube today is more rewarding than a perfect score on your next exam, until temporal proximity increases the value of a good mark on your exam… and then you cram all night.

On top of this, every time something enjoyable happens you get a dose of dopamine, which modifies the neurons in your brain, making you more likely to repeat the behaviour. So video games or browsing the Internet provide many small, quick. and continuous rewards – unlike the revision you need for an exam for a onetime, future reward.


Kicking the Habit


So how do you overcome the intrinsic urge to put off so many tasks? Unfortunately. there isn’t just one solution. But below we list are some strategies (that we’re told) might help :

  1. Reward yourself in intervals with a snack, the Internet, or other enjoyable activities. Maybe try working for 25 minutes straight – then give yourself the reward and a five-minute break. If you gradually increase the amount of work-time you put in will improve your high-level executive functioning.
  2. Acknowledge your procrastination : Your future self will procrastinate so create a self-imposed, costly deadline to manage your working habits. Externally imposed deadlines are even more effective.
  3. Try to enjoy the process of achieving something. Instead of thinking, “Only twenty more minutes of torture,” think, ” I’m doing something great” or “I enjoy being productive.”
  4. Make a list of the reasons you want to reach the goal. Reinforcing that you want to do it minimizes indecision. Often, procrastination is a symptom, not a cause, and the power of being properly motivated can take you a long way.
  5. If you can, remove the temptations : Turn off the Internet; uninstall your favourite game, or work somewhere else.

One final thought : Putting obstacles in the way of your the things you use to procrastinate can be a great trick to keep you on track.


Author: Robert

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