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Where the Desire to Procrastinate Comes From and How to Stop It

Getting organized, getting on top of your to-do list and getting it all done can feel overwhelming. Research shows that we are naturally programmed to value immediate pleasure and rewards over a delayed outcome. In short, our brains are physically wired for procrastination to some extent.

Brain scans show that the amygdala—an almond-shaped mass of nerve tissue located within the side lobe—is larger in people who tend to procrastinate. That means that there is physical proof that procrastination isn’t always your fault!

Scientists believe this overactive area cranks up so much anxiety about the negative consequences of an action that the quickest way to get relief seems to be…put it off. Of course, this leads to trouble down the road when all of your put-off tasks begin to pile up. The “I’ll do it later” method leaves you with a shorter amount of time to actually get your work done.

So, what’s the difference between delay and full-on procrastination? Well, there are actually six kind of delays.

Inevitable delay – falling so ill that you can’t finish your work project.

Arousal delay – putting a task off until the very last minute because part of you likes the adrenaline rush and relief that follows.

Hedonistic delay – something more enjoyable is calling and you’re happy to lose yourself in it for a while.

Psychological distress delay – not having the emotional head space to complete a task.

Purposeful delay – putting something off for rational reasons.

Irrational delayanxiety or stress is on a loop in your mind, so cognitive impairment is a well-known side effect.

Be kind to yourself. Shift the blame off of you for most of these delays—and to the problem at hand. Helping yourself feel better may actually make you more proactive. Some days when things don’t get done, compassion is key.

Here are some tips for forgiveness and progress:

  • An overactive limbic system (which is a specific system of nerves and networks in the brain) can stall you, so calm it down to get moving again.
  • Understand where there may be gaps. Are you procrastinating from a fear gap, a motivation gap or a skills gap? Narrow it down to take specific steps to address it.
  • Be aware of your “but” statement. “I want to do x, but it will take me days.” Change “but” to “and” to create change of thought and how you perceive a situation.

If excessive stress and anxiety is interfering with your ability to get tasks done, utilize the behavioral health resources via telehealth services to help you get back on track.