December 31, 2015    Psychology

Why Do We Procrastinate?

Why do we procrastinate? I believe understanding this can help us make the coming year a bit more productive. Here is my theory.

We procrastinate to distract our brains away from anxiety-inducing thoughts so that we can give our bodies a break from the perpetual state of fight or flight. In this sense, procrastination is a good thing.

But to distract our brains, and to suppress negative thoughts, simply doing or thinking about something else wouldn’t work. It needs to produce a steady dose of dopamine. 

Smartphones are great for this, particularly Facebook and Instagram with their micro-doses of Likes (without Dislikes). Video games and YouTube work well too as they are designed for short attention span.

In other words, procrastination is a series of activities that can produce small doses of dopamine at short intervals. For this purpose, Instagram is better than Facebook because Facebook being a text-dominant medium can induce anxiety of its own. A visually dominant medium is less likely to do so.

We cannot do anything productive or meaningful to distract our minds because anything significant in life requires delayed gratification. A great novel or educational book, for instance, may not reward you consistently every few minutes. If the interval between the two doses is too long, the anxiety-inducing thoughts would return.

Meditation can also work to direct our brains away from stress-inducing thoughts, and give our bodies a break. But it has additional benefits.

Meditation is a controlling mechanism whereas procrastination is a coping mechanism. With the latter, we are only fooling our own minds, instead of controlling. Once we have better control over our own minds, we would be able to engage in other, more meaningful activities with delayed gratification. Meditation is a training method for it. No amount of procrastination would help us achieve this, although procrastinating is still better than exposing ourselves to a constant state of fight or flight which can destroy our immune system over time.