Why do we procrastinate?

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Procrastination, or a simple propensity to postpone important things is now also known as “the illness of the century”. Nowadays, this problem has reached an enormous peak. Around 25% of adults are serious procrastinators.

We all put off the tasks that we should have done days ago, but we rarely realize what the reasons are. So, why do we procrastinate? While googling for an answer for this question I have come up with several popular explanations, as: fear of failure, fear of success, perfectionism and, interestingly, the human brain. The latter one caught my attention, and I decided to share with it on my blog.

According to neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean, to better understand procrastination and what causes it, you have to have a better understanding of how our brain works. In this sense, he developed the Triune brain theory.

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According to this expert, humans have three brains, not one, that coexist and cooperate together.

The reptilian brain

The oldest of the three controls the body’s vital functions – heart rate, breathing, body temperature and balance. It’s also responsible for our survival and drive to reproduce.

The limbic brain (also called the emotional brain)

Responsible for our feelings and emotions. It records past positive and negative experiences that affect our current behavior.

The neocortex, or our so-called logical brain

This is our consciousness and thinking process.

MacLean states that in some cases, these three brains can also conflict with each other. We might want to do something logically, but we might not be able to do it because the other two brains are not letting us. For example, we understand logically that procrastination is bad, but there is nothing we can do about it. It turns out the reptilian brain has the largest influence on us – because it is aimed at ensuring our survival and reproduction. It wants to keep us safe and keep us away from any danger. The emotional brain, on other hand, dictates our behavior based on habits we have developed, past experiences and the emotions we’re feeling at the present moment. Consequently, in the end, we’re left with very little control. Thus, most of the time, when we think we have made a decision about something logically, we’re just rationalizing the choice made by the reptilian and emotional brains.

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So, according to Maclean, procrastination is not preventable; since it’s out of our control and the decision has already been made.

The Tribune brain theory is my excuse for my procrastination 🙂 , and what about you? Do you struggle with procrastination?

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8 thoughts on “Why do we procrastinate?

  1. DEAR makha09, you have shared very interesting point about procrastination. I can say that I am also one of those 25% of adults who does struggle with this problem. However, after reading your post, I am starting to think that maybe it is not even a problem. Maybe it is all about priorities?! When you are hungry, you just go and eat. You find the way, time and etc. Maybe we postpone some of our issues till the last time because we think they are not important enough to pay attention on them right now. All in one being a procrastinator is not fun, and we have to find a way to deal with it)

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  2. Dear Makhambet, thank you for this interesting and useful post! I think I found an explanation of my procrastination. It is not my fault; it is just my brain tries to save me from danger and gives some more rest. As I always was tend to postpone important things till the last days, it became a habit. The Tribune brain theory explains it as a function of the emotional brain. Also, I think that the level of procrastination depends on the consequences that might follow. If I feel really scared of the consequences, I will try not to procrastinate.

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  3. Dear Makhambet, enjoyed reading your informative post. I personally have a feeling that my procrastination in many cases is related to my emotional brain. I might understand that I’m running out of time, or the assignment has a heavy impact on the course grade, but if I don’t like the assignment or get stressed or confused when doing it, then I might procrastinate till the last minute. I also agree with Abylay, that procrastination and prioritizing are often connected. Sometimes, we don’t do things, just because unconsciously we don’t consider them important enough.

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    1. Thank you, makha09 for giving the opportunity to think about our working habits and share our ideas about them. However, I want to share some positive views on procrastination. I do not see procrastination as a very big problem because sometimes when I start doing an important work beforehand, the quality is not always better than something that is done just before the deadline. The main reason for that is having too much time does not make me focused on the problem and slows down the working rhythm. I become easily distracted and not organized. But being aware of the limited time left, I become much more concentrated on the solutions and work much faster. As a result, less time is spent on each activity. What are your thoughts on this perspective?

      P.S. It is so amusingly to imagine how different parts of my brain fight constantly with each other for the final decision about anything. A little scary too, though.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you, Mariya for your thoughtful comment on my blog!:) In terms of your question, I think that the examination of the positive effects of procrastination is one that can vary greatly from person to person, leaving us with no clear answer to the question. Thus, I believe that an individual must decide whether he/she is turning the time spent on procrastination for his/her favour or he/she is just being lazy.

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  4. Dear Makhambet thank you for your interesting and yet topical post. You gave me a good scientific excuse for my procrastination. I have noticed that mostly I procrastinate and postpone work till the last moment when I see task as complex and unclear. This is definitely connected with fear of failure. In many times procrastination hinder to have something done in an enjoyable way but creates psychological pressure and stress. However, as Maria pointed, sometimes the work quality is higher when it is done right to the deadline. Maybe we just need to change our attitude towards procrastination and give ourselves time without blaming for procrastinating?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Aidana for your comment on my blog with your interesting personal experience of procrastination!:) In terms of your question, I think that we should not just change attitudes, but we should also try to turn our time spent on procrastination for our favour, not just sitting in Instagram, VK or Facebook.

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  5. From @gulnarbakytzhanova: Dear Makhambet, thanks a lot for your useful post! Unfortunately, sometimes I am also a big procrastinator. I wan to get rid of it, but sometimes it is just beyond my control, and I’ve noticed the more tasks to complete I have got, the more I tend to postpone them. I start being nervous at myself and force myself to finish all the work I should have, but for the reason I am anxious at myself, everything ends up with tragic failure. Now, after reading your post, I think the parts of my brain are very controversial, and I have found a good explanation for my procrastination.

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