At one point or another, we’ve all avoided a task. Like doing homework, filing taxes or finally dealing with that overflowing junk drawer. Everyone procrastinates sometimes, but according to Psychology Today, 20 percent of people chronically avoid difficult tasks and deliberately look for distractions, which are more readily available than ever.
Sometimes we even make excuses about our procrastination, claiming that waiting until the last second motivates our best performance. As a writer, I’ve said this hundreds of times. And there may be some truth to it when it comes to an article deadline, but more often than not, this excuse is part of the denial process. When we’re procrastinating more than work, it can become downright dangerous to our finances and relationships.
So why do we do it? Why do we put off things we know HAVE to be done? Why do we seemingly relish the added stress that putting things off until tomorrow inevitably adds to our lives? According to new research, we might not be able to help ourselves.
Research published recently in the journal Psychological Science, found that procrastination (and its equally-problematic cousin, impulsivity) are part of the genetic blueprint leftover from when our ancestors were worried about predators. The analysis also suggests that the two traits aren’t the opposites they appear to be.
“From an evolutionary standpoint, impulsivity makes sense: Our ancestors should have been inclined to seek immediate rewards when the next day was uncertain,” explains an APS press release. “Procrastination, on the other hand, may have emerged more recently in human history. In the modern world, we have many distinct goals far in the future that we need to prepare for – when we’re impulsive and easily distracted from those long-term goals, we often procrastinate.”
To test the theory that perpetual procrastinators are likely to also be highly impulsive, and that both of these traits live in our genes, researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder surveyed 181 identical-twin pairs and 166 fraternal-twin pairs. The series of questionnaires probed twins’ tendencies toward impulsivity and procrastination, as well as their ability to set and maintain goals. The analysis revealed that not only is procrastination heritable, but genetically, it’s nearly impossible to distinguish it from impulsivity.
“The link between procrastination and impulsivity also overlapped genetically with the ability to manage goals, lending support to the idea that delaying, making rash decisions, and failing to achieve goals all stem from a shared genetic foundation,” explain the researchers.
So why is procrastination such a pervasive problem? The researchers think it’s always been there, lurking in our genes, it’s just our environment that’s bringing it to the forefront. In today’s fast-paced world, impulsivity blends right in, while procrastination stands out, and causes more problems.
But that doesn’t really answer the big question: How can we conquer our impulse to procrastinate (see what I did there?) when stuff needs to get done? The Care2 posts below have some interesting suggestions.
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