Procrastination is delaying a set of tasks against our better judgement. A habit of procrastinating can be detrimental to studies. Parents watch in concern as their child expresses stress and anxiety for the upcoming day, knowing that this could have been avoided, hoping for a better next time. We have all experienced the burdensome aftermath of procrastinating.
If procrastination causes so many negative effects, why do we do it?
It could be that the procrastinating mind is trying to protect itself from failure. By putting off the work, we cannot experience the hardship that comes until later. Our brains seek out immediate gratification instead of long term benefits. One study identified individuals who procrastinate as having a larger amygdala, the part of the brain that processes danger. The amygdala gives emotions meaning and connects emotions to different associations and responses. In this case, it is sounding the radar to indicate the task is threatening. This phenomena is often referred to as the “amygdala hijack” where our brain tries to remove the present threat despite our better judgement for helping our future self.
Essentially procrastination is a form of coping to avoid a negative feeling, despite knowing the long-term benefit of completing the action. Perhaps, the task triggers boredom, fear of failure, anxiety, or it is simply an unpleasant task all together.
To avoid procrastination, a person needs to manage emotions related to a task.
So how can we encourage students to not procrastinate? It is not as simple as flipping a light switch. Asking (or telling) a student to not procrastinate is not effective – we have to approach the situation differently. If a cycle of procrastination is already at play, the brain receives temporary rewards for putting tasks off. A new, more rewarding way must disrupt the pattern.
First, we can help students see past the time of failure. If a student lets his past actions dictate his future study habits, there is no progress. Self-compassion is an important factor in growth, creativity, and accomplishment. Stirring the pot of negative emotions does more harm than good. Our words and actions will influence their perception of self. If we model forgiveness and compassion, they are likely to do so as well.
2. Identify the next step
Focus on the process, not the final product! The final product can create overwhelming feelings. Parents or coaches can help a student think about only the next step that needs to be accomplished. Sure, we often talk about dividing assignments into manageable chunks; however, this is the time to consider only the next small move. This is the time for a student to be curious about the step, to think about what it would be like, and to almost trick himself into an action. Often curiosity leads to action, and action leads to motivation.
3. Sit in discomfort
Anything worth achieving will have moments of unpleasant emotions attached. Discomfort is unavoidable. Either we experience discomfort when working tirelessly towards our goals, or we experience the psychological discomfort of withholding effort. Identifying the pros and cons of a situation can be helpful. Students that are procrastinating may inappropriately associate a higher level of negative feelings with a task than true. Help your student reflect on the effects of completing a task. Starting a new narrative will create more positive associations with getting things done!