Friday, August 7, 2015

Wait-A-Minute-Or-10

5:31 AM

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Procrastination begins the moment we wake up and bargain for five more minutes in bed. It continues as we take a moment to scroll through our social media feeds instead of hitting the books, overflows to sneaking in a quick snack a minute before the next class bell — all while telling ourselves “we’ve got time.” Procrastinating is (if you’re like me) a daily ritual that’s rather difficult to break.

Likewise, we are all too aware of the consequences of such a habit — we wake with a start, realizing we’d overslept, constantly cram an entire month’s worth of information in a single night, miss roll call and get ticked off as late or absent because of that hella good sandwich.

And still we continue on in this way, allowing ourselves to remain in the vicious cycle of doing things at the very last minute. Somehow, we all become a version of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. “I’ll get a fresh start tomorrow… and it’s not due till Wednesday… so I’ll… have all of Tuesday unless… something should happen…Why does this always happen…”

I used to peg it down to the law of inertia — we like to keep on doing whatever we’re comfortable doing. I have this habit of just lying on my bed and daydreaming about stories and ideas, and once I’m in this frame of mind, it's quite hard to snap me out. I could go on for hours and hours this way.

Psychology, however, would have it another way. Procrastination, apparently, has less to do with inertia than it has to do with making decisions. The way the brain thinks is still a complex process we barely understand, but procrastination is within and without our control – in a way, it’s a bit of a paradox.

On one hand, everything is chemical. When we hold off on important work and give into our short-term happiness, our brain releases a chemical called dopamine which makes us feel… well, it makes us feel great! This creates a reward pathway, reminding us of how amazing it felt to procrastinate. Of course, it leaves out the stressed out feeling we finally get when we have to sit back down and deal with the consequences of our non-action.

Or perhaps the job itself has once left us with negative feelings. We find it difficult to try new things for fear of failure. The task seems too daunting, like Goliath ten times over. Perhaps we’ve done it before and have gotten hurt. Maybe doing the job feels like confessing your affections for a notoriously cold-hearted heartthrob. The nagging fear of failure can give anyone cold feet. Oftentimes, past experiences lead our instinctive selves to procrastinate.

On the other hand, as we’ve experienced by holding our urge to pee or restraining ourselves from slapping someone right in the face, we humans are capable of deciding against our instincts – even if our urges are driven by a reward pathway.

Often, our prefrontal cortex is associated with our conscious decisions. When we know we ought to be doing the sensible thing (like, oh, I don’t know, writing an article about procrastinating instead of actually procrastinating), imaginary little angels and demons are having a tug of war in our brains. The angels, on the right, are arguing that we really ought to be getting on. We don’t have forever.

Besides, remember the last time we did this? Remember how horrible it was to endure two hours of heavy traffic because we left five minutes later than scheduled?

The demons, on the left, coax us. It certainly won’t be the same this time around. It’s just a little bit of fun. Lighten up! Yet, despite the temptation to follow our demons, self-control tells us it’s possible to listen to our angels—no matter how hard that may be.

In the end, the constant struggle (though real and difficult) is proof of one thing: we are capable of choice. Perhaps this willpower is what makes us human. Our ability to go against our instincts and break the habit of delaying—it’s the stuff of inspirational stories. We always have the option. And really, isn’t that all we need?



Article by Dani
Art by Mika
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Dani Pua is a storyteller and a Daughter of Eve. She is a curious creature, studying medicine until further notice, and considers herself a ‘citizen of the world.’ (Whatever that’s supposed to mean.) Oh, and she’s also very much fond of lemon squares. She shares some of her stories on blotpress.weebly.com


Mika was supposed to create an apt bio for this article but got
sidetracked by groceries and synthesizers. She also attests to the
truth behind the Charlie Brown Peter Rabbit track and suggests you
listen to it.

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