There is an old Spanish proverb that says tomorrow is the busiest day of the week.
Anyone who procrastinates may shake their head in agreement at this saying and, perhaps, crack a rueful smile. For those prone to waiting until the last minute to get a job done, procrastination is a destructive curse. It causes untold stress.
It ruins reputations. It contributes to financial hardship and it places a solid roadblock on the road to success. The irony is that the tendency to procrastinate is actually caused by an evolutionary survival mechanism that is maladapted to the pace of the modern world. However, because of this very reason, procrastination is preventable and curable.
The source of procrastination is located deep within the most ancient part of the human brain. This area of the brain is technically known as the amygdala. It sits at the very base of the brain on the top of the spinal column. The amygdala is responsible for controlling many, if not all, of the involuntary bodily functions. Things like hunger and thirst, sleepiness and wakefulness and pulse and respiration are run by the amygdala.
If you were to say that because these involuntary functions are so basic that they are animal-like, you’d be correct. The urges to eat, sleep, procreate and survive are common impulses shared by many different species, both mammalian and non-mammalian.
The motive force behind all these needs is the amygdala. In fact, if you were to compare the amygdalae of a human being with a horse, an ostrich and a boa constrictor, you would not see much anatomical difference except in size. Each separate amygdala functions in a remarkably similar way, no matter the species.
So, how does this all tie into procrastination? Well, when faced with a need, the amygdala can only respond in one of three ways – fight, freeze or flee. Depending on the situation, one or another of these choices becomes appropriate. So, when an individual is faced with an upcoming task or deadline, the amygdala may misinterpret the stress cause by this time limit as a life threatening situation and subconsciously motivate the individual to freeze. While this was a useful strategy fifty million years ago, today it simply causes procrastination.
The easiest way to combat what is, in essence, a mixed-up brain signal is to consciously recognize where the impulse to procrastinate comes from. Once done, it becomes harder and harder for the individual affected to give in to the urge to freeze. Eventually, the habit to procrastinate falls away, along with its harmful effects.