Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about procrastination. It’s also been a really great way to push off my many other responsibilities. It’s also Day #2 of #30PostsHathSept, so here goes… [See the other posts HERE.]
Traditionally, in the gifted field, procrastination has been associated with perfectionism. The sense that avoidance of a task or a last minute rush to the finish may be defense mechanisms against fear of failure or what is termed the imposter syndrome. Many researchers have discussed these issues, including psychiatrist Dr. Jerald Grobman. Or join Dr. Deirdre Lovecky in her article on “The Procrastinator’s Guide to the Galaxy“. The gifted field is also filled with the work of Dr. Dabrowski and his theory of overexcitabilities, leading one to extrapolate that highly sensitive individuals may be more prone to anxiety associated with certain tasks that may lead to procrastination of those tasks.
But does this fully paint a portrait of procrastination?
Does fear of failure and the accompanying anxiety it produces (or simply anxiety itself) always lead to procrastination? Does it serve to protect the ego to say, “Well, I didn’t do as well as I could, but I didn’t really spend that much time on it.”? Does it stroke the gifted ego to say “See, I knew I’d do well on the exam without studying.”?
Many gifted students (and other students as well) suffer with a lack of motivation for required tasks. Beyond issues of fear of failure, many gifted students are said to procrastinate tasks that are too simple, as an avoidance of boredom. Thus, procrastination can be multi-factorial. Teasing out the cause for procrastination in any specific individual can be difficult. Anxiety may play a role, but sometimes only indirectly.
Anxiety may not be the primary emotion involved. Sometimes an array of “uncomfortable” emotional states is the culprit. States such as frustration and disinterest. Patience as well. These days, it is much more difficult to both witness patience and be patient. Life feels rushed. People persist in believing they can master time, knowing full well that without a TARDIS, that is extremely unlikely.
There are proven techniques that can help us become more patient (and tolerate those around us who are not): mindfulness and meditation. We’ve heard so much about these two topics, and for a good reason – they can positively change our brains. We can become more patient while all the while the world seems intent on overwhelming us.
Importantly, researchers have likewise tied procrastination to impulse control, a condition under the jurisdiction of the pre-frontal cortex. Lack of impulse control is precisely what is associated with diagnoses such as ADHD, and is oftentimes seen in the asynchrony of giftedness. Dr. Piers Steel, in this week’s Wall Street Journal, writes:
“People may assume anxiety is what prevents them from getting started, yet data from many studies show that for people low in impulsiveness, anxiety is the cue to get going. Highly impulsive people, on the other hand, shut down when they feel anxiety. Impulsive people are believed to have a harder time dealing with strong emotion and want to do something else to get rid of the bad feeling.” – Dr. Piers Steel.
So, the psychology soup gets thicker. What comes first? Procrastination? Anxiety? ADHD? Do they mimic each other? Are they intrinsically connected? Do they occur along a spectrum?
We’ve all heard time and again that ADHD is on the rise. It’s diagnosed in 11% of children as a whole, including 20% of all teen boys. Anxiety is also on the rise. Guess what? Procrastination is on the rise as well. There are even Procrastination Anonymous communities across the world. Each of these conditions can be often addressed through the same path – mindfulness and meditation.
What does this all mean? Plus..What role does society and progress and technology play into the rise in procrastination?
In the past decade alone – in the time frame when the rise of ADHD, anxiety, and procrastination has been greatest – we’ve seen massive cultural changes. Facebook. Twitter. Netflix. Instagram. Youtube. Demand TV. At any moment we can video chat with friends and family around the world. Need to buy a book or specialty jam or stylish jacket? A few clicks on the computer from the comfort of your armchair can get you want you want, when you want it. With technology comes so many positives, without a doubt. But what’s the cost?
Is the human brain capable of adapting so quickly to these changes in a healthy way?
All of these advances can also act as distractions. We’ve likely all heard the stories of those who sleep text and text walk, sometimes resulting in tragic consequences. Much research is looking at the effects of Internet addiction, in line with past video game addiction studies.
Ultimately, I still cannot grasp the true underlying etiology of procrastination. I ponder the chicken vs. the egg dilemma. And through all my reading, I can’t predict with clarity those who are more susceptible to procrastination and those who can resist, except for one single issue: impulsiveness.
Impulsiveness. It’s on the rise, but why? Of course there is ADHD, but what of general impulsiveness? Is it intrinsic in specific individuals or laying dormant in all of us? Is it part of each of us that is only more apparent as we, as a species, try to assimilate the growing information evolution? Perhaps it’s a safety valve, so to speak, to change our focus away from the constant onslaught. Those more sensitive may have differing levels of tolerance.
It only seems appropriate that the researchers discussed in the aforementioned Wall Street Journal article would have discovered a successful treatment for procrastination that is done online. Since technology already has our attention, technology may serve to relieve its own consequences.
It should not come as a surprise that technology, which serves to both assimilate external input as well as internal changes at the level of neurotransmitters, is our species greatest challenger.
Who will be the victor?
Why not take 15 minutes minutes out of your day to watch this TED.com video with psychologist Dr. Kelly McGonigal, the author of The Willpower Instinct, as she talks about stress reduction and the love hormone, oxytocin.
And until tomorrow…Be mindful, turn off technology for awhile, and take time to meditate.
[You can enjoy all the daily posts from the #30PostsHathSept bloggers HERE]