What is Procrastination?
Human beings have been procrastinating for centuries. The problem is timeless. In fact, that ancient Greek philosophers like Socrates and Aristotle developed a word to describe this type of behavior: Akrasia.
Akrasia is the state of acting against your better judgment.
When you do one thing even though you know you should do something else. Loosely translated, you could say that akrasia is procrastination or a lack of self-control.
Here's a modern definition:
Procrastination is the act of delaying or postponing a task or set of tasks. So, whether you refer to it as procrastination or akrasia or something else, it is the force that prevents you from following through on what you set out to do.
Before we get too deep into this discussion, let's pause for just a second.
Ok, definitions are great and all, but why do we procrastinate? What is going on in the brain that causes us to avoid the things we know we should be doing?
This is a good time to bring some science into our discussion. Behavioral psychology research has revealed a phenomenon called “time inconsistency,” which helps explain why procrastination seems to pull us in despite our good intentions. Time inconsistency refers to the tendency of the human brain to value immediate rewards more highly than future rewards.
The best way to understand this is by imagining that you have two selves: your Present Self and your Future Self. When you set goals for yourself — like getting all A's, scoring high on the exam, losing weight, or writing a book, or learning a language or sport — you are actually making plans for your Future Self. You are envisioning what you want your life to be like in the future. Researchers have found that when you think about your Future Self it is quite easy for your brain to see the value in taking actions with long-term benefits. The Future Self values long-term rewards.
However, while the Future Self can set goals, only the Present Self can take action. When the time comes to make a decision, you are no longer making a choice for your Future Self. Now you are in the present moment, and your brain is thinking about the Present Self. Researchers have discovered that the Present Self really likes instant gratification, not long-term payoff.
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