If you have a tendency to procrastinate by saying “someday I'll do it”, you need to know that “someday” is not part of the 7 days of the week. The habit of procrastinating indefinitely - or until you have no choice but to deal with the situation - is not good and will end up running into you, because unsolved problems tend to keep growing in the area we relegate them to.
The weight of unsolved problems
Often it distresses us more to think about the things we have pending than to face them. Postponing tasks and decisions will not make them disappear from our mind, on the contrary, they will become an additional burden. Whenever we postpone something our subconscious takes note, a kind of warning that remains active as an alarm.
If we develop the habit of postponing everything we don't want to deal with, our mind will eventually become filled with mental notes. These constant reminders will become a source of tension, bad mood and mental confusion. Consequently, the weight of the problem that we have postponed will add to the weight of the constant reminder, as well as the uncertainty of not knowing how everything will turn out.
When we have to deal with many mental notes we run the risk of suffering from a mental block. The prospect of all the problems we have to solve is simply overwhelming. And our mental balance gives under its weight. In many cases, this attrition results in psychophysical symptoms, from a recurrent tension-type headache to constant exhaustion or skin problems.
If procrastinating is so bad, why do we do it?
The biopsychologists of the Ruhr-Universität Bochum have the answer. They examined the brains of 264 people to understand why some have a tendency to procrastinate instead of facing problems directly. They found that people with poor control had a larger amygdala. Furthermore, the functional connection between the amygdala and the so-called anterior dorsal cingulate cortex was weaker. What does it mean?
The amygdala is a kind of emotional epicenter that activates the fight-or-flight response. When faced with a situation, whatever it may be, the amygdala brings out similar experiences from the past to determine whether that stimulus is dangerous or not. It also warns us about the possible negative emotional consequences of our actions. In other words, it makes us decide in seconds if that situation is dangerous and, therefore, something we should avoid.
The amygdala also chooses from a range of behaviors, prioritizing some and inhibiting others. This means that people with a larger amygdala have learned from their past mistakes and value their actions and future consequences more meticulously. However, what might seem positive also has a negative side.
The anterior dorsal cingulate cortex uses the information provided by the amygdala to choose the actions we need to perform. If the interaction between the amygdala and the anterior dorsal cingulate cortex is weaker, the amygdala will perform its emotional analysis work, but we will not be able to successfully implement the corresponding actions. In fact, researchers found that people with a larger amygdala feel more anxious about the negative consequences of an action, so they tend to doubt and procrastinate.
We are not "condemned" to procrastinate
This "faulty" connection between the amygdala and the anterior dorsal cingulate cortex has formed over the years, it is the result of past behaviors in which we decided it was best to postpone solving the problem.
The good news is that we can correct it because our brains have extraordinary neuroplasticity, which means we can change functional connections. Neuroscientists at the University of Pittsburgh, for example, showed that just 8 weeks of transcendental meditation is enough to reduce the volume of the amygdala, so that it is less reactive and stops viewing everything as a threat, while increasing the volume of the amygdala. prefrontal cortex, which is the one that helps us make rational decisions, improving the connection between both.
Therefore, the next time you consider postponing that activity to “a day” that will never come, try to find out why you postpone it and establish an action plan to correct this trend.
Schlüter, C. et. Al. (2018) The Structural and Functional Signature of Action Control. Psychological Science; 1-11.
Taren, A. A. et. Al. (2015) Mindfulness meditation training alters stress-related amygdala resting state functional connectivity: a randomized controlled trialSoc Cogn Affect Neurosci; 10(12): 1758–1768.