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What Does Procrastination Do To Your Happiness?

What Does Procrastination Do To Your Happiness?

In September 2014, two British professors wanted to find out what happens when students do not hand over their assignments on time. Their study threw up an alarming surprise, which, if the students knew, would make them give up procrastination forever.

First, the professors David Arnott and Scott Dacko decided to define the procrastinators as the ones who wouldn’t submit their end-of-term tasks until the last day. Then they dipped into five years of submission data on 777 marketing students from their own Warwick Business School, and found that while each of these students had four weeks or more to hand over their assignments, only about a hundred had done so before the last day. The rest (669 of them) waited out until the last 24 hours to submit their task.

That is, 86% of them were procrastinators.

In a different study at the University of Vermont done in 1984, it was found that 46% of the students had reported they procrastinate writing academic papers. But even that figure might not the surprise all of you. Students are known to be ‘natural-born’ procrastinators to school homework across the world. Everybody knows how busy the lives of young college-goers can be. So, 86% could seem unsurprisingly normal.

The real surprise uncovered itself in the final 24 hours. As they analyzed the data, Arnott and Dacko found a disturbing pattern emerge as the last day of the submission had begun. The students taking another hour from here on started getting lower marks. It was happening by the hour. For example, someone who submitted at 3pm got lower marks than those who did at 2pm.

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It was as if every passing hour was chipping away their scores. The worse the procrastination, the worse were the marks. So clear was the pattern that those who handed in their assignments at the last minute, had the worst grades of all. In fact, these last-minute guys saw a full 5% drop in their marks over those who had checked in their tasks before the start of the last day.
Now, mind it, those five percentage points are substantial for students, because they could well translate into a half or a whole letter lower grade. A possibly ‘B’ could end up getting ‘C+’, just because they handed in their tasks late.

What Procrastination Does To Your Happiness?

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    The verdict is out: Good things don’t always come to those who… procrastinate. Procrastination takes away your happiness. It has been proven over many studies and surveys.

    Procrastination Research Group carried out a survey with over 10,000 respondents, and found that 94% of them reported that procrastination indeed does have some negative effect on their happiness.

    According to Procrastination and Science, almost 70% of the procrastinators were found to be less happy than an average person.

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    As the Warwick study showed, when the students waited until the last minute to tie up their assignments, they got the worst grades.

    Habitual procrastination could damage relationships, create an unflattering reputation of carelessness, and invite setbacks in career and work prospects. Procrastinators frequently resort to lies to reason out their delays, and are often found out, leading to disastrous consequences. And you could swear that all of that can take away a sizable bit of their happiness.

    The big culprit here is regret. It’s a story that goes around in a predictable circle: Procrastinators begin with hope, then go into anxiety, guilt and self-criticism, and end up in regret. Next project, same cycle.

    What Do You Know About Procrastination?

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      Procrastination is not taking action. It is avoiding starting something you mean to start. It is avoiding finishing something you’re supposed to finish. It is doing something else, or lots of something else, when you know you should be doing a certain important thing.

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      Experts classify it into two types – decisional (putting off taking decisions) and avoidant (putting off doing things).

      Perhaps, all of us procrastinate at some of the times. While some of us do it more, and some less, but the truth is none of us do it all of the time.

      The three main areas of our life that we procrastinate on are education, career, and health.

      1. Education: We saw in the opening paragraphs how pervasive is procrastination in the education field. For many of us, this problem can be traced back to our earliest school years when we were perhaps slow learners, and got labeled by our peers and teachers. And we carry the label long after school.
      2. Career: On the career front, most of us know at least one person who despises his current job and desperately wants to change it, but doesn’t. Like a lost soul swimming in circles in a small fish bowl, perpetually planning to dive out into bigger water, but never makes the jump. That lost soul is often the person we know the best – our own self. Are you sure that person isn’t you?
      3. Health: We’re really bad procrastinators when it comes to health. Think of the new year’s day health goals that you set for yourself and kept delaying starting out on them, year after year. Think of that regular half-hour yoga that never came around, or those eight glasses of water or those eight hours of sleep that could never become a reality. That smoking habit that you left and picked up back so many times that you feel ashamed to even whisper it.

      Why Do We Procrastinate?

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        Procrastinators have a complicated relationship with time, and often believe Time is up against them and they have outsmart it somehow. But even then, procrastination is not just an matter of time-management. Rather, it is a complex psychological problem with deep roots into self-esteem issues.

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        The main reasons that make procrastination likely are:

        1. Uninteresting: We delay doing it till eternity because we find the work utterly boring and without any fun. That comes from the human nature’s basic Pain-Pleasure Principle – we run from painful activities and go after pleasurable ones. Scientists call it task aversiveness.
        2. Impulsiveness: Procrastinators have been found to be largely impulsive too. Being impulsive, they fail to handle their goals effectively, and keep jumping from task to task leaving most of those unfinished. Some researchers even argue that procrastination is a by-product of impulsiveness, even when these two behaviors seem polar opposites (just give it a thought!).
        3. Low Confidence: We don’t feel sure of our abilities and presence that we can tackle something effectively. We don’t do things because of fear of failure or even fear of success. This is the issue of low self-esteem that is believed to be the strongest reason.
        4. Anxiety: We have often felt that when a deadline is right upon us, we end up procrastinating more. That is anxiety causing us to procrastinate. In that anxiety, we drive ourselves busy doing everything else other than the project at hand. Suddenly, our desk clutter needs to be cleared immediately, and our cars need to be taken for service.
        5. Goal Problems: When the goals are not clear, or the goals lie too far into the future, or there are no goals at all, we procrastinate.
        6. Perfectionism: People who search for perfection often end up procrastinating. Perfectionism in certain fields is demanded by default, as in competitive sports and classical music. But for most, this is a handicap that leads to an unending delay in finishing things.
        7. Heredity: Procrastination could be 46% heritable, as a study on 347 Colorado twins indicated. Which means there is half a chance that you may have got it from your parents. But remember, that’s half a chance. The rest is how your environment molded you into.
        8. Mental Illness: Procrastination has been found to occur in some serious psychological illnesses, as borderline personality disorder, depression and anxiety, addiction problems, as well as in strained relationships.

        How Can We Beat Procrastination With Science?

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          1. Avoid Procrastination. This is the best method. As the professors hoped after the Warwick study that the teachers recognize the habitual procrastinators in time, and help them change their study habits. To do this, set clear goals with realistic timelines, break each goal into many sub-goals, and measure and review progress at fixed time-points.
          2. Get A Growth Mindset: This is a concept researched and presented by Carol Dweck in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment,” she writes. Building into yourself a growth mindset can increase your self-worth, and help take new tasks as challenges to thrive on rather than shirk from.
          3. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): ACT is a mindfulness-based psychotherapy that centers around accepting what is outside your personal control, and committing to action that enriches your life. It has shown remarkable short-term as well as long-term effects in decreasing procrastination, especially academic procrastination. If you want to learn mindfulness quickly, here’s how: Mindfulness in 7 Steps.

          Featured photo credit: Viktor Hanacek/picjumbo.com via picjumbo.com

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          Sandip Roy

          Medical Doctor

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          Last Updated on November 15, 2019

          How Do You Change a Habit (According to Psychology)

          How Do You Change a Habit (According to Psychology)

          Habits are hard to kill, and rightly so. They are a part and parcel of your personality traits and mold your character.

          However, habits are not always something over-the-top and quirky enough to get noticed. Think of subtle habits like tapping fingers when you are nervous and humming songs while you drive. These are nothing but ingrained habits that you may not realize easily.

          Just take a few minutes and think of something specific that you do all the time. You will notice how it has become a habit for you without any explicit realization. Everything you do on a daily basis starting with your morning routine, lunch preferences to exercise routines are all habits.

          Habits mostly form from life experiences and certain observed behaviors, not all of them are healthy. Habitual smoking can be dangerous to your health. Similarly, a habit could also make you lose out on enjoying something to its best – like how some people just cannot stop swaying their bodies when delivering a speech.

          Thus, there could be a few habits that you would want to change about yourself. But changing habits is not as easy as it seems, why?

          What Makes It Hard To Change A Habit?

          To want to change a particular habit means to change something very fundamental about your behavior.[1] Hence, it’s necessary to understand how habits actually form and why they are so difficult to actually get out of.

          The Biology

          Habits form in a place what we call the subconscious mind in our brain.[2]

          Our brains have two modes of operation. The first one is an automatic pilot kind of system that is fast and works on reflexes often. It is what we call the subconscious part. This is the part that is associated with everything that comes naturally to you.

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          The second mode is the conscious mode where every action and decision is well thought out and follows a controlled way of thinking.

          A fine example to distinguish both would be to consider yourself learning to drive or play an instrument. For the first time you try learning, you think before every movement you make. But once you have got the hang of it, you might drive without applying much thought into it.

          Both systems work together in our brains at all times. When a habit is formed, it moves from the conscious part to the subconscious making it difficult to control.

          So, the key idea in deconstructing a habit is to go from the subconscious to the conscious.

          Another thing you have to understand about habits is that they can be conscious or hidden.

          Conscious habits are those that require active input from your side. For instance, if you stop setting your alarm in the morning, you will stop waking up at the same time.

          Hidden habits, on the other hand, are habits that we do without realizing. These make up the majority of our habits and we wouldn’t even know them until someone pointed them out. So the first difficulty in breaking these habits is to actually identify them. As they are internalized, they need a lot of attention to detail for self-identification. That’s not all.

          Habits can be physical, social, and mental, energy-based and even be particular to productivity. Understanding them is necessary to know why they are difficult to break and what can be done about them.

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          The Psychology

          Habits get engraved into our memories depending on the way we think, feel and act over a particular period of time. The procedural part of memory deals with habit formation and studies have observed that various types of conditioning of behavior could affect your habit formations.

          Classical conditioning or pavlovian conditioning is when you start associating a memory with reality.[3] A dog that associates ringing bell to food will start salivating. The same external stimuli such as the sound of church bells can make a person want to pray.

          Operant conditioning is when experience and the feelings associated with it form a habit.[4] By encouraging or discouraging an act, individuals could either make it a habit or stop doing it.

          Observational learning is another way habits could take form. A child may start walking the same way their parent does.

          What Can You Do To Change a Habit?

          Sure, habits are hard to control but it is not impossible. With a few tips and hard-driven dedication, you can surely get over your nasty habits.

          Here are some ways that make use of psychological findings to help you:

          1. Identify Your Habits

          As mentioned earlier, habits can be quite subtle and hidden from your view. You have to bring your subconscious habits to an aware state of mind. You could do it by self-observation or by asking your friends or family to point out the habit for your sake.

          2. Find out the Impact of Your Habit

          Every habit produces an effect – either physical or mental. Find out what exactly it is doing to you. Does it help you relieve stress or does it give you some pain relief?

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          It could be anything simple. Sometimes biting your nails could be calming your nerves. Understanding the effect of a habit is necessary to control it.

          3. Apply Logic

          You don’t need to be force-fed with wisdom and advice to know what an unhealthy habit could do to you.

          Late-night binge-watching just before an important presentation is not going to help you. Take a moment and apply your own wisdom and logic to control your seemingly nastily habits.

          4. Choose an Alternative

          As I said, every habit induces some feeling. So, it could be quite difficult to get over it unless you find something else that can replace it. It can be a simple non-harming new habit that you can cultivate to get over a bad habit.

          Say you have the habit of banging your head hard when you are angry. That’s going to be bad for you. Instead, the next time you are angry, just take a deep breath and count to 10. Or maybe start imagining yourself on a luxury yacht. Just think of something that will work for you.

          5. Remove Triggers

          Get rid of items and situations that can trigger your bad habit.

          Stay away from smoke breaks if you are trying to quit it. Remove all those candy bars from the fridge if you want to control your sweet cravings.

          6. Visualize Change

          Our brains can be trained to forget a habit if we start visualizing the change. Serious visualization is retained and helps as a motivator in breaking the habit loop.

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          For instance, to replace your habit of waking up late, visualize yourself waking up early and enjoying the early morning jog every day. By continuing this, you would naturally feel better to wake up early and do your new hobby.

          7. Avoid Negative Talks and Thinking

          Just as how our brain is trained to accept a change in habit, continuous negative talk and thinking could hamper your efforts put into breaking a habit.

          Believe you can get out of it and assert yourself the same.

          Final Thoughts

          Changing habits isn’t easy, so do not expect an overnight change!

          Habits took a long time to form. It could take a while to completely break out of it. You will have to accept that sometimes you may falter in your efforts. Don’t let negativity seep in when it seems hard. Keep going at it slowly and steadily.

          More About Changing Habits

          Featured photo credit: Mel via unsplash.com

          Reference

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