The science behind procrastination suggests it’s all in our minds

On I-95 at mile marker 166 in the County of Fairfax, motorists can expect potential delays due to a vehicle accident. The north left shoulder, left lane, and left center lane are closed.

Procrastination is one of the biggest hurdles many of us try to overcome on a daily basis. Although our brains tell us we must tackle the day’s most important tasks ASAP, we’re not averse to letting our minds wander elsewhere.

Over the years, various scientists have tried to explain procrastination. According to Eric Jaffe, even the Ancient Greeks found it difficult to focus on the task at hand. Some studies suggest that procrastination is an issue affecting only those who would rather pursue short-term pleasures over long-term goals. Various other experts will agree that depression and poor focus increase your risk of not getting stuff done.

The latest research into procrastination is introducing a new theory to the arena. According to researchers at Ruhr University Bochum, people who procrastinate have a structurally unusual amygdala. To find out what the amygdala is and why yours may cause you to veer away from important tasks, read on.

Your amygdala and the role it plays in maintaining focus

Your amygdala is a small almond-shaped area of your limbic system. It plays a role in the way you process emotions, and is an area of focus among those researching autism. In the past, imaging has revealed that the amygdala relates to decision making and responses. Those who encounter damage to the area are less likely to make appropriate decisions, making it harder for them to appreciate the differences between reward and punishment.

How does the amygdala relate to procrastination?

Your amygdala works alongside another area of your brain to determine which actions you’ll take. The Dorsal Anterior Cingulate Cortex (DACC) will shut out competing emotions and external distractions, but only when your amygdala is functioning as it should. After scanning the brains of 264 people, Ruhr University’s researchers found that those with larger amygdalas were more likely to procrastinate. In addition, their connection with the DACC was weaker, dampening their concentration efforts further.

Such individuals face challenges in the form of decision making as they’re often overly anxious about outcomes. As fear starts to set in, they delay making decisions in a bid to avoid negative consequences altogether. The end result is that procrastination seems like an enticing option, as it’s completely separate from the more important task at hand.

With that in mind, you can still try and limit procrastination

Obviously there’s no way you can alter the size of certain brain areas. Nor are you likely to receive the type of scan that will reveal whether your brain’s structure supports focus and concentration. According to productivity expert Moyra Scott, breaking large tasks into small and manageable chunks will take you a long way. In doing so, you’ll continuously experience the rewarding sensations that accompany ticking something off your to-do list.

How much you let procrastination get the better of you is really down to you. You’re very much in control of whether your smartphone is in reach during the working day. You can also opt to switch off the TV, block social media apps, and seek a quieter place to work. So, if you feel as though you’re a pro-procrastinator, seize control and take a creative approach to shutting distractions out.


About the Author

Laura McKeever
Laura has been a freelance medical writer for eight years. With a BSc in Medical Sciences and an MSc in Physician Assistant Studies, she complements her passion for medical news with real-life experiences. Laura’s most significant experience included writing for international pharmaceutical brands, including GSK.