Procrastination: learn tactics to not leave tasks for later – 01/26/2022 – Mental Health

We’ve all left an important task for later. Whether studying for a test in high school, preparing a report to deliver to the boss at work or even starting a personal project that requires a lot of dedication.

Procrastination is part of the decision-making process, says neuroscientist Andrei Mayer, professor at the Department of Physiological Sciences at UFSC (Federal University of Santa Catarina) and administrator of the Youtube channel Blame it on the brain.

“For some reason, the person decides to push that activity further. It’s something we do all the time, but we have to be aware when it starts to harm the person professionally or even in their social relationships”, says Mayer.

The neuroscientist explains that our brain is constantly making a cost-benefit assessment of all our actions. From simple, everyday things like washing dishes and brushing teeth, to more complex projects like changing eating habits or saving money to buy a property.

“The cost of achieving a goal is the time and effort you will have to put into it. The benefit is the reward you will get in the end, that is, the pleasure and the feeling of accomplishment”, he says.

To overcome procrastination, it is necessary to understand how this process works, learn some strategies to start tasks and stimulate the reward system.

Procrastination is not laziness

Mayer emphasizes that both procrastination and laziness are related to motivation, but they are different behaviors.

“Laziness is a general lack of motivation. The person doesn’t want to do anything, he doesn’t have the mental or physical energy to develop any activity”, he says.

“Procrastination, on the other hand, refers to a specific task. For some reason, you stop doing one task to do another”, he observes.

Both, however, can be triggered by physiological and psychological issues such as stress and irregular sleep.

“Sleeping badly affects all the systems of the brain, including those involved with motivation. If a person sleeps poorly, he feels less motivated and procrastinates more, he becomes lazy. With stress it’s the same thing. Stress changes the way in which the brain will calculate the cost-benefit of tasks, it becomes harder to be motivated.”

Prefrontal cortex and reward system

Just like any decision-making process, many parts of our brain are involved in procrastination.

“The main ones are the prefrontal cortex, which functions as a great manager, a planner inside our head, and the so-called reward system, which is the circuit that processes information related to the sensations of pleasure, to satisfaction”, he points out. Mayer.

“The information about the effort you’re going to have to make to earn that reward comes to the manager, which is the prefrontal cortex, which will help you make the decision.”

And what happens when we procrastinate? “Basically, it’s your brain coming to the conclusion that this task is not worth doing now, and you end up putting it off for later. It evaluates that it’s not worth investing physical and mental energy at that moment. That’s procrastinating. That’s when the manager comes to that conclusion.”

Mayer points out that the four basic components that the brain takes into account when making this decision are: the reward (what you will get out of it), the physical and mental effort to solve that task, the time you will have to dedicate and, finally, the probability of succeeding or not.

“That is, anything that has little benefit, or that the reward is very far away, that the cost is very high, you have to make a lot of effort, the tendency is for us to procrastinate more”, he concludes.

“For example, to go on a diet, the effort is very great and the reward, which is to improve health or lose weight, is far away. Another example is studying for a test that will happen in a year and you don’t know if you will pass, even studying hard”, he says.

Anxiety and procrastination

Insecurity about the outcome of a task is one of the causes of procrastination. After all, why invest so much effort and time in something that can go wrong?

“This fear is related to anxiety,” notes Mayer. “Anxious people tend to procrastinate more on certain tasks, as anxiety is a response to a fear that we have in the present about something that will happen in the future. It is when the person is afraid of potential danger in the future” , says the neuroscientist.

“Some research shows that the amygdala, which is a structure in the brain that generates fear and anxiety responses, is bigger in anxious people. And those people who have bigger amygdala tend to procrastinate more.”

Psychologist Bruno Farias explains that procrastination of important tasks can also happen in patients with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder).

“OCD is a condition characterized by obsessive thoughts. The patient feels so disturbed by the intrusive thoughts that he performs various rituals in a desperate attempt to feel better”, says Farias.

Some examples cited by the psychologist are checking several times if the door has really been locked or checking if the gas in the kitchen is off.

“With this, the person loses time and cannot concentrate to solve important tasks”, he says.

“These are patients who need our understanding and acceptance, in addition to being referred to serious mental health professionals so that they can receive adequate treatment”, he emphasizes.

andTypes of Procrastinators

Neuroscientist Andrei Mayer says that it is possible to separate procrastinators into three groups, although it is common for a person to fit into all of them.

“Seekers are those who procrastinate important tasks to perform others that generate immediate pleasure”, he says.

“This can happen, for example, when a person is depressed or stressed. They put off something important that they need to do and prefer to devour a box of chocolate or watch a movie they like on television, as these are things that are quickly satisfying” , says.

“These are seductive tasks that have a high benefit and low cost, in the sense of applied energy.”

There are also avoiders. “It is when the person avoids important tasks for fear of the result. It is common for the anxious to fall into this group”, observes Mayer.

“The person is afraid of failing and getting frustrated, afraid of exposing himself socially, afraid of trying in general.”

The undecided are those who do not know how to complete an activity.

“One of the factors involved in the calculation that the brain does is the chance of completing the task or not. If the brain judges that the probability is small, it will not find motivation.”

Strategies to overcome procrastination

The first step is to identify what is causing your procrastination.

Remember the four components the brain takes into account to perform a task? The reward (what you will gain from it), the physical and mental effort to solve that activity, the time you will have to dedicate and, finally, the probability of it working or not.

One tactic for doing long tasks, when the reward is far away, is to break those activities down into micro-goals or goals.

“It is important to plan and set daily, weekly and monthly goals. This helps the brain understand that each goal achieved means that you are getting closer to the big goal”, reveals Mayer.

“The simple fact of reaching one of these marks already generates a reward signal in the brain that we call intrinsic reward”, says the neuroscientist.

“This tactic is very important to keep the person motivated. It’s as if we turned the project into a game in which each goal reached is a phase that the person has overcome. And then the simple fact of passing the first phase is already rewarding. You win when you achieve the desired result”, he compares.

Another strategy that Mayer suggests is to make a detailed plan — for this you can use diaries or planners.

“You always need to have a schedule in advance with all the activities you must do, then you just need to follow the schedule. Making decisions at the last minute can be a trap and distract from the focus”, he observes.

Mayer also indicates the five-minute technique. “This one is pretty popular on the internet. The idea is, when you don’t feel like doing something, just start doing it for five minutes.”

“If you don’t want to continue after that time, you stop. But studies show that just starting a task your motivation to complete it increases significantly. .”

Psychologist Bruno Farias reinforces that it is also necessary to analyze behavior.

Does the person who procrastinates have time for leisure? Does she sleep well? Does she eat well? Does she enjoy what she does? Does her daily life make sense to her? Is she experiencing an insurmountable personal difficulty right now? Does she need help? very important questions that you should ask yourself,” he says.

When the lack of motivation is very high, Farias emphasizes the need to undergo a medical evaluation to perform tests and verify that everything is ok with the health and nutrition of the body.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, highlights the psychologist, can help a person understand their reactions and attitudes to events and avoid harmful habits, such as procrastination.

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She's our PC girl, so anything is up to her. She is also responsible for the videos of Play Crazy Game, as well as giving a leg in the news.

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