This started out as a rough draft about study habits (especially bad ones) during finals week back in May of 2017. Due to the weariness of the coinciding studies and final projects, I put it off. And put it off. And then a summer’s worth of craziness came and went, and this unfinished blog post slipped almost completely out of mind.
Therefore, I hastily reworked this musing on studying into one about procrastination:
Humans will procrastinate on various things for various reasons. Perhaps it is a boring assignment, perhaps it there is enough time that it does not need to be started right away, or perhaps they think something else requires their attention more. I think we all know about rationalizing a decision; question is, where does the underlying cause of that decision come from?
The Evolutionary and Biological Perspectives of Psychology focus on the possible causes of behavior rooted in genetics. We know that personality develops from a basic temperament that is probably rooted in genetics, and any behavior patterns we have that are genetic in origin are obviously derived from some behavior that was advantageous to survival. In fact, a lot of behaviors that are counterproductive in modern day humans can be easily viewed as genetic predispositions gone wrong (for instance, paranoia is probably advantageous for an environment full of predators, while an addiction to sweet and fatty food is probably due to the fact that such foods were both very rare for are ancestors and contained more nourishment than grain or seeds alone).
Perhaps procrastination is derived from a genetic predisposition that allowed for the conservation of energy. Perhaps this same genetic factor is basal for being able to think ahead and prioritize a hierarchy of tasks. It is probably the former, since studies show that levels of mental difficulty for a task happen to have an actual intrinsic cost, which is partially why we prefer easy tasks to hard ones.
However, genetic predispositions don’t exist in isolation. The field of epigenetics shows that genetic information can be activated or deactivated depending on environmental factors (for example, the child of two tall parents may not grow a lot if he or she does not received enough nutrients). Also, predispositions aside, a lot of personality and behavioral tendencies are gained from interacting with the environment. If someone does something a certain way, it is because they learned over the course of their life that it was acceptable to do so.
How does one learn procrastination? How does one learn any behavior? Through reinforcement and punishment, of course. If a certain pattern of behavior produces positive results, then that behavior is going to be repeated more often than similar behavior that does not produce results. In theory, punishment discourages one repeating certain patterns of behavior (if punishment is ill-thought out or doesn’t explain why the subject is being punished, then the undesired behavior will persist and everyone will just get more stressed out). Therefore, if the results of procrastination produce something that is perceived as rewarding, then it is going to persist. Why would procrastination be rewarding? Well, the last minute rush of meeting a deadline is enjoyable for some, especially if the results are favorable.
There is more to learning than just reward and punishment, however. There is a physiological component that I think shouldn’t go overlooked.
The human brain is a complex mass of interconnected pathways, each associated with some process or another, all of them plastic enough that they can adjust to some degree in order to acclimate to changing circumstances. If a specific pathway or set of pathways is used often, then that pathway will gain new connections, and consequently gain strength as a neural process. Also, the more a thought pattern is repeated and strengthened, the greater the likelihood one will immediately default to that neural pattern instead of another one when making a decision.
Incidentally, the brains ability to strengthen and modify neural connections allows it to reassign skills to different parts of the brain, allowing stroke victims to relearn basic skills they might have otherwise lost. It also explains why people who “know” better develop substance dependencies.
For example, if someone usually plays video games rather than study for a class, their neural patterns concerning video games are going to be stronger than their patterns that concern studying, which means that they are more likely to make the decision to play video games first (perhaps they will come up with a good rationalization, but rationalization is usually just a person’s justifications for an emotional choice that they have already made).
The more reinforced a behavior is, the more one is motivated to choose it. For the most part, we are motivated by that which either fills a biological need or produces results that we find psychologically fulfilling. These involve the same parts of the brain, for the record, but the secondary psychological needs (such as money) are the results of classical conditioning (learning to associate a new stimulus with preexisting reactions). This is a gross oversimplification, by the way.
Social influences also are a major factor concerning human behavior. In general, humans learn what is proper behavior from the observation or the instruction of others. Being social animals, human behavior is often influenced by the real or imagined presence of other humans and what expectations one thinks they might have of them. In ambiguous situations, we follow the leads of those who seem to know what is going on. When among peers, we act in accord with them in order to fit in and avoid being ostracized.
Therefore, it is not uncommon for justifications of behavior (to oneself or others) to end with the phrase “–but everyone else does/is doing it.”
Now, back to the individualist point of view. A person’s behavior is often a mix-bag of inherent predispositions, environmental conditioning, learned attitudes, and various other influences. How well is able to overcome or adjust with this influences to change behavior depends on one’s mindset and views on personality.
If one believes a trait like intelligence to be inherent, then they are going to treat a task they cannot complete as proof that they are not smart enough to complete it, so they then move on to some other task that they can complete. Someone who views intelligence as a constantly development trait, however, will treat an incomprehensible task as a challenge, so they will actively work on learning how to deal with the task. Neither is particularly wrong in the viewpoint, but certain perspectives on life can provide more opportunities for progress than others.
One’s overall emotional state also influences one’s decisiveness (obviosuly). Sometimes repeated behaviors result from a root issue; sometimes it is just the external influence of the weather messing up one’s mood. Either way, the issue is not going to be resolved unless the individual becomes consciously aware that an issue exists.
There are many reasons that a person might procrastinate, and none of them are mutually exclusive. Perhaps one is more predisposed towards it than someone else, but that does not mean that it is inherent to them; anyone can learn not to procrastinate if they can find the motivation and strength to do so. Instead of thinking about how hard a project is, think about how easy small parts of it would be. Instead of putting it off until later, start now and keep coming back to work on it. Do not think that you are stupid; think that you just don’t know something yet.
Of course, there are most likely people with better advice for this sort of thing. Even some of the stuff here might be of help.
In the mean time, I am going to work on some art history notes and communication exchanges that I have been putting off in favor of reading Silmarillion fanfiction.
Last year’s Psychology 101 textbook and notes