Hello Internet! (For ‘The Philosophy of Tomorrow #1″ please click here)
It’s Saturday afternoon and you have a big science project that is due on Monday. Your teacher told you about it weeks ago, but you saw no reason to get started right away. Now you are getting a little nervous. You only have two days to do the project and you should probably get to work. But where should you begin? There is so much work to do. Maybe a walk in the fresh air would clear your mind.
You had some great ideas on your walk and when you come back inside, you are ready to work. You sit down at your desk. My, your desk certainly looks messy. You would probably work better if it were neat. As you organize your desk, you find a deck of cards. You remember a fun card game that a friend taught you. Maybe you could teach the game to your little brother. He sure would like the game; besides, spending time with your family is important. Your project can wait a few more hours.
Now it’s Sunday night and you have not even begun your project. You are seriously worried. How did this happen? If you had only begun working on the project when it was assigned! Then you would be relaxing instead of rushing to do three weeks’ worth of work in a few short hours. Why did you put off doing it for so long?
Does any of this sound familiar to you? If so, then you are guilty of procrastinating—that is, putting off doing something even though you know that it is important. We have all done this at some point in our lives. In fact, Dr. Piers Steel, a professor at the University of Calgary, found in his research that 95% of people have procrastinated at least once. Most of us know that it is a bad habit, but we do it anyway. Why is that?
Some psychologists blame procrastination on something called the pleasure principle. The pleasure principle is a simple idea: human beings are more likely to choose to do something fun or enjoyable instead of something difficult, painful, or boring, even if this choice is bad for us. This is why most people would rather play video games than clean the bathroom. The problem, of course, is the bathroom needs to get cleaned. Putting off cleaning will only make your bathroom dirtier in the long run.
Procrastinating is giving in to the pleasure principle. Instead of doing something dull or difficult, we choose to do something fun. It is choosing instant gratification over delayed gratification. Instant gratification occurs when you get to enjoy something right away; conversely, delayed gratification requires a person to wait until the enjoyment can happen. Instant gratification may be immediately rewarding, but it is not always the best choice. For example, imagine that you are hungry. In your kitchen, you have both a bag of chips and all of the ingredients to make a delicious, healthy sandwich. The sandwich is better for you, will keep you full longer, and it even tastes better. But it will take time to make the sandwich. You will have to get out the bread, slice the ingredients, put the sandwich together, and then clean up after yourself when you are done. On the other hand, you can just open up the bag of chips, stuff them into your face, and then throw out the empty bag. Which should you choose? Choosing the bag of chips would be an example of instant gratification; your hunger gets satisfied immediately with minimal effort on your part. Choosing the sandwich would be an example of delayed gratification; you have to do work and wait a few minutes before you get to eat.
Of course, procrastination is not the worst crime in the world. However, procrastinating too much can have some seriously negative consequences. Even if you tell yourself that you “work best under pressure,” this is almost certainly not the case. A project that you have spent weeks working on will be much better than one you do in two hours the night before it is due. Procrastinating not only makes your work suffer, it can also be bad for you. Procrastinating can cause stress, anxiety, and feelings of guilt. Furthermore, if you procrastinate so much that you do not actually get your work done, then you are likely to suffer consequences.
If procrastination is a problem for you, there are some things that you can do to help. When author Herman Melville struggled to finish his great novel Moby Dick, he reportedly had his wife chain him to his desk. If this sounds a bit extreme to you, there are a few easier ways that you can help yourself stay on task. Are you putting off your project because it seems overwhelming or too difficult? Try breaking it down into smaller tasks. For example, if you have to clean your room, you could start by just organizing your closet. Once your closet is organised, then you can move on to the clutter on your desk. You could also start by doing the hardest part first—once that is out of the way, the rest will seem easy. If you procrastinate because you are easily distracted, try working in an environment that helps you stay focused. Find a place where there are no televisions. Turn your phone off. If you need your computer to do your work, download software that will temporarily block websites that distract you.
Perhaps the best way to beat procrastination is the simplest way: just get started. You may find that once you have spent a few minutes working, you will find yourself focused on your task. It may not work for you, but it cannot hurt to try. After all, you have nothing to lose but a bad habit!
P.S Do you realise how much research it took to write this? I don’t think you do. But it probabaly took up most of the time I was supposed to be doing homework.