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The real reason students procrastinate and how to fight it

“Procrastination is like a credit card: it's a lot of fun until you get the bill.” - Christopher Parker

If procrastination and credit cards would truly be similar, the Great Recession of 2008 would haunt the world 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It would never end. Account overdrafts would plague every single individual and bank, and they would never be repaid.

While thankfully this is not the case, procrastination is as real as the Great Recession was. Every single human being does it to some extent. You are procrastinating the moment you start thinking “I’ll do it later”-  and what a great feeling it is!

Unfortunately, the results are not so great - particularly when the thing you’ve been procrastinating is studying anatomy. Want to know how you can avoid it and get motivated to study? Join us as we explore the real reason for procrastination (understanding is key to overcoming it!), and some realistic, actionable tips you can take to prevent it from steering you off track. 

Ways to deal with procrastination
Divide your work By dividing each big task into many smaller ones that are easier to accomplish, you can focus on a smaller goal and reward yourself along the way. 
Make every task positive & rewarding This method improves your mood and lets you enjoy the process, fighting the urge to postpone it for later on.
Forgive yourself Accept that sometimes things can go wrong and don't be too hard on yourself if you procrastinate here and there. Science has shown that forgiveness actually makes you less likely to put off work in the future.
Reframe deadlines Transform each deadline into a challenge and add a reward to offset the difficulties. For example, think like this: What if I slightly force myself to do the work now, so tomorrow I will have a free day to do whatever I want?
  1. What is procrastination?
  2. It’s all about emotions
  3. Fighting procrastination
    1. Divide your work
    2. Make it positive and rewarding
    3. Forgive yourself
    4. Reframe the deadlines
  4. Main takeaways
  5. Sources
+ Show all
Student peers out from behind a mountain of books

What is procrastination?

Procrastination is nothing new. This practice has probably been around from the moment a human being had to accomplish a task, with the first historical record from 800 BC. If procrastination has such negative connotations in the 21st century, why then did it stand the test of time for so long? Is it purely due to human nature? Or is there much more to it once you scratch the surface?

Defining procrastination and why it occurs is complex. However, what is known for sure is that it involves delaying or putting off a task or decision. In some cases, this is necessary and advantageous. For example when prioritizing tasks within a company or during your studies. It can also be framed as avoiding rushed actions. 

That said, other experts classify procrastination as an irrational delay of behavior, causing users to defer action without logical reason. In other words, procrastinators voluntarily choose a course of action that deep down, they know will not be beneficial in the end. This is where the danger lies. A procrastinator is a “pro” at making life difficult for him or herself. In turn, stress skyrockets, performance is worse, and results are subpar.

If you enjoy using your available anatomy study tools, you're much less likely to procrastinate! Anatomy video tutorials are a great way to learn and have fun at the same time. 

It’s all about emotions

If you are reading this article, you are more than likely a serious procrastinator who is trying to understand and fix the problem. Interestingly, even though you realise this, it is impossible for you to stop doing it. Rather than poor time-management skills, there is something innate that keeps you trapped inside the procrastination vortex. 

Actually, the latest work has shown that time-management has nothing to do with this phenomenon, so telling a procrastinator to “stop wasting time and simply do it”, is like urging a depressed individual to “stop worrying and cheer up.”

Why is this the case? The root cause of procrastination is a failure to properly regulate emotions at a point in time. When you face a significant task as a procrastinator, it goes like this:

  • you realize that delaying it is harmful
  • you focus on making yourself feel better in the present moment
  • this desire takes over completely
  • you postpone the task
  • you hope for the best in the future (which is a gamble)
Students at a pool party

In addition, you find it challenging to stop procrastinating. Learning from mistakes comes with uneasiness about being wrong. A procrastinator will do everything in his power to avoid such a feeling. What’s the result? You will procrastinate on a future task, again. Ironically, trying to boost your current emotional state is preventing you from feeling good in the long run.

There must be a reason for the procrastinator’s obsession with having positive feelings in the present moment. After all, non-procrastinators do not shut their anatomy books and take a nap because the topic is difficult. This reason is simple - personality. 

Two traits, in particular, are making you a chronic procrastinator: high impulsivity and low self-discipline. And these are to some extent determined by your genetics. However, they are also strengthened over time through repetition and reinforcement, meaning that nature plays a role too. Therefore, you have the power to change it.

Fighting procrastination

In the next section, we’ll look at how you can start modeling more desirable behavioral traits that lead to more positive outcomes. AKA: helping you to study efficiently.

Structuring your studies in a clear and manageable way is key to fighting procrastination. Get started on the right foot with our Human Anatomy Study Guide. 

Here are some possibilities that are not as difficult as you might think!

Divide your work

The main problem of procrastination is feeling good in the present moment. Therefore, why not fight fire with fire and provide yourself exactly that? If you have to complete a certain task, divide it into many parts.

If you have to go from A to C, don’t simply divide the journey by stopping once at B. Make many small stops going from A to B to rest your legs, drink some water and have a snack. In other words, tackle your studies one step at a time.

By accomplishing all those little tasks, you are receiving the instant gratification that your personality requires and you finish the overall task on time and in good shape. You are essentially rewarding yourself every time you pass over a hurdle. The important thing is not to look all the way to the finish line, instead concentrating only on the hurdle in front of you right now.

Make it positive and rewarding

Distractions can momentarily improve your mood because they help you forget the unpleasantness of the task at hand. Ironically, those that don’t need distractions can constantly find them. Suddenly, searching online for the origins and history of your surname or trying to see your car on Google Earth is incredibly appealing. 

A tricky but effective alternative is to dig deep and find something positive and worthwhile about the task at hand. For example, put on some uplifting background music or light a scented candle while studying. If you are learning anatomy, you could put the information you are learning into a clinical context in order to make it more interesting and grab your attention. 

Forgive yourself

As a procrastinator, deep down you know that what you are doing is harmful to your future performance. Therefore, for every underperformance, which is a regular event, you criticize yourself and the inability to stop procrastinating. As a result, you place even more negative emotions upon yourself, and as you’ve seen, a procrastinator does not react well to them.

A helpful practice is to simply forgive yourself for procrastinating and accept that sometimes things simply go wrong. Interestingly, research has shown that procrastinators who indulge in self-forgiveness feel more positive and as a result are less likely to postpone work in the future.

Reframe the deadlines

A lot of non-procrastinators don’t realize that simply “scaring” a procrastinator by bringing a deadline closer does not work. If they know an upcoming exam is two weeks from now on, they cannot imagine that the exam is in one week and plan according to this new schedule. Deep down, they know it is simply a lie because feeling good overrides their rational decision-making process.

Student reads sticky notes

An alternative would be to reframe the deadline. Instead of changing it, think like this; “What if I slightly force myself to do some work now, so that tomorrow I will have a free day to do whatever I want?”.

You can also mold your thinking into something like “What if I sit down and do the work now before lunch, so that I’m completely free in the afternoon?”. It’s all about transforming the deadline into a challenge and adding a reward to offset the difficulties along the way.

Overall, the latest research has shown that procrastination is not due to poor time-management skills or laziness. The chronic procrastinator is a concoction of an inability to regulate emotions with traits of high impulsivity and low self-discipline. As a result, the possible solutions are more abstract and require quite an in-depth reflection, but with patience and practice, the personality can certainly be molded to diminish this way of living. Good luck!

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