We have all been guilty of it at some point, but what effect does the art of “putting something off until later” have on our health and our lives?
Recently I watched a very interesting TED Talk on procrastination. If I’m to be honest it was ironically when I was meant to be dedicating my time to a more important task. However on this occasion my procrastinating activities opened up some interesting questions and further enquiry. I realised that too often we may be busy (and proud of it) rather than being productive and that we often mistake urgent for important. I’m sharing with you so we can all work towards a hopefully more fulfilling life.
In his entertaining and easy to follow TEDTalk presentation, the author and self-confessed procrastinator Tim Urban gives insight into the workings of brains like his. According to Urban, both the brains of procrastinators and non-procrastinators contain a component called the “rational decision maker” which allows us to visualise the future, see the big picture and make long term plans. However, a procrastinator’s brain is too often under the control of another component, the “Instant Gratification Monkey”. Although this monkey is wonderful at living entirely in the present moment, this means he also has no memory of the past or knowledge of the future. If he’s in the driving seat of our mind then only two things are on the agenda: doing what is easy and/or fun. Although if this ‘fun’ is happening at a time when it is not meant to then the fun is often clouded by guilt and dread and anxiety and self-hatred because it is unearned. Looming deadlines or the imminent danger of scary consequences have the ability to wake up a third component that Urban refers to as the “Panic Monster”, and after a period of mayhem the required task that has been put off may eventually be completed – but not without a cost.
The mayhem and stress brought about from procrastination can trigger a cascade of unhelpful events within your body. Our endocrine and nervous systems amp up and become on a constant high alert. Hormones are secreted to our thyroid gland resulting in an increased metabolism, heart rate and blood pressure. Hormones acting on our heart result in the retention of water and increased blood volume. Hormones affecting our adrenal glands cause other stress hormones to be released into our bodies creating tighter muscles, impaired lung function, and the down-grading of non-essential bodily functions. Daily exposure to such stress hormones means that the body becomes less sensitive to their effects and over time this causes changes to immune function and increased inflammation.
The take home message for me from Urban’s talk though is that not all aspects of our lives involve deadlines or dangers sufficient to wake the “Panic Monster”. Certain entrepreneurial or artistic jobs, family time, work on relationships, exercising or taking care of our health are all examples of non-deadline situations that require other mechanisms than “Panic Monster” activation. And Urban proposes that all of us have some degree of non-deadline type procrastination. After writing his blog and presenting his theories, Tim Urban received emails from people from all walks of society identifying with what he wrote and admitting to being a spectator at times in their own lives. People were frustrated. But that frustration was not only due to not achieving what they wanted but also because most of the time they didn’t even start to try.
Earlier this year Roz posted a blog about setting your goals for the year and really delving into asking yourself why such goals are important to you. As we near closer to winter, how are going with those? If you feel you haven’t been able to start what you wanted, why do you think you have stalled?
If you’re like me and feel like you could benefit from some extra support and guidance, I’d love to share with you an exciting workshop that the wonderful Power Living Yoga teachers Jase Te Patu and Samantha Hannah are coordinating later this month. “Love it Live it – Ignite your fire within” will be a 2 hour interactive workshop held at Les Mills Extreme on Taranaki Street from 3pm on Sunday the 23rd April. Tickets can be purchased through Eventbrite (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/love-it-live-it-tickets-33056037498). See you there?