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Why procrastination is a form of self-harm
Chronic procrastination is associated with a slew of negative health outcomes.
- We typically think of procrastinators as having poor time management skills, but research suggests they actually have poor self-regulation.
- This causes procrastinators to prioritize the wellbeing of their present selves over that of their future selves, ultimately causing way more stress and harm to themselves in the long run.
- Fortunately, there are a few strategies that chronic procrastinators can try to help manage their bad habit.
Few words conjure up as much dread as deadline. Originally, it referred to a line drawn on the ground at prisons — should a prisoner cross this line, they'd be shot dead. Eventually, its meaning transitioned to a point in time by which you must have something done, but it still retains a sense of mortality to it: "If I don't have this done by tomorrow, I'm dead."
Despite the amount of dread a deadline induces, we still find ourselves putting the work off, day after day, hour by hour, until the pressure mounts to the point where we're up at midnight, chugging coffee, and frantically typing that essay due the next day. We procrastinate.
More specifically, we voluntarily delay an intended action despite understanding that the delay will put us in a worse position than before. At least, that's how psychologist Piers Steel at the University of Calgary put it in his 2002 dissertation, "The Measurement and Nature of Procrastination." However, there's a more succinct way to describe procrastination. "It's self-harm," said Steel to The New York Times.
How procrastination hurts
The harm of procrastination doesn't just lie in shoddy work and missed deadlines (although procrastinators do perform more poorly). Chronic procrastination is associated with a slew of negative health outcomes. As one would expect, procrastinators tend to be more stressed. As a result, they also tend to have more heart complications. Procrastination can also extend to all of the little things we do to maintain our health. One study found that procrastinators went to the doctor and the dentist less frequently, and another found that they didn't seek help for mental health issues. This is unfortunate since procrastination is also associated with depression and lower self-esteem.
Why procrastinators procrastinate
Chronic procrastination is clearly harmful behavior, but we continue to engage in it. Why? Part of it is that we mistakenly believe procrastination has to do with time management, when it really has more to do with how we handle our emotions.
Nobody likes performing difficult tasks, but how we handle the stress and adversity of performing a task differs. Chronic procrastinators have a poor capability for self-regulation; in other words, they're impulsive. In response to the negative feelings associated with having a task to do, procrastinators prioritize repairing their mood in the present over completing the task.
Researchers argue that procrastinators consider their present self to be more important than their future self. To avoid the negative experience that comes from beginning a difficult task, procrastinators simply avoid it to improve their mood in the short term, passing the buck to somebody else: their future selves. This, of course, ignores the fact that the future self isn't any different from the present self.
That's not to say that procrastinators don't know this on an intellectual level. In fact, being aware of this future stress can perversely encourage procrastination. Once a procrastinator has begun procrastinating, they might continue to do nothing in order to avoid the feeling of regret that arises by starting the task and being reminded of their failure to begin their work earlier.
In this sense, seeking to feel good in the short term via procrastination acts like a form of self-harm, a bomb of stress and anxiety that's been left to tick away rather than defused immediately. In her study on the temporal sense of procrastinators, Dr. Fuschia Sirois wrote, "Prioritizing the mood of the present self over a consideration of the future self means that there is no reason to engage in behaviors that will improve the well-being of the future self. In short, tasks that are key for the maintenance of good health may be put off if they are viewed as difficult or unpleasant."
Coupled with the direct impact of the stress from procrastination, this mismatch between the perceived importance of the present and future selves explains why procrastinators experience poor mental and physical health.
What can be done
Fortunately, there's hope out there for chronic procrastinators. Here's a few methods that can help mitigate the downward spiral that procrastination can be:
- Practice self-compassion. Dr. Sirois conducted a study on over 700 people from different walks of life and found that the level of compassion an individual had for themselves could explain their levels of stress and procrastination. In essence, being kind and understanding rather than critical can act as a buffer against the negative emotions that drive a procrastinator to procrastinate when faced with a difficult task.
- Forgive yourself for procrastinating. When you reread the terrible essay you wrote at midnight the other night and realize you could have done so much better had you just started earlier, don't beat yourself up. Research has shown that students who procrastinated when studying for one exam and then forgave themselves were less likely to procrastinate on ensuing exams.
- Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness — or, as Dr. Sirois writes "a present-centered, non-reactive self-awareness and nonjudgmental acceptance of thoughts and feelings as they occur" — is negatively associated with procrastination. Since procrastinators are already focused on the present self anyhow, this might seem counter-intuitive. However, mindfulness has been found to enable an awareness of one's current thoughts and feelings, to reduce stress, and to improve persistence, all of which are qualities that chronic procrastinators desperately need.
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New anthropological research suggests our ancestors enjoyed long slumbers.
- Neanderthal bone fragments discovered in northern Spain mimic hibernating animals like cave bears.
- Thousands of bone fragments, dating back 400,000 years, were discovered in this "pit of bones" 30 years ago.
- The researchers speculate that this physiological function, if true, could prepare us for extended space travel.
Humans have a terrible sense of time. We think in moments, not eons, which accounts for a number of people that still don't believe in evolutionary theory: we simply can't imagine ourselves any differently than we are today.
Thankfully, scientists and researchers have vast imaginations. Their findings often depend on creative problem-solving. Anthropologists are especially adept at this skill, as their job entails imagining a prehistoric world in which humans and our forebears were very different creatures.
A new paper, published in the journal L'Anthropologie, takes a hard look at ancient bone health and arrives at a surprising conclusion: Neanderthals (and possibly early humans) might have endured long, harsh winters by hibernating.
Adaptability is the key to survival. Certain endotherms evolved the ability to depress their metabolism for months at a time; their body temperature and metabolic rate lowered while their breathing and heart rate dropped to nearly imperceptible levels. This handy technique solved a serious resource management problem, as food supplies were notoriously scarce during the frozen months.
While today the wellness industry eschews fat, it has long had an essential evolutionary function: it keeps us alive during times of food scarcity. As autumn months pass, large mammals become hyperphagic (experiencing intense hunger followed by overeating) and store nutrients in fat deposits; smaller animals bury food nearby for when they need a snack. This strategy is critical as hibernating animals can lose over a quarter of their body weight during winter.
For this paper, Antonis Bartsiokas and Juan-Luis Arsuaga, both in the Department of History and Ethnology at Democritus University of Thrace, scoured through remains of a "pit of bones" in northern Spain. In 1976, archaeologists found a 50-foot shaft leading down into a cave in Atapuerca, where thousands of bone fragments have since been discovered. Dating back 400,000 years—some of the fragments may be as old as 600,000 years—researchers believe the bodies were intentionally buried in this cave.
Evidence of ancient human hibernation / human hibernation for space travel | Dr Antonis Bartsiokas
While the fragments have been well studied in the intervening decades, Arsuaga (who led an early excavation in Atapuerca) and Bartsiokas noticed something odd about the bones: they displayed signs of seasonal variations. These proto-humans appear to have experienced annual bone growth disruption, which is indicative of hibernating species.
In fact, the remains of cave bears were also found in this pit, increasing the likelihood that the burial site was reserved for species that shared common features. This could be the result of a dearth of food for bears and Neanderthals alike. The researchers write that modern northerners don't need to sleep for months at a time; an abundance of fish and reindeer didn't exist in Spain, as they do in the Arctic. They write,
"The aridification of Iberia then could not have provided enough fat-rich food for the people of Sima during the harsh winter—making them resort to cave hibernation."
The notion of hibernating humans is appealing, especially to those in cold climates, but some experts don't want to put the cart before the horse. Large mammals don't engage in textbook hibernation; their deep sleep is known as a "torpor." Even then, the demands of human-sized brains could have been too large for extended periods of slumber.
Still, as we continually discover our animalistic origins to better understand how we evolved, the researchers note the potential value of this research.
"The present work provides an innovative approach to the physiological mechanisms of metabolism in early humans that could help determine the life cycle and physiology of extinct human species."
Bartsiokas speculates that this ancient mechanism could be coopted for space travel in the future. If the notion of hibernating humans sounds far-fetched, the idea has been contemplated for years, as NASA began funding research on this topic in 2014. As the saying goes, everything old is new again.
Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His new book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."
A Harvard professor's study discovers the worst year to be alive.
- Harvard professor Michael McCormick argues the worst year to be alive was 536 AD.
- The year was terrible due to cataclysmic eruptions that blocked out the sun and the spread of the plague.
- 536 ushered in the coldest decade in thousands of years and started a century of economic devastation.
The past year has been nothing but the worst in the lives of many people around the globe. A rampaging pandemic, dangerous political instability, weather catastrophes, and a profound change in lifestyle that most have never experienced or imagined.
But was it the worst year ever?
Nope. Not even close. In the eyes of the historian and archaeologist Michael McCormick, the absolute "worst year to be alive" was 536.
Why was 536 so bad? You could certainly argue that 1918, the last year of World War I when the Spanish Flu killed up to 100 million people around the world, was a terrible year by all accounts. 1349 could also be considered on this morbid list as the year when the Black Death wiped out half of Europe, with up to 20 million dead from the plague. Most of the years of World War II could probably lay claim to the "worst year" title as well. But 536 was in a category of its own, argues the historian.
It all began with an eruption...
According to McCormick, Professor of Medieval History at Harvard University, 536 was the precursor year to one of the worst periods of human history. It featured a volcanic eruption early in the year that took place in Iceland, as established by a study of a Swiss glacier carried out by McCormick and the glaciologist Paul Mayewski from the Climate Change Institute of The University of Maine (UM) in Orono.
The ash spewed out by the volcano likely led to a fog that brought an 18-month-long stretch of daytime darkness across Europe, the Middle East, and portions of Asia. As wrote the Byzantine historian Procopius, "For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year." He also recounted that it looked like the sun was always in eclipse.
Cassiodorus, a Roman politician of that time, wrote that the sun had a "bluish" color, the moon had no luster, and "seasons seem to be all jumbled up together." What's even creepier, he described, "We marvel to see no shadows of our bodies at noon."
...that led to famine...
The dark days also brought a period of coldness, with summer temperatures falling by 1.5° C. to 2.5° C. This started the coldest decade in the past 2300 years, reports Science, leading to the devastation of crops and worldwide hunger.
...and the fall of an empire
In 541, the bubonic plague added considerably to the world's misery. Spreading from the Roman port of Pelusium in Egypt, the so-called Plague of Justinian caused the deaths of up to one half of the population of the eastern Roman Empire. This, in turn, sped up its eventual collapse, writes McCormick.
Between the environmental cataclysms, with massive volcanic eruptions also in 540 and 547, and the devastation brought on by the plague, Europe was in for an economic downturn for nearly all of the next century, until 640 when silver mining gave it a boost.
Was that the worst time in history?
Of course, the absolute worst time in history depends on who you were and where you lived.
Native Americans can easily point to 1520, when smallpox, brought over by the Spanish, killed millions of indigenous people. By 1600, up to 90 percent of the population of the Americas (about 55 million people) was wiped out by various European pathogens.
Like all things, the grisly title of "worst year ever" comes down to historical perspective.
A newly discovered coronavirus — but not the one that causes COVID-19 — has made some dogs very sick.
- A different coronavirus outbreak in late 2019 made many dogs in the UK very ill.
- The strangeness of the disease led veterinarians to send questionnaires to their peers and pet owners.
- The findings point toward the need for better systems to identify disease outbreaks in animals.
A recent study suggests that a mysterious disease plaguing dogs in the UK is caused by a novel coronavirus. This virus, which coincidentally appeared in late 2019 and began to concern veterinarians in early 2020, is not related to the virus which causes COVID-19, but can make your four-legged friend feel quite ill.
Novel coronavirus in dogs
The term "coronavirus" doesn't refer to a single disease, but a family of viruses (more formally, Coronaviridae) that share a shape similar to a crown (hence the name, "corona"). They infect many different kinds of animals and cause various diseases from COVID-19 and SARS to the common cold.
This new coronavirus, a variant of canine enteric coronavirus, was first noticed in January 2020 when a veterinarian in the United Kingdom treated "an unusually high number" of dogs with severe vomiting and other gastrointestinal issues at his office. Concerned about this spike in doggy indigestion, they reached out to other veterinarians to see if they were reporting a similar outbreak.
Online questionnaires were sent out to more than a thousand vets and pet owners to map the outbreak and collect information on which animals were being affected. Analysis of this data showed that nearly all of the cases involved vomiting and a loss of appetite, and half of them also involved diarrhea. Most of the cases took place in south and northwest England, though a large outbreak also occurred in and around the Scottish city of Edinburgh.
The data also suggested that male dogs in contact with other dogs were most likely to be infected, hinting at "either transmission between dogs or a common environmental source." The dogs recovered in more than 99 percent of cases.
Hoping to move beyond the questionnaire, the authors also turned to records to piece together what happened.
While public health data for animals is less frequently gathered than it is for humans, electronic records of pet admissions to veterinarian offices and pet insurance payouts do exist. The researchers accessed these records and found that the number of dogs recorded with stomach problems rose between December 2019 and March 2020, with nearly double the number of expected cases occurring during that time. There was also a concomitant rise in prescriptions for drugs to treat those conditions.
A later comparison of samples from dogs that were sick and healthy control dogs confirmed the presence of the novel coronavirus in the ill dogs. All of this was later compiled into a study that was recently published in Emerging Infectious Diseases, which is produced by the CDC.
Should I be concerned?
This coronavirus only affects dogs, and the researchers didn't find anything to suggest that humans could become infected.
However, the scale of the outbreak and the lack of tools immediately available to determine what was happening led the researchers to suggest that better organization is needed. Many of the authors are involved in creating a disease surveillance system for dogs, known as SAVSNet-Agile.
The authors also mention that "previous CeCoV [canine enteric coronavirus] seasonality suggests further outbreaks may occur." Thanks to this study, your local vet might be a little more prepared for it next time.