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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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Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
A study looks at the performance benefits delivered by asthma drugs when they're taken by athletes who don't have asthma.
- One on hand, the most common health condition among Olympic athletes is asthma. On the other, asthmatic athletes regularly outperform their non-asthmatic counterparts.
- A new study assesses the performance-enhancement effects of asthma medication for non-asthmatics.
- The analysis looks at the effects of both allowed and banned asthma medications.
WADA uncertainty<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU0OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDc4NjUwN30.fFTvRR0yJDLtFhaYiixh5Fa7NK1t1T4CzUM0Yh6KYiA/img.jpg?width=980" id="01b1b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2fd91a47d91e4d5083449b258a2fd63f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="urine sample for drug test" />
Image source: joel bubble ben/Shutterstock<p>When inhaled β-agonists first came out just before the 1972 Olympics, they were immediately banned altogether by the WADA as possible doping substances. Over the years, the WADA has reexamined their use and refined the organization's stance, evidence of the thorniness of finding an equitable position regarding their use. As of January 2020, only three β-agonists are allowed — salbutamol, formoterol, and salmeterol —and only in inhaled form. Oral consumption appears to have a greater effect on performance.</p>
The study<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTIzMDQyMX0.Gk4v-7PCA7NohvJjw12L15p7SumPCY0tLdsSlMrLlGs/img.jpg?width=980" id="d3141" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ebe7b30a315aeffcb4fe739095cf0767" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="runner at starting position on track" />
Image source: MinDof/Shutterstock<p>Of primary interest to the authors of the study is confirming and measuring the performance improvement to be gained from β-agonists when they're ingested by athletes who don't have asthma.</p><p>The researchers performed a meta-analysis of 34 existing studies documenting 44 randomized trials reporting on 472 participants. The pool of individuals included was broad, encompassing both untrained and elite athletes. In addition, lab tests, as opposed to actual competitions, tracked performance. The authors of the study therefore recommend taking its conclusions with just a grain of salt.</p><p>The effects of both WADA-banned and approved β-agonists were assessed.</p>
Approved β-agonists and non-asthmatic athletes<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU1MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMzkxODk0M30.3RssFwk_tWkHRkEl_tIee02rdq2tLuAePifnngqcIr8/img.jpg?width=980" id="39a99" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b1fe4a580c6d4f8a0fd021d7d6570e2a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="vaulter clearing pole" />
Image source: Andrey Yurlov/Shutterstock<p>What the meta-analysis showed is that the currently approved β-agonists didn't significantly improve athletic performance among those without asthma — what very slight benefit they <em>may</em> produce is just enough to prompt the study's authors to write that "it is still uncertain whether approved doses improve anaerobic performance." They note that the tiny effect did increase slightly over multiple weeks of β-agonist intake.</p>
Banned β-agonist and non-asthmatic athletes<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU1Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjI3ODU5Mn0.vyoxSE5EYjPGc2ZEbBN8d5F79nSEIiC6TUzTt0ycVqc/img.jpg?width=980" id="de095" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="02fdd42dfda8e3665a7b547bb88007ef" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="swimmer mid stroke" />
Image source: Nejron Photo/Shutterstock<p>The study found that for athletes without asthma, however, the use of currently banned β-agonists did indeed result in enhanced performance. The authors write, "Our meta-analysis shows that β2-agonists improve anaerobic performance by 5%, an improvement that would change the outcome of most athletic competitions."</p><p>That 5 percent is an average: 70-meter sprint performance was improved by 3 percent, while strength performance, MVC (maximal voluntary contraction), was improved by 6 percent.</p><p>The analysis also revealed that different results were produced by different methods of ingestion. The percentages cited above were seen when a β-agonist was ingested orally. The effect was less pronounced when the banned substances were inhaled.</p><p>Given the difference between the results for allowed and banned β-agonists, the study's conclusions suggest that the WADA has it about right, at least in terms of selection of allowable β-agonists, as well as the allowable dosage method.</p>
Takeaway<p>The study, say its authors, "should be of interest to WADA and anyone who is interested in equal opportunities in competitive sports." Its results clearly support vigilance, with the report concluding: "The use of β2-agonists in athletes should be regulated and limited to those with an asthma diagnosis documented with objective tests."</p>
Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.
- A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
- The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
- Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.