Get Busy Living Or Get Busy Dying

Illustrated by Elena Bosak

My College Writing assignment is due in two weeks. Feeling confident with the time remaining, I casually dismiss it and decide to watch the final game of the World Series, only to see the Nationals defeat the Astros in disappointment. One week later, I check the assignment again and decide to postpone it. Instead, I explore outside as the second snow appears outside St. Louis, Mo. Finally, with three days remaining and with not a single word typed, I check the assignment and realize I have neither the research nor the ideas planned to formulate my dream essay. I decided to work in Olin, only to find myself looking up more BTS songs for my playlist on Spotify. I end up working back in Bear’s Den the next couple of days, and with the remaining time I had left, I briefly skimmed over several articles about technological devices, drafted the essay with a large list of errors and turned in my assignment onto Canvas with revisions still in progress at 11:59 p.m. on the final day the essay was due. Feeling relieved that the burden of writing was temporarily gone, I sink back into my chair and doze off with both satisfaction and dread. 

I would later ask my professor for an extension on my revisions, and after he agreed, I quickly made the necessary adjustments on my paper and turned it in. Now, I was fortunate to have an extension at the time, but I was pushing procrastination to a level many of us dread. However, whether we want to admit it or not, almost all college students and individuals in general struggle with procrastination. According to a study, around 80 percent to 90 percent of college-age students experience some form of procrastination, and 95 percent of all individuals in general wish to overcome it. The study suggests we desire to resolve procrastination, but what exactly causes it, and where do we even begin?

While the biological causes of procrastination remain extremely new, according to recent studies, when an individual experiences an unpleasant task or assignment, the brain is conflicted between the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system. The prefrontal cortex is an extremely sophisticated part of the brain that has developed over time to help moderate thoughts and actions. Such planning by the prefrontal cortex is involved with personality expression, decision making, social behavior and cognitive function (1). How effectively the prefrontal cortex functions mainly corresponds to the current task or situation. If the task appears pleasant and easy to follow by the individual, the prefrontal cortex delivers the option to complete the task immediately. If the task is unpleasant or very complicated, the prefrontal cortex simply delivers the pass option, delaying the work in favor of more pleasant activities.

In contrast, the limbic system primarily moderates unconscious thoughts and desires in the brain (2). Should an event or stimulus appear pleasing to an individual, the limbic system unconsciously activates and predetermines the individual’s actions in favor of the stimulus. In terms of psychology, this type of behavior and cognitive function can be explained through Sigmund Freud’s concept of the id, ego, and superego. The id represents the unconscious and uncontrollable desire and thought (3). The superego represents the system of higher level thoughts and actions and moral judgement while the ego represents the balance between the superego and the id (3). When individuals procrastinate, the superego and ego will consciously remind them of an important task while the id will often push the assignment away instinctively in favor of a lesser task.

Although the causes of procrastination remain complex, procrastination can be combated with the simple use of mindfulness. Instead of a medical procedure or prescription, mindfulness, present-centered attention and awareness, effectively reduces procrastination among individuals. Practices, such as, meditation and simple questioning out of curiosity, improve performance and well being by targeting both the mind and the individual to be more self-conscious (4). Simply having more self awareness allows the individual to better understand his or her situation and the tasks currently present. These types of practices appear so simple, yet they help treat everyday difficulties and neuropsychiatric disorders, such as, depression, burnout, loneliness and anxiety that many college students and adults experience. 

Even with continuous studies and existing treatments, people still struggle to remove procrastination and often allow it to return. Individuals complain that they can not resolve procrastination due to a lack of motivation, desperation, energy and time. Time, however, provides a clear explanation for why people should fight against procrastination. Time can categorize procrastination into two forms. The form many people are aware of involves the use of deadlines such as papers, exams or applications. This type of procrastination is short-term as it occurs very briefly in people before they eventually forget and move on. The other type of procrastination occurs long-term. At first, it seems very similar to procrastination in the short-term, but a huge difference involves the removal of the deadline. The deadline functions as a physical factor that causes humans to experience dread or desperation as it approaches closer. 

Without a deadline, individuals lose the automatic and sudden response of fear that occurs during procrastination. 

Now the question then becomes what are we procrastinating long-term? Maybe there’s that one thing in life you always wished you could achieve. Maybe it is a question, a hobby, a desire to serve others, a dream destination to travel, a dream career or an apology. Whatever it is, we can’t wait idly by and hope and wish it could happen. A lot of times, individuals are reluctant to take that first initial step because they fear social judgement or a lack of qualifications. People value a need for confirmation and approval from others in order to justify their actions and thoughts. As a result, individuals instead put off a task, feeling unwilling to accept failure or be humiliated. Really, however, we are doing ourselves a disservice by living in that mentality. We have to make our desires happen. We are quite literally on the clock to make an impact whether individuals act selfish or selfless. As people have often said in cliches or general statements, “all things come to an end.” While we believe we have a lot of control for the future, in reality, we only have a minimum control for the present.

No matter how talented, skilled, appealing or resilient we are, we have no say when things will end. Just look at some examples: John F. Kennedy, Whitney Houston and Kobe Bryant. The bottom line is that we must address whatever continues to make us ponder immediately, perhaps today and right now after reading this work. If not, well at least start considering it soon.

Edited by: Anhthi Luong
Illustrated by: Elena Bosak

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