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The Deep Procrastination Crisis
Above is a snapshot of my blog e-mail inbox, filtered to only show e-mails from students struggling with deep procrastination. Notice that there are close to 60 such messages. If I include blog comments in the search, the number jumps into the hundreds.
Deep procrastination is a distressing affliction. Students who suffer from it lose the ability to start school work. Deadlines pass and they hand nothing in. Professors provide special extensions, but the students still can’t bring themselves to do the work. And so on.
As evidenced by my inbox, this issue is surprisingly common, especially at elite colleges. Yet it’s also almost entirely off the radar of traditional student counseling, which is why I dedicate time to it here.
In my previous post, I introduced a dubious evolutionary explanation for an otherwise very real phenomenon: procrastination, in my experience, is not a character flaw, but instead evidence that you don’t have a believable plan for succeeding at what you’re trying to do. In this post, as promised, I want to apply this evolutionary perspective to help better understand, and therefore better combat, the deep variety of this common issue.
The Question of “Why”
Deep procrastination usually strikes students later in their college career, when the difficulty of their courses ratchets up. At this stage, their work load gets harder and harder, and at some point some powerful part of their brain says “no more!”
An evolutionary perspective on procrastination helps explain this reaction. The student is asking his or her brain to expend lots of energy (from a biological perspective, studying for an orgo exam is an expensive thing to do). One way to see this process is that there’s an ancient part of our brain that has evolved to evaluate any such plans — a filter, of sorts, to prevent the wasting of precious energy.