Home > Social Psychology > Quora Questions: Overcoming Procrastination

Quora Questions: Overcoming Procrastination

English: Basal Ganglia and Related Structures ...

English: Basal Ganglia and Related Structures of the Brain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While trolling through Quora, I came across a question that I have asked myself over and over: “How do I get over my bad habit of procrastinating?”

The first answer to this question caught my eye. It was written by Oliver Emberton, who keeps a blog called Leading a Better Life. He gives us a readable and entertaining explanation of how different parts of the brain interact to either create or overcome procrastination.

Emberton creates two characters: Albert, a rational character representing the activity of the pre-frontal cortex, and Rex, a baby reptile who represents the musing of the more reptilian parts of our brain (the basal ganglia, located at the stem). While Albert is the only one capable of complex, rational thought, it is Rex who is, interestingly enough, in charge of the final decisions on everything we do. So while our decisions may be influenced by rational thought, we are not rational creatures; ultimately we make decisions based on associations and habits etched within the lower levels of our brain.

The story of these two characters draws from the intellectual playground of authors like Charles Duhigg (“The Power of Habit”), and academics such as Daniel Kahneman (“Thinking, Fast and Slow“), and Roy Baumeister who study willpower, decision mechanisms, and the evolution of the human brain.

I encourage you to read his answer for yourself, but I will say that Emberton keys in on an insightful metaphor: the basal ganglia (the baby reptile Rex) acts much like a small child would. I’m about to welcome my first child into the world, so his take seems interesting to me.

The Basal Ganglia, he argues, does not speak the language of rationality, it speaks the language of primal emotion: “Hunger. Fear. Love. Lust. Rex’s thoughts are primitive and without language.” So, this part of the brain – the part that ultimately drives action – cannot be reasoned with. It must be spoken to on an emotional rather than a logical level. Like a child, it must be bribed and cajoled. Habits must be set up with reward and punishment mechanisms.Discipline must be cultivated.

With all the advanced psychological and neuroscience research available today, it’s funny to me that the most intuitive way of dealing with the decision-oriented aspects of the brain is to regard them as you would a child. But the comparison seems to hold up.

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  1. Top Animal
    July 9, 2013 at 12:03 PM

    The solution I have found is basically simple, but hard to execute optimally: setting goals and planning. It sounds simple, but is hard to do in a way that actually works and overwrites procrastination. In my blog http://www.myhypnosisblog.net I have written more about how hypnosis recordings helped me with this execution. It might sound little strange, but is has worked for me.

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