duminică, 15 septembrie 2013

The Beginning Of Procrastination (a short history)

Procrastination - The practice of carrying out less urgent tasks in preference to more urgent ones, or doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones, and thus putting off impending tasks to a later time. According to Freud, the pleasure principle may be responsible for procrastination; humans prefer to avoid negative emotions, and to delay stressful tasks. The belief that humans work best under pressure provides an additional incentive to postponement of tasks. Some psychologists cite such behavior as a mechanism for coping with the anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision. Other psychologists indicate that anxiety is just as likely to get people to start working early as late and the focus should be impulsiveness. That is, anxiety will cause people to delay only if they are impulsive.

Our brains are supposed to be super computers but nobody tells us how easily our brains can be hacked. The difference between a super computer and our brains (one of them) is that our brains can not only be hacked by others but by themselves. If you tell a computer to perform a task, the computer will obey your command and perform the algoritm. They go all 010001001001010001010100 on their ass and get to work, so why can't we?

Well the answer is at the begining of the post. And it is not a very recent issue as you can see, it existed before technology coud be blamed for the number of distractions it offers to our brain.

I chose to write about procrastination because at the moment I am actually procrastinating by writing about procrastination and I tought that this is a beautiful example and opportunity. I hate procrastination but I also love the amount of information I stuff into my head when last minute panic kicks in. So why do our brains function well when afraid and why we can't get them started when we need them to. It's not like by being afraid of an exam or our boss threatenes our life, right?

Wrong! And not because there any real danger but because your brain is very very very old. Well not actually your brain, don't take me so literaly, the DNA that makes your brain what it is today. So why is that a problem, it's not like it's outdated just like your Iphone 5 gets when Iphone 5s comes in with that fancy fingerprint technology? Well it's exactly like that. When we were CAVE MEN, not that long go (you may think it was because people tend to picture cave men running a
long with dinosaurs, but actually dinosaurs were extinct 65 milion years before the human race even emerged) our brains strived to keep us alive before we could call ourselves modern in any way. Actually humans, anatomically modern humans appeared in Africa, 200.000 years ago and reached behavioral modernity about 50.000 years ago. It took them 150.000 years to learn how to start a fire and make the wheel we all know and love.

At that time they were fighting all sorts of creatures and their instincts had to be very sharp to survive, they had to know when to run from danger and when to stay and fight. Most of the time they ran and starved a while but better alive and a little hungry than dead under a mammoth foot. So Man went on hunting and feeding himself and his family for generations and generations to follow. When  finally evolved enough to speak we could insult, annoy but most important, kill one another knowingly. I will not continue to bore you with the affairs of my great great great x 10000 grandfather but I will tell you that the human brain did it's best a huge amount of time to keep us from being killed. Most of the things we did involved killing or being killed so yes, our brains actually are outdated. The problem is that it took our brains 200.000 years to learn how to keep us out of danger but only in the last 500 years or so the risk of getting killed wherever you went slowly dissapeared and today the things that scare us are the deadlines we always have, the need to do the things that require work and really really don't like work.

   There was one bright fellow that said:
'We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.'   The bright fellow was Chuck Palahniuk and I guess you've seen Fight Club, the cinematic adaptation of his book where this quote is from.

So let us put the pieces together. Our entire race has been on a killing spree for most of its existence, recently we've gone sober and there's no war, no plague, no Great Depression in our lifes so our brain has no mortal danger to be afraid of and our day by day concerns have become the things we are most afraid of. And what did our brain do when we were afraid of something? He usually made you anxious (it got all your senses sharpened and worked hard to somehow keep you alive) to give you the best chance of surviving that he could. 

But your body cannot do that all the time because it exhausts it and the vicious cyrcle is formed. Your brain knows you are afaid of your deadline and you always wait untill last minute panic kicks in. That is the moment he thinks you are going to die because you are making him push his limits (being outdated, your brain doesn't know that pushing limits nowadays doesn't mean your teacher will pull out a shotgun and put 5 holes in your chest if you don't take the test). He does what you ask but know the connection is made, whenever you need to learn or write a paper you will hate it because you will be thinking about the deadline and that for you is death. So now when your parents ask you why you didn't stydy and got that bad mark tell them it's your ancestor's fault. 

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