Thursday, December 13th, 2018

The College Experience Deconstructed: Procrastination

Posted on December 05, 2018 in Perspectives
By USM Free Press

By: Cooper-John Trapp, Staff Writer

Procrastination station, about to depart to nowheresville at never o’clock. All aboard! Just kidding, you missed the departure. Welcome to college.

Procrastination is a subject we profess knowledge of but whose reality we do little to change.
It is a defining aspect of collegiate academics. For some reason, we can’t get enough of flirting with catastrophe. “This is not a paper you can wait ‘till the night before to write,” says your teacher. What do we say? “Challenge accepted!” No – I’ll do you one better. I’ll write it in the morning.

Many of us rely on procrastination to find our motivation to do any of our homework. What do we do instead? Hang out with friends. Check our phones. Post on Instagram. Check our phones again. Email someone. Go to Lower Brooks and buy overpriced hot pockets. Realize you spent 42 minutes hunting down that elusive ham and cheese hot pocket and still haven’t started working.

If it didn’t trash our grades, self-esteem and emotional stability, procrastination would almost be a funny subject. I take procrastination seriously, you see, which is why I started working on this column 48 hours in advance, a full 30 hours earlier than usual. Am I going to stop procrastinating? Unlikely. But the dread and remorse felt when I finally have to pay the piper has stained the halls of my academic career too many times to not try.

While still acknowledging the validity of the conventional narrative on procrastination, I propose we delve into the more insidious questions of why.

This is one man’s frustrated musings at why he can’t seem to get s*** done before the deadline (you can see we toss the term ‘man’ around pretty lightly here). My editor knows this well. There was one article this semester I did on time. Bless your patience, Julie.

If we can understand why that reaction happens, we can pinpoint why we do it. If we can locate why we do it, we can make sense of what caused it or brought it about. Therein lies the real answer to your procrastination. What causes you to procrastinate on an essay likely has manifestations in many more areas of your life. Addressing the roots of procrastination can de-weed so many more of your gardens.

Theory one is the fear of failure (or success). For example: why don’t I start papers earlier? Why do I get writer’s block? I learned there are unacceptable repercussions that come with failure that I unconsciously weigh against actually trying. My mind views attempting homework assignments as carrying a degree of uncertainty sufficient to land me in failure zone. When consequences of current reality do not match up with the motivations of our actions, we must ask why we would compose ourselves so. Procrastination, then, is a defensive action (or lack thereof) that orients us away from danger.

Theory two: It’s not what you do, it’s how good you look doing it. Is it possible procrastination stems from seeing our society value status and success based on what people think of you, not actually what you are? If so, it would be worth it to protect our image. To look like we came up short by our decisions, not our inadequacies. In the short-term, humans are programmed to place a higher value on seeking positive feelings and procrastination helps us avoid negative feelings.

Understandably, sometimes procrastination feels logical. Getting our work done in an efficient, adrenaline-fueled rush encode a compelling memory to do it again next time. But that only involves the means of addressing symptoms. It might work but compounds the initial problem.

As I mentioned, this is entirely unscientific, and my grades so far this semester are not going to back up the validity of anything I say here. Still, I hold to the notion that procrastination has legitimate, foundational causes that we are unable to address in the here and now. We can cope with the symptoms for the next three weeks, though.

My best suggestion for procrastination is allow your thoughts to scramble around you, clamoring for a distraction or an escape. Force yourself to sit down for two minutes. That’s it. Two minutes. And think about what is turning up the white noise of your mind. Compassionate curiosity. No judgment. Just between you and yourself, asking to clarify that which is under the surface. No one expects you to become your own psychologist and fix all the mental pitfalls that ensnare you (not all at once, at least).

So, looking ahead to finals, I know what I must do. Sit down, free myself of technology, reward myself when I complete a sublevel of task, and chunk my work out into short pieces. I must embrace my feelings about coursework, whatever they may be and through compassionate curiosity, inquire to the true nature of my triggers. It’s usually fears of looking dumb, which I avoid by denying my responsibilities.

For all my fellow procrastinators out there, reading this instead of doing anything else productive on your plate, good luck. Let’s swap horror stories when it’s all over.

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