But only when on a deadline…
It’s hard to know how to react to psychological research saying procrastination is now an official mental illness affecting about 20 percent of the population. The cynic notes immediately this telling tidbit: psychologists warn these people need therapy.
Therapy, in case you didn’t know, is how psychologists stay in business. With all these psych majors pumping out of the liberal arts pipeline, there seems an obvious need to create more loonies—even if the loonies are generally functional, generally sane most of the time. There’s a lot of money in just slightly crazy. More drugs to dispense, more hours logged.
But that could be another sign of mental illness: denial. It could be humans have wires crossed in their brains all the time. Just add it to the list of human conditions. Human: man or woman existing in the throes of Kant’s constants of birth, death, and sexuality, but whose pandemic denial of evolutionary-societal conflicts makes them generally a little bit nuts.
Wouldn’t be hard to prove there are a lot of crazy humans, would it? It may be we only notice crazy when it’s really crazy, like-a-violent-monkey crazy or eat-your-liver-with-some-fava-beans-and-a-nice-chianti crazy. Maybe more subtle types of crazy we just tolerate and label as the character flaws that make a person human.
Maybe immediate manic skepticism or depressive acceptance of either theory is a bit too, well, bipolar. Maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle. Maybe that’s a lie too. Doesn’t matter, the research shows what it shows: procrastination is a mental illness and the digital age isn’t helping things one bit.
I remember thinking ten years ago about how many kids I knew were on Ritalin and I wondered if too much stimulation—TV, radio, the Internet, cell phones, movies, music, games, well, you name it—wasn’t contributing to everybody having so much trouble paying attention. We know now that multitasking isn’t what it’s cracked up to be—it actually makes one slower—and I may not have been far from the mark according to the procrastination research.
So here’s what’s up: Chronic procrastination is more common than depression or phobias, and doesn’t affect any particular demographic. Rather, it affects people across racial, gender, and socio-economic lines:
“[I]t encourages depression, lowers self-esteem, causes insomnia, and indirectly affects health by discouraging visits to the dentist or doctor. Sufferers are also more likely to have accidents at home involving unmended appliances.”
They think procrastination is on the rise because of email, web-surfing, social networking, texting, YouTube, blogging, et cetera, et cetera.
But it’s not a new thing, not by a long shot. Time-wasters (”sufferers” of procrastination), they think, are hard-wired to be that way by evolution, by survival instinct. Back when we lived in caves, we only turned on the go-getter attitude when absolutely necessary, like when a saber-toothed tiger was staring us down, and hurrying the hell up suddenly mattered. So then, add this to list of human conditions as well: generally lazy until given a good reason to do something.
Take a good look at orangutans, how they lay about (you can see them on one of the Discovery channels), and then walk by a backyard with a hammock some time. Do you think there’s a difference?
It wasn’t really clear from the article about the study what was meant by “therapy.” When my grandmother was growing up, “therapy” entailed her parents taking switch to her backside. They didn’t know that causes other problems perhaps worse than laziness, which is why we (as a society) don’t do that anymore.
Today we use deadlines, and chronic procrastinators push the limits of those deadlines. Researchers say it’s not true when they tell themselves they work better under pressure; they just have selective memories and put those times they succeed in their mental pockets while conveniently forgetting the times they crashed and burned. One more human condition: We kid ourselves a lot.
How about a different, more radical proposal than trying to rewire a brain hardwired for energy conservation (i.e., chronic procrastinator)? How about we slow down and enjoy life from time to time? Maybe it’s the workaholic who’s crazy, instead?
Yeah, I know. Not gonna happen. I suppose brains are easier to rewire than entire achievement-driven societies.