April 18, 2011

The optimism of self-control

April 15 is usually known as tax day in the United States, but not this year. Due to a little known federal holiday, taxpayers got a reprieve and three extra days to work on filing their 2010 income tax return. Thanks to online filing, the lines at the post office appeared quite diminished today, so there was less outward proof of procrastination, but I bet that Turbo Tax will come out with some statistics soon to show the true nature of American slackers.

Waiting until the last minute to finish any task is never the right thing to do; but do you know that procrastination is actually the result of impulsiveness? That's right, according to Dr. Piers Steel in  Impulsiveness: Procrastination's Nickel-Iron Core, our body's ancient and primitive limbic system has the ability to override the prefrontal cortex thereby motivating us to seek instant gratification or sensations that can be felt instantly, in the moment. Is it more fun to watch a movie, play a game, eat an ice cream cone or, you know, file taxes?

According Dr. Steel, when we don't expect to succeed, or don't value the task, the tendency to procrastinate becomes greater. However, the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps us make long-range plans, can also help determine consequences. Perhaps that is why the taxes are eventually completed. It is our large prefrontal cortex that separates us from our ancient ancestors. The prefrontal cortex gives us self-control.

Self-control makes us human. Self-control promises long-range happiness. Self-control offers hope and creates optimism that the future is worth waiting and working for.

And as for those taxes that are still waiting to be filed? The diet that has yet to be started? The homework or housework that awaits? The satisfaction and fulfillment that arises from a task completed may be delayed, but sweet nonetheless. Imagine that feeling, muster up that self-control and get there. Soon.
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