If you write about procrastination and how to fight it, then a funny thing often happens. Down in the comments, someone usually pushes back against the whole premise of the piece. Sure, I’m a procrastinator, the person says, but that’s just how I’m wired. There’s nothing wrong with this style of doing things.

This sort of response suggests that people who have a tendency to put things off view this quirk of personality as something fundamental to their identity--a trait, like national origin, that nothing can erase--rather than a learned behavior. Procrastination isn’t just something you do in this formulation; procrastinating is a characteristic of who you are. Are those with procrastinator pride onto something?

Of Twins and Lions

Yes, says a new study that compares fraternal twins, who share 50 percent of their genes, with identical twins, who share 100 percent. Conducted by Daniel Gustavson of the University of Colorado, Boulder, the research compares 181 pairs of identical twins and 166 pairs of fraternal twins, using various surveys, to assess both their impulsivity and their tendency to procrastinate.

Why these two characteristics? The researchers theorized that procrastination might be essentially a result of a different way of processing goals. Back when humans were hunter-gatherers, decision making was simpler. You see a hungry lion, you run. The person who responded fastest, i.e., the most impulsively, probably prospered. Could it be, the team wondered, that procrastinators hold on more tightly to this original impulsive approach to decision making and struggle with long-term goals in today’s lion-free environment?

Thanks, Mom and Dad

So, what did the investigations reveal? Not only are impulsivity and procrastination strongly linked, but almost half of both traits is down to our DNA.   

"They found that procrastination is indeed heritable, just like impulsivity," reports the Association for Psychological Science. "Not only that, there seems to be a complete genetic overlap between procrastination and impulsivity--that is, there are no genetic influences that are unique to either trait alone. That finding suggests that, genetically speaking, procrastination is an evolutionary byproduct of impulsivity--one that likely manifests itself more in the modern world than in the world of our ancestors."

Though this particular study is more interesting than it is useful, that doesn’t mean there is no science-based help out there for those who want practical ideas to curb their (apparently inherited) tendency toward procrastination. Here’s a roundup of practical tips from psychology if you want to defy genetics and stop putting things off.


Published on: May 8, 2014