Akrasiа: The Art of Procrastination




November – chilly, lazy mornings starting with a cup of hot chocolate. Outside the window, the ethereal dance of the falling leaves creates a fairy path slowly leading us toward the end of the semester. November - weekly quizzes, endless projects, and essays piling up. And here you go again, the average AUBGer - pulling all-nighters at Underground. 

What does this have to do with akrasia? ‘Akrasia’ is a term coined by the Greek philosophers Socrates and Aristotle. It is described as a lack of self-control or the state of acting against one's better judgment through weakness of will. Today, similar behavioral patterns we attribute to procrastination. Much like procrastination, akrasia is a state of establishing a plan and not following through with it. It’s when one knows what a good decision would be but consciously chooses a bad one.

Almost all people, even the hard-working and dedicated ones, have experienced akrasia. Studies indicate procrastination is widely spread, especially among students. According to a study conducted in 2017 by the University of Bristol, 97% of the students are affected by different effects of procrastination such as anxiety and stress.

Why do we experience akrasia?

According to James Clear, an American author and entrepreneur, one explanation is what behavioral economists and researchers describe as “time inconsistency,” which refers to people’s tendency to change their preferences with time. People often make inconsistent decisions because they prefer immediate satisfaction over future rewards. Let’s say a student wants to boost their GPA next semester, according to Clear, this would be a plan for their ‘future self.’ Since they don’t need to take any actions at the current moment, it’s easy to envision and appreciate the long-term benefit. When the next semester comes and they need to put their plans into action, however, they make choices for their ‘present self,’ who would most probably prefer to watch another episode on Netflix than studying for an upcoming exam. 

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This builds the wrong impression that the sole reason for students’ procrastination is laziness and indifference towards the direction of their lives. In fact, most students procrastinate because they don’t know how to tackle a given task. Kendra Cherry writes that uncertainty and self-doubt are also major reasons why students postpone even thinking about some assignments. They fear failing to meet the professor's demands or facing their classmates’ judgments. Ironically, instead of helping them avoid failure, procrastination becomes the reason they actually fail.

Students also procrastinate due to a lack of motivation, caused by the perception that given tasks are useless and unable to enrich their knowledge. They think of them as dull and uninteresting. While waiting for their motivation to jump out of somewhere, or to ‘get into the right mood,’ they simply set themselves up for failing to meet deadlines.

 

Negative effects of akrasia

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Most of the time, procrastination doesn’t lead to serious problems. The trouble is when it becomes inseparably bound to students' everyday lives. This refers to academic tasks and tasks vital to developing one’s self-discipline and self-confidence. Unfortunately, chronic procrastination can damage students’ health, social relationships and future career. The more you postpone something, the longer it stays in your mind, and inevitably, it causes stress and anxiety, which can lead to greater levels of illness. When it comes to group projects, your irresponsibility can disappoint the people you work with and make them unwilling to depend on your actions. Last but not least, not a single company would like to hire a person who hasn’t attained any skills during their education because of being busy procrastinating. Even if they hire you, if you continue postponing your job responsibilities, you will soon find yourself unemployed.

Having in mind the negative ramifications of procrastination, it’s advisable that every student takes precautionary actions to avoid it and be mindful of their responsibilities. Aristotle coined the word enkrateia as the antonym of akrasia to describe the state of being “in power over oneself.” So, how to achieve this self-control?

 

#1 Set a clear goal

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In most cases, young adults procrastinate because they don’t have a concrete meaning for their goals. One could easily decide to boost their GPA, but those who have a solid reason behind this decision are more likely to fulfill it. A solid reason could be that one wants to get a higher scholarship to help their parents pay the tuition or become a role model for their younger sibling – factors with strong intrinsic value.

 

#2 Overcome obstacles

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When setting a goal, one should be aware of the sacrifices they might face before achieving it. To avoid disappointment, students need to be honest with themselves about the restrictions they are ready to face. According to Clear, psychologists refer to such restrictions as “commitment devices,” which are present-day choices that control future actions. Turning off the Internet connection while studying or using software tools like LeechBlock and SelfControl that prevent you from visiting Facebook are just simple examples.

 

#3 Just start

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Believe it or not, it’s not the process of doing work that’s the most painful but starting it. That’s why procrastination among students who haven’t initiated their work is more common than among those who are in the middle of doing it. The motivation to start might seem like a challenge, but ironically, motivation often comes after having started to pursue a given goal. Most students postpone their tasks in favor of more extra time for their favorite activities. But, this free time is accompanied by the constant urge to dealing with an upcoming assignment. A much better option is to complete a task as soon as possible and enjoy the rest of the time. 

 

#4 Set dates and deadlines

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Scheduling and setting firm deadlines for the tasks is as important as starting them. According to Clear, psychologists refer to this act of predetermining a specific and goal-directed behavior in response to particular future events as “implementation intention.” Studies show the use of implementation intention can result in a higher probability of achieving one’s desires. So, grab an empty notebook, write down future tasks, choose a date, place and time for each, and simply stick to the schedule.

 

#5 Reward yourself

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It’s important that after you achieve your goal, you thank yourself for pushing through by rewarding yourself. The reward depends on the person’s preference. It could be buying a ticket for a favorite movie or going on a long-awaited trip. Anything that could emphasize the positive feeling of achievement can be a reward, and this can prompt motivation for the next task too.

Here is a list of apps that can help you keep track of your tasks:

 

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