If you tend to procrastinate and allow yourself a few distractions when you're feeling least motivated, apparently now you can blame your genes.
Research shows that up to 20 percent of people are "chronic" procrastinators. Procrastination has traditionally been pinned on motivational factors (or lack thereof). But in 2014, research revealed that procrastination is moderately heritable, meaning it can be passed down genetically to one's offspring.
As expected, the media got excited. HuffPo said, "Go ahead, blame procrastination on your genes." TIME asked, "Now the only thing chronic procrastinators might care about is, will there ever be a cure?" The ultimate procrastination free pass had finally been given—it's genetic, therefore it's inevitable!
Or is it?
Surgeon, academic, and evolutionary biologist Dr. Sharad Paul, MD, recently published The Genetics Of Health: Understand Your Genes for Better Health. The idea? That if people can understand their body's genetic makeup, they can take better control of their health. So our biology is not our destiny—at least in the case of procrastinating.
In his book, Dr. Paul explains how a genetic predisposition for procrastination was passed down because it turned out to be a benefit. He tells Fast Company, “The genes progressed down generations because these people were still holed up in caves fearful of predators [saying], ‘My tools are not sharp enough. I better spend more time perfecting this spear' . . . These people survived more because they avoided conflict, and these genes were handed down to future generations.”
These ancestors also carried genes that were less disposed to what scientists call impulse activity, a trait inextricably linked with procrastination at the genetic level. Impulse activity is a signal that travels along nerve fibers to produce physical activity or hesitation. Procrastination and impulsivity are linked primarily through genetic influences on our ability to use high-priority goals to effectively regulate our actions. If you're a procrastinator, you're also probably less impulsive, and vice versa.
At the end of the day, Dr. Paul says that our genes don't determine our fate; they simply produce proteins that cause different functions (e.g., we may feel more tired more quickly than others). But diet, exercise, and our environmental surrounding can shape our genes to make them produce proteins differently. According to Dr. Paul, the best things we can do to combat procrastination and sluggishness is to exercise...literally.
The research has found that participants who completed just 15 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise had immediate benefits for cognitive performance regardless of age. Exercise increases neural matter, provides protection against emotional stressors, and improves the brain's reaction time, response to inhibition, attention, and task-switching—which all play a role in how we choose to delay or act.
If for some reason you want to find out whether you can blame procrastination on your genes, you're in luck. Dr. Paul developed a DNA test to help you test 21 genes, including ones that impact motivation and energy. The downside is that it costs $299, but Dr. Paul believes it's likely that you already have a good idea of whether you're a procrastinator or not. “Having said that, nothing in life or our genes is absolute. If we work hard we can express new genes and take control of our bodies and minds.”
Dawdlers, lingerers, and stragglers, there's hope for us after all.
Photo Credit: Nathan Boadle