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Are You a Procrastinator? Blame Your Genes

Do you wonder why some people consistently put things off until the last minute while others are effortlessly proactive? A new scientific theory claims that procrastination and laziness are based on genetics — so you can now blame your ancestors for all those unpaid bills and unanswered emails.

Sharad Paul, M.D., author of “The Genetics of Health: Understand Your Genes for Better Health,” explains to Fast Company that procrastination evolved for a reason, even if it is generally regarded as a vice or weakness.

“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,’” explains Paul. He notes that the people with these genes survived because they avoided conflict, allowing them to procreate and pass the traits down to future generations.

Paul agrees with Georgetown University assistant professor and author of “Deep Work,” Cal Newport, who maintains that we procrastinate because our brain isn’t totally supportive of our plans. Newport talks about the familiar scenario of completing a business plan, then holding off on executing it. "If we were to be honest about it, either we were not ready or hadn’t thought it through well enough," he says. "You shouldn’t lament procrastination, but instead listen to it.’”

But procrastinators aren’t by definition lazy people. “While procrastinators are delayers, lazy people are sloths,” Paul tells Fast Company. A 2014 study, courtesy of the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology, found that mice with a mutation in a gene called SLC35D3 were “typical couch potatoes” in relation to normal mice.

The mutated gene affected the mice's dopamine receptors, which in turn decreased the mice's physical activity. In addition, an alternate 2014 study, which analyzed procrastination as well as impulsivity in identical and fraternal human twins, found that both traits were in fact heritable.

While you likely have an idea of whether or not you are a procrastinator, Paul has created an actual DNA test to determine if you are prone to procrastination. It can even predict if you are likely to avoid exercising.

But before you call your parents and blame them for every deadline you have ever missed, keep in mind that genetics aren’t the only determinant of your fate. Paul explains that our diets, exercise and environment do, in fact, shape our genes and make them produce different proteins. "Understanding your genes is basically you directing or fine-tuning your machine — your body — for best performance,” he explains.

If you are a lazy procrastinator, science offers a simple solution for turning things around: exercise. Take, for example, those mice in the study carrying the lazy gene. When researchers from Harvard University and the University of Arizona forced them to exercise, they discovered that new genes were activated, as were the levels of substances promoting tissue growth and health. “The phrase ‘jogging your memory’ may indeed be more literal than we imagine,” says Paul.

Paul suggests building endurance levels through exercise if you want to beat procrastination. He says to choose the type of endurance exercise that works for you, whether that's swimming, running, aerobics or dancing.

Paul’s trick to beating procrastination is all well and good, but the challenge is not putting off your workout until tomorrow.

What Do YOU Think?

Do you believe that procrastination is genetic? Are you a procrastinator? What are your tricks for avoiding procrastination?