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Genetic Links to Procrastination and Impulsivity

Do you procrastinate? Are you impulsive? Both traits may make it difficult to become a “normal” eater and there’s research that says you may have come by them genetically.

In “Like to put things off? Now you can blame your parents,” Alison Griswold (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 4/29/14, p. 21E) says that the traits of procrastination and impulsivity are considered “moderately heritable,” that is, at about the 50% mark. According to Daniel Gustavson, the lead author of a paper in Psychological Science, “genetically they (ie, these traits) seem to be related, which suggests that they’ve sort of evolved together…what makes people procrastinate and what makes them impulsive might be their specifically forgetting about their goals.”

The 50% of the trait that isn’t directly inherited is likely acquired through socialization by parents who either had procrastination and impulsivity problems, and modeled this dysfunctional behavior for you, or who imposed strict, brook-no-dissent rules which made you go out of your way to rebel—aka procrastinate—and not do what they asked.

Gustavson’s description of “forgetting” goals seems spot on from my clinical experience and personal history with disregulated eating. At that moment of impulse, you don’t even recall that you have eating-related goals, never mind what they are. And, therefore, you put off doing whatever will help you reach your goals because they’re not on your radar screen to begin with. Make sense?

If you tend to be impulsive or procrastinate, don’t judge yourself for these traits. As you just read, 50% of being so may be genetically determined. Anyway, you didn’t choose these characteristics, but learned them in childhood. The worst thing you can do is to be hard on yourself about them. Instead, shift mental gears and determine how you can be more deliberate than impulsive and more do-it-now than do-it-later.

The best way I know how to do this is to consider how your behavior impacts the quality of your life and practice, practice, practice extreme self-care. When you want to put things off, think about how your actions will help or harm you. Will they make you proud or ashamed? If you want a quick fix or pick me up, reflect on whether your actions will contribute to your greater good. If you truly want to take care of yourself 100%, you can learn how. The path is through self-reflection, however, not reaction or self-judgment.

Solitude and Mindless Eating
The Lights in the Tunnel of Recovery

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