Why does an extrovert in self-isolation struggle with “self-discipline?”…

…by Elsa / from Finland / studying Architecture / 1st year postgraduate

We’re locked up, separated from our lives, our people, our habits and essentially our support system. Despite this shock to our norm, the world still needs to continue. Time still ticks by and therefore we still have responsibilities and deadlines we need to meet. Alas, we find ourselves cursing our lack of self-discipline when we cannot focus for long periods of time or complete assignments and university work, which – being honest with ourselves – we know we would have had no significant problem completing if we were in our ‘normal’ scenario, living our ‘normal’ lives. Why is working from home, or more specifically: under the self-isolation circumstances, so difficult? Why do we now procrastinate more than ever? And essentially, what is causing us to pick up our phones and endlessly scroll… 

Elsa desk

My current working from home set up…

If you’re someone who enjoys the company of other people and sharing experiences with others, maybe your “lack of” self-discipline is not fully to blame for your un-completed assignments. Possibly, this has nothing to do with self-discipline at all and more to do with the fact that you feel that you have lost a little bit (or quite a bit) of that purpose and motivation you had not long ago. Personally speaking, my main source of joy came from having brunch with the girls; spending time with friends; socials; group training; and so on. Inevitably, all that gets taken away when a state of quarantine must be practiced. Now that the various healthy sources of dopamine are removed from your day to day life and those levels of joy you’re used to drop significantly, the spark diminishes and in comparison, life appears to feel… well, boring and simply not as exciting and joyful.

With the absence of the source of happiness you’re used to, you revert to seeking dopamine spikes elsewhere. For most of us, the easiest and fastest was is social media and the internet as opposed to writing essays…unfortunately. Thus, the procrastination ball rolls in. The more time you waste scrolling, the further away you are from completing university work, the more stress builds up as deadlines approach… and you begin to feel helpless and unhappy. However, do not be so quick to blame yourself for lack of self-discipline! You have been dropped into a new environment, and you need time to adapt!

Similar results are seen in a study conducted by Bruce Alexander in “Addiction: The View from Rat Park (2010).” The relevant finding here was that when the subject (a rat) was kept in isolation, they would unsurprisingly consume more and more of the provided source of dopamine (drug) whilst discarding any other activities essential for their well-being (eating, sleeping, etc). However, when the subject was released into a community – a “Rat Park” – with friends, activities, sexual partners and toys, they were no longer tempted to consume the drug. Essentially, when provided with the access to alternative ways to make us happy, one does not revert to the harmful source of dopamine spike.

In the context of our current situation, procrastinating with social media or Netflix-watching, and therefore delaying university work is what we – as extroverts – are reverting to, because we’re trying to seek a distraction or anything that will bring that tiny bit more of excitement to our day. Ultimately, by sharing this message I am trying to bring awareness to the idea of this behaviour being okay and justified! You are not alone. It is a difficult time and that is okay. Understanding the reasoning behind this reaction and being aware of why you are responding to the situation the way you are is important and helpful, as it means that having identified the issue, it is something you can work on improving step by step. For example: try to give yourself a “dopamine detox” by restraining from stimulating sources of procrastination such as checking your phone for a period of time. Suddenly, going for a run seems like a great source of fun… Eventually, in comparison to doing nothing, starting that essay won’t feel as such a bad idea after all!

Best of luck!

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