Two pitfall human traits, impulsivity and procrastination, may very well be genetic but research in accordance with the ancient science of yogic lifestyle shows they are indeed changeable. While new research from the University of Colorado credits bad genes for the tendency some people have to wait until the last minute, a 2012 study from a university in Bangalore, India points to the lifestyle choices which may determine how those genes are expressed.
Researchers trace the evolutionary history of procrastination to the fight or flight response. Like impulsivity, procrastination relies on spontaneous action as opposed to planning. If pre-historic predators can be equated to modern-day term papers then the theory may explain why some students are genetically predisposed to procrastinate. Are ancestors who lingered at the watering hole knowing all the while they would have to leap into action as a predator approached to blame?
Like procrastination, impulsivity also served pre-historic man. Acting on instinct and making fast decisions were crucial life skills in the perilous pre-agricultural world. The next meal could literally run right past an unassuming hunter while the impulsive one was more likely to make the kill. This adaptation is poorly suited for a world with grocery stores and loan payments, where planning and self-control are more crucial personality traits.
The recent study at University of Colorado Boulder found that procrastination and impulsivity are intrinsically related, which happens to agree with an ancient yogic lifestyle philosophy which describes them as changeable personality traits. Samkhya, one of the most prominent and eldest of Indian philosophies, asses the behaviors of an individual using the concept of Guna.
In Samkhya, the basic human traits are grouped into three Gunas: Tamas Guna, or inactive traits; Rajas Guna, or active traits, and Sattva Guna which represents a balanced personality. The Tamas Guna is characterized by the traits of procrastination and impulsivity as well as excessive sleep, laziness, depression, and arrogance. The philosophy proposes that with yoga and meditation a person with Tamas Guna can come closer to the active traits of Raja (ambitiousness, competitiveness, and intense action) and visa versa. In this way it is believed that the practice of “mastery over the mind” can bring individuals closer to a balanced personality, called Sattva Guna.
In a study designed to assess the efficacy of yoga to improve academic performance in university students researchers tested the Guna of 68 students before and after undergoing a 21 day Yoga Instructor Course (YIC). The study presupposed that students with a Sattva Guna, which includes the traits of stability, discipline, sharp intelligence, dutifulness, respect for superiors, and staunch determination, would naturally have an academic advantage. The course included a number of yogic lifestyle modifications such as diet, asanas (yoga posture) practice and study, and meditation.
Conducted in the serene atmosphere of Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana (S-VYASA) University, Bangalore, the results showed that the YIC was able to bring all students closer to a Sattva Guna. The scores of the students on each of the three Guna scales represented a more balanced set of behaviors resulting from a reduction in undesirable traits such as impulsivity and procrastination, proving them to be changeable through the yogic lifestyle of the course.
By Mimi Mudd