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The Psychology behind Procrastination

Why wait? Why do we delay the things we know we should have already done yesterday or a week ago?

Clearly, with procrastinating, there’s a gap between intention and action: you know what you must do, you intend to do it, but you aren’t able to bring yourself to do it. No matter how well-organized, punctual or committed you may be, all of us fall into this trap at some point or another. Remember the last time you needed to pay your doctor a visit and you instead went out for tea with a friend? Or, how about that time when you needed to write your term paper but watched a ball game instead?

While common, procrastination can have detrimental effects on your life and well-being.

Studies suggest that this problem is particularly pronounced among students (with an estimated 25-75 % putting off their academic work). A 2007 study reveal that a whopping 80-90 % of college students habitually procrastinated –especially in completing coursework and assignments. In addition, according to Joseph Ferrari, Psychology professor at DePaul University in Chicago and author of Still Procrastinating: The No Regret Guide to Getting It Done, about 20% of adults in US are chronic procrastinators.*

What is Procrastination?

It’s the inclination to evade and dodge stressful/unpleasant tasks –which are oftentimes very important– and replace them with less stressful, less important tasks. From the Latin phrase ‘pro crastinus’ it aptly means “for tomorrow.” Apparently, procrastination isn’t a new trend and it’s a phenomena widely present in every country around the world.

Common misconceptions about procrastinators are they’re lazy and/or have poor time-management skills. While this may be true for some, there are often deeper underlying issues at play. Researchers indicate that those prone to chronic procrastination can improve with stress management and emotional regulation more than with time-management skills training. It’s because procrastination has been linked to the inability to cope with difficult emotions (in the moment) and stem from the fear of being unable to manage distress. Specifically, it’s highly probable that “task aversion” is the culprit where someone views a task in an unpleasant manner. If they see something as boring, painful, tough…they’re more likely to put it off. This suggests that procrastination is associated with mood as well.

Reasons for Procrastination

Generally, people procrastinate because of fear of failure, aversion to unpleasant tasks, and even fear of success (where they don’t believe in themselves enough, fearing that when they accomplish something they think they don’t deserve it).

We come up with many excuses/rationalizations to justify our behavior, but 15 key reasons were identified as to why people procrastinate:*

1 Waiting for the right moment,

2 Believing you work better under pressure,

3 Not wanting to do it,

4 Not knowing what must be done,

5 Not knowing how to do it,

6 Not caring whether it gets done or not,

7 Not in the mood to do it,

8 Not caring when something gets done,

9 Believing you can complete it at the last minute,

10 Waiting until the last minute becoming a habit,

11 Lacking initiative to get it started,

12 Blaming poor health/sickness,

13 Forgetting about the task,

14 Delaying one task in favor of a much easier (often more pleasant) task, and

15 Needing time to think about the task.

Effects of Procrastination

Researches into this often associate procrastination with decreased mental health, reduced well-being, increased stress-level, and higher risk for illness. Other ways it can affect an individual include:

  • Feelings of shame, guilt, anxiety

  • Financial difficulty resulting from putting off important responsibilities

  • Poorer grades in school or underperformance at work

  • Poor physical health (if exercising or healthy eating are avoided)

Not only does this affect their own health, it also harms their social relationships where they place a burden on the people around them. By habitually turning in projects late, or paying taxes/bills at the last minute, people who depend on them (coworkers, family, friends, fellow students) will become resentful.

It’s often obvious to procrastinators that their behavior is self-defeating and harmful, but they also often struggle with overcoming it. It doesn’t get solved by simply telling them: just do it. Especially for chronic procrastinators, it isn’t just an occasional thing; it’s in fact a major part of their lifestyle. As such, it may be necessary to investigate more and look into their emotional wellness before an effective solution can be implemented.

Since habits take time, often created over years/decades, procrastination can be difficult to reverse. Working with a therapist is among the most effective ways of putting a stop to procrastination-mentality and habits. The tools and approach we use at Jarvis HypnoTherapy in addressing this will help you deal with your procrastination problem and help you develop healthier habits.




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