Also known as:
Delay, Lag, Dally, Dawdle, and Loiter
What is it?
Everyone puts things off sometimes, but procrastinators chronically avoid difficult tasks and may deliberately look for distractions. Procrastination tends to reflect a person’s struggles with self-control. For habitual procrastinators, who represent approximately 20 percent of the population, "I don't feel like it" comes to take precedence over their goals or responsibilities and can set them on a downward spiral of negative emotions that further deter future effort.
Procrastination also involves a degree of self-deception: At some level, procrastinators are aware of their actions and the consequences, but changing their habits requires even greater effort than completing the task in front of them.
Where the word come from?
Latin: procrastinare, pro- (forward), with -crastinus, (till next day) from cras, (tomorrow).
Procrastinators are often perfectionists, for whom it may be psychologically more acceptable to never tackle a job than to face the possibility of not doing it well. They may be so highly concerned about what others will think of them that they put their futures at risk to avoid judgment.
Some procrastinators contend that they perform better under pressure, but while they may be able to convince themselves of that, research shows it is generally not the case; instead, they may make a habit of last-minute work to experience the rush of euphoria at seemingly having overcome the odds.
Why do I procrastinate?
Procrastination is driven by a variety of thoughts and habits but fundamentally, we avoid tasks or put them off because we do not believe we’ll enjoy doing them, and want to avoid making ourselves unhappy, or we fear that we won’t do them well. People may also procrastinate when they are confused by the complexity of a task (such as filing one’s taxes) or when they’re overly distracted or fatigued.
What are the psychological reasons for procrastination?
Psychologists have identified various drivers of procrastination, from low self-confidence to anxiety, a lack of structure, and, simply, an inability to motivate oneself to complete unpleasant tasks. Research has also shown that procrastination is closely linked to rumination or becoming fixated on negative thoughts.
What is rumination?
The process of continuously thinking the same thoughts, which tend to be sad or dark, is called rumination. A habit of rumination can be dangerous to your mental health, as it can prolong or intensify depression, as well as impair your ability to think and process emotions. It may also cause you to feel isolated and can, in reality, push people away.
Does procrastination serve a purpose?
Procrastination is a self-defeating behavior pattern, but it can be seen as serving a psychological purpose, especially for people with perfectionist tendencies, by protecting the individual against fear of failure, judgment by others, and self-condemnation. Avoiding unpleasant work by devoting energy to other tasks, like organizing or cleaning, also helps procrastinators avoid feeling unproductive, although they will have to pay the price for it later.
Why are we so sure we’ll actually do something later?
Predicting how we’ll feel in the future is known as affective forecasting, and people tend be fairly bad at it. For example, procrastinators may feel bad about not having exercised today, but they may raise their mood by predicting they will do it tomorrow. Thus, they avoid feeling negative emotions in the moment, but make the cycle more likely to be repeated.
People who procrastinate:
Research finds, procrastinators may hold different values than people who do not. In studies, procrastinators report valuing personal enjoyment more highly than others do, and valuing a strong work ethic less, and are more likely to complete tasks they feel are important to them personally than those that are assigned to them.
Are there consequences of procrastination?
Procrastination may relieve pressure in the moment, but it can have steep emotional, physical, and practical costs. Students who routinely procrastinate tend to get lower grades, workers who procrastinate produce lower-quality work, and in general, habitual procrastinators can experience reduced well-being in the form of insomnia or immune system and gastrointestinal disturbance. Procrastination can also jeopardize both personal and professional relationships.
Is procrastination bad for my health?
Procrastinating when it comes to one’s health putting off exercise and checkups and failing to commit to healthy eating can lead to a higher risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Procrastinators are also more likely to engage in self-blame and disengage from wellness advice, suggesting that cultivating greater self-compassion could help such individuals begin taking better care of themselves.
Is there a link between procrastination and depression?
Procrastination, avoidance, and rumination are all common symptoms of depression. People with depression may struggle to plan ahead, lose confidence in their ability to follow through, and adopt “what’s the point” thinking. The treatment approach known as behavioral activation, in which one schedules enjoyable activities that provide a sense of mastery or accomplishment, may help alleviate some of these effects.
Can procrastinators have successful relationships with non-procrastinators?
When a procrastinator enters a relationship with a non-procrastinator, conflict is almost inevitable. Each places a very different value on their time, believes their approach is superior, and struggles to understand the other’s motivations. As with any other conflict, though, stepping back, considering the other’s perspective, and finding a way to accept it, and one’s own reaction to it, can help keep a couple together.
How can a procrastinator change his or her mindset?
When people procrastinate, their present self-benefits by avoiding unpleasant work, but their future self pays the price in stress or punishment. Developing empathy for one’s future self as one would for a close friend, then, can be an important first step to ending the habit, because we’re less willing to put a good friend in such a disadvantaged position.
How can I stop putting off important decisions?
Many procrastinators struggle to make important decisions, in part because not making a choice absolves them of responsibility for the outcome. But sometimes people simply become so exhausted from making decisions that it seems impossible to make even relatively unimportant ones. Research suggests that sticking to a personal set of decision-making rules, or outsourcing some decisions to a partner, friend, or co-worker may help overcome decision fatigue.
Is fear related to procrastination?
Yes, a number of fears contribute to procrastination, including but not limited to:
- Fear that you’ll fail or do badly. Probably the most common one.
- Fear of the unknown — the task is not familiar to you, so you don’t know what to do or where to start.
- Fear of the uncomfortable. It’s easy to do things we’re comfortable with, but doing new things is uncomfortable so we put them off.
- Fear of starting in the wrong place. You don’t start because what if you’re not starting the right way?
Ways to overcome procrastination:
- Recognize that you’re procrastinating
You might be putting off a task because you've had to re-prioritize your workload. If you're briefly delaying an important task for a genuinely good reason, then you aren't necessarily procrastinating. However, if you start to put things off indefinitely, or switch focus because you want to avoid doing something, then you probably are.
- Workout why you’re procrastination.
You need to understand the reasons why you are procrastinating before you can begin to tackle it.
- Adopt an anti-procrastinating strategy.
Procrastination is a habit – a deeply ingrained pattern of behavior. This means that you probably can't break it overnight. Habits only stop being habits when you avoid practicing them, so try as many strategies, as possible to give yourself the best possible chance of succeeding.
Ways to overcome ruminating thoughts:
When you realize you’re starting to ruminate, finding a distraction can break your thought cycle. Look around you, quickly choose something else to do, and don’t give it a second thought.
- Calling a friend or family member
- Doing chores around your house
- Watching a movie
- Drawing a picture
- Reading a book
- Walking around your neighborhood
- Do anything to distract that thought out of your head.
Plant to take action:
Instead of repeating the same negative thought over and over again, take that thought and make a plan to take action to address it. In your head, outline each step you need to take to address the problem, or write it down on a piece of paper. Be as specific as possible and also realistic with your expectations. Doing this will disrupt your rumination. It will also help you move forward in the attempt to get a negative thought out of your head once and for all.
Once you’ve outlined a plan of action to address your ruminating thoughts, take one small step to address the issue. Refer to the plan you made to solve the problem you’ve been obsessing over. Move forward with each step slowly and incrementally until your mind is put at ease.
Questions your thoughts:
We often ruminate when we think we’ve made a major mistake or when something traumatic has happened to us that we feel responsible for. If you start ruminating on a troubling thought, try putting your repetitive thought in perspective. Thinking more about how your troubling thought might not be accurate may help you stop ruminating because you realize the thought makes little sense.
Readjust your life’s goals:
Perfectionism and unrealistic goal setting can lead to rumination. If you set goals that are unrealistic, you may start to focus on why and how you haven’t reached a goal, or what you should have done to reach it. Setting more realistic goals that you’re capable of achieving can reduce the risks of overthinking your own actions.
Work on enhancing your self-esteem:
Many people who ruminate report difficulties with self-esteem. In fact, lack of self-esteem can be associated with increased rumination. It’s also been linked with increased risk of depression. Enhancement of self-esteem can be accomplished in many ways. For instance, building on existing strengths can add to a sense of mastery, which can enhance self-esteem. Some people may choose to work on the enhancement of self-esteem in psychotherapy. As you enhance your self-esteem, self-efficacy may also be enhanced. You may find that you’re better able to control rumination.
Meditating can reduce rumination because it involves clearing your mind to arrive at an emotionally calm state. When you find yourself
with a repeating loop of thoughts in your mind, seek out a quiet space. Sit down, breathe deeply, and focus on nothing but breathing.
Understanding your triggers:
Each time you find yourself ruminating, make a mental note of the situation you’re in. This includes where you are, what time of day it is, who’s around you (if anyone), and what you’ve been doing that day. Developing ways to avoid or manage these triggers can reduce your rumination.
Talk to a friend:
Ruminating thoughts can make you feel isolated. Talking about your thoughts with a friend who can offer an outside perspective may help break the cycle. Be sure to speak with a friend who can give you that perspective rather than ruminate with you
If your ruminating thoughts are taking over your life, you may want to consider therapy. A therapist can help you identify why you’re ruminating and how to address the problems at their core.
If you’re a long-time ruminator who wants to bring an end to your repetitive negative thoughts, here are some simple changes you can make to your life that can help do just that:
- Be proactive in trying to solve your problems. First identify problems in your life and then start taking actions to solve your problems, one step at a time.
- Set your own expectations. Negative ruminating thoughts can creep in when we question our self-worth. Praise yourself for your successes and forgive yourself for your mistakes. Constantly work on building your self-esteem by taking care of yourself and doing things you enjoy and excel at.
- Create a support system. Having friends and family members, and maybe even a therapist, any of whom you can call on for help when something goes wrong or when you’re having a bad day, is so important. These special people may distract you from your ruminating thoughts and are also likely to boost your self-esteem.
Being a procrastinator doesn’t mean you are less productive. You are just productive in your own terms. When you feel a spiritual unwillingness to do something, whether that be a task you do on a daily basis or a huge project that daunts you, examine what’s causing you to feel that way. Write down what’s stopping you and fight through it. In the end you will feel so much better that it’s over and it’s not as bad as you thought.
“Procrastination is the thief of time.” by Edward Young
What it meant to me then and means to me now is that when I put off doing something I should be about doing, I am allowing valuable minutes and hours to be stolen from my day that I can never get back.
Any task I put off until later still has to be completed and while I am waiting to get around to it, stays burrowed in my mind. Haunting me, hounding me, demanding my full attention....