Why Do We Procrastinate? The Real Reasons + How To Stop
Have you ever started working on an important project and suddenly found yourself cleaning the house?
Just like in a “trance”, you magically stop working on your work project and puff! you are preparing your clothes for your dinner party, but it is only 10.00 in the morning. While you are “focusing” on cleaning the house, preparing your clothes and scrolling on Instagram, you just realised it is already the end of the day and you can’t start working on a new thing because it is important and “needs time”.
The scientific word for these behaviours is: Procrastination.
Procrastination is an act of delaying things until the last minute: postponing the workload until the person should really start to panic. Procrastination is not about forgetting your deadlines and trying to meet them last-minute. It is just the opposite: people who procrastinate are well aware of their responsibilities and deadlines. They just choose not to do them at the right time. The right question here is why do we do this?
Why Do We Procrastinate?
Some people think that delaying things until the day of the deadline indicates laziness and irresponsibility. However, people who procrastinate do not take pleasure in only lying on the bed all day. They are often busy, and most importantly, they have a very busy mind. When a situation or challenge in their life generates a lot of anxiety and fear, one just tries to get rid of these unwanted emotions by watching YouTube, re-decorating their bookshelf or cleaning their makeup drawer - which is procrastination. So, putting this much effort into other tasks is not a sign of a lazy person.
Also, one other reason might be our belief that delaying something helps us feel better and relax in the short-term, which is mostly true. However, while focusing on short-term pleasure, people can’t focus on long term goals. A person who is panicking about deadlines is no different than someone who is postponing meeting the deadlines right now. This is also a very good example why ancient Greeks used the word “akrasia – acts against their better judgement” for procrastination. We can say procrastination has been in our lives for centuries.
However, all those years if people continue to do something against their benefit, the question is - why do we really procrastinate?
Common Causes of Procrastination
1. Avoiding negative emotions
The real motivation behind procrastination is not escaping from the workload but avoiding the negative emotions that come with the work itself. In other words, it is a defence mechanism to run away from negative feelings such as anxiety, frustration, and self-doubt.
These emotions might have different reasons. Maybe you find the work itself boring or it might have a deeper reason: maybe the negative emotions are coming from your “inner critic”. For instance, the context or difficulty of the job can cause you to develop fear of failure, self-doubt, insecurity, or lower level of self-esteem.
“I am not good enough to finish this project, why did I even volunteer in the first place? I have no idea about what to write and how to present. They will think that they should have chosen someone else.”
2. Use as an Excuse
People might use procrastination as an “excuse”. If they are going to fail or mess up, they can simply say that they didn’t even work hard enough. So, one can simply prepare “the reason behind failing”.
“I wasn’t surprised when I learned I failed the exam, I didn’t even study for it. I don’t care about passing or failing this course.”
Again, familiar. Right?
One way or another, people mostly use procrastination as an avoidance mechanism from potential negative experience or emotional discomfort, and focus on short-term relief.
If you recognise these behaviours in your own daily life and decide on a change:
How To Stop Procrastinating: 2 Tips
1. Identify and Confront
First things first, identify what you are avoiding and confront it. We can’t always be aware of why or from what we are escaping. For that reason, focus on the emotional discomfort and name the cause behind it. At the beginning it may not be as easy but using different techniques like journaling can help you identify your patterns.
However, identifying where your procrastination comes from is likely not enough to stop procrastination. Individuals should confront it step by step. Even if you finish just a little part of the work that you have been avoiding, it provides a relief, and it will bring you closer to the goal than not doing the task at all. You will be surprised to learn that most of the time people can realise that the work itself was not as bad as they think it is. Remember that you can always take breaks in between steps and that you don’t have to finish all the work in one go.
2. Be aware of your feelings and manage them
The key ingredient here is changing the boring task into a pleasant work by making small differences. For instance, you might not want to clean the house, but you can clean it while listening to your favourite album. You can change the boredom with having fun. Another example: you can’t postpone your exam preparations.
However, instead of postponing your studying, remind yourself of the long-term purpose and make a deal with yourself that when you finish studying, you will meet up with close friends. Also, managing your emotions can help you organise your time better and it will have a significant effect on decreasing procrastination as well. You will start not just regulating yourself and emotions but also improving your planning and time management skills.
Procrastination is a way to avoid something uncomfortable, and sometimes that is ok. Your brain needs a break and you’re taking one. Don’t be too harsh on yourself. Start making sense about what is behind procrastination and you will surely see the difference in your work productivity soon.
Written by Zeliha Stefanie Roesler, Intern Psychologist at AntiLoneliness
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