What is procrastination?
What is procrastination? The Latin roots of procrastination are pro meaning forward and cras meaning tomorrow.
Do you find yourself habitually putting tasks off until tomorrow, despite your best intentions? Psychology professor, Fuschia Sirois, defines procrastination as: “The voluntary, unnecessary delay of an important task, despite knowing you’ll be worse off for doing so.”
We all procrastinate from time to time, but 20% of adults are chronic procrastinators. So what’s behind this seemingly self-defeating trend? Surprisingly, procrastination does not stem from laziness or time-management issues, but from the negative emotions surrounding a task. And this is key to understanding how to conquer it.
Why do we do it?
What causes us to procrastinate? There are many reasons, but here are just a few.
1. We’re “waiting for motivation”
For those who procrastinate occasionally, sometimes the answer is that we are “waiting for motivation.” We think that if we wait until we have enough motivation we will get the task done more efficiently and quickly. But sometimes the motivation simply won’t come in a timely manner. And truthfully, motivation follows action. Sometimes the key to feeling motivated is to simply take the next simple step. Don’t think about the whole process. Just open your notebook, open the email draft, make an outline, etc. The motivation will come.
2. Thrill-seeking/reward cycle
Some chronic procrastinators actually enjoy the adrenaline rush of finishing things close to a deadline. Additionally, there is a psychological phenomenon called “temporal discounting” which makes a reward farther in the future seem less attractive than one closer to you. This means that the “thrill” of procrastination will seem more pleasant and attractive than the reward of the completed task. We’ve all experienced this phenomenon when it comes to something such as healthy eating. The pleasure of eating the cake now is much more tangible than the reward of good health in the future.
3. Low self-esteem/fear of failure
Low self-esteem can be crippling. What if I mess up? What if this is a total failure? Am I enough? Anxiety over these thoughts has the power to keep you immobile. Indecisiveness is a related characteristic of low self-esteem. If you do not have enough confidence in your own decision-making, you will avoid making any decision at all.
Consequences of procrastination
Aside from the obvious delay in completing a task, there is a whole slew of adverse problems associated with procrastination.
1. Higher stress: As mentioned, procrastination is sometimes promulgated by stress. In turn, it causes more stress. It’s a vicious, incredibly destructive cycle.
2. Health complications: People who procrastinate frequently are very likely to experience health problems such as insomnia, headaches, digestive issues, depression, and anxiety. Additionally, they may even procrastinate on preventative health measures such as seeing a doctor, going to the gym, or going to bed at a reasonable hour.
3. Relational friction: When we procrastinate on our tasks and goals, sometimes we convince ourselves that putting something off will only impact us personally. But it is more often the case that we will also cause stress or frustration for the people around us. Perhaps it is a coworker waiting on you to finish your piece of a collaborative project. Or perhaps a family member who asked you to assist with something at home. We all want to be someone our friends and family can depend on. When we don’t come through consistently, this puts a huge strain on relationships.
How to conquer it
So now we know what motivation is (and we probably already had a good idea of what the consequences are). But how do we conquer procrastination?
1. Be kind to yourself
Since a lot of procrastination has to do with negative emotions, the first step to overcoming is to be kind to yourself. This may sound a little fluffy, but the mind is a very real battleground. If you do not first win the battle inside, you will find it very difficult to have victory in other areas of your life. Stop criticizing yourself. Stop trying to achieve perfection. Build your self-confidence by appreciating the completion of each small step rather than deciding the completed project is the only success worth recognizing.
2. Attach meaning
If you find yourself procrastinating in specific areas try to determine why you have an aversion to them. Perhaps you don’t find the reward meaningful enough. Who else will benefit from you completing this task? How will it feel to no longer having this hang over your head? What is something you are looking forward to doing after this is completed?
3. Break it into manageable pieces
If you’re one of the procrastinators who enjoys the rush of a deadline, break your task into small steps with a deadline for each one. Set your deadlines a little earlier than they need to be and you may find yourself completing things ahead of time. Believe it or not, that’s a pretty good feeling too!