Procrastination: Psychology behind why we do it and how to stop

Procrastination is the act of unnecessarily postponing decisions and actions, even when they know it will have a negative effect. It actually is a very common problem which chronically affects 20 per cent of adults and over 50 per cent of college students. This can lead to issues like worse performance, missed opportunities, and increased stress, amongst other things. This article will help shed some light about procrastination, the reasons behind it, and how to stop procrastination.

Active Vs. Passive Procrastination

Passive procrastination is the type of procrastination we all think of. Most people don’t even realize there’s such a thing as active procrastination. Let’s discuss this first.

Active procrastinators are a sort of “positive” type of procrastinator. They deliberately decide to procrastinate because they know they work better under pressure.

For example, an active procrastinator may see that they have five reports to write before Friday. Instead of doing one each day, they decide to do one on Monday, one on Wednesday and leave three for Thursday because their brain produces better results when there is an element of pressure.

Passive procrastinators, on the other hand, are the “negative” procrastinators we generally think about. These types of procrastinators fall into traps of indecision or lack of confidence that cause them to wait until the last minute to do something.

For example, a passive procrastinator may be presented with those same five reports, but instead of waiting to increase a positive sense of pressure on themselves, they put off writing all five reports until Thursday night because they simply don’t feel confident in their ability to do them correctly, or the prospect of writing them sends them into a tailspin of boredom.

As you can see, the psychology of procrastination is complex, but there are some basic answers to the question, “Why do we procrastinate.” This article will be focusing on passive procrastination.

Why do people procrastinate?

There are multiple reasons due to which a person might be procrastinating.

Feeling of boredom: If something is uninteresting to a person, it is very obvious that would not be interested in doing it. In that situation, procrastination is a very natural reaction. Even with the knowledge that the work would have to be done at some point, they try to put it off until the last possible minute.

Lack of belief in your abilities: Lack of belief in your own abilities might cause procrastination. If a person does not think they are capable of doing something properly they might want to put it off. Though they know that it would not really help, it gives a temporary sense of relief.

Fear and anxiety: Procrastination results from a struggle between a person’s limbic system and prefrontal cortex of the brain. Limbic system is an older part of the brain that is automatic and seeks out pleasure and/ or avoids things that cause distress. Prefrontal cortex on the other hand, is a newer part of the brain that helps with planning, decision-making, and long-term goals. We all suffer at times from procrastination due to these fighting structures in our brains. Social anxiety can also play a role. The fear of being judged or embarrassed can cause you to put off scheduling meetings or completing projects.

Perfectionism: Perfectionism can play a role in procrastination. People may delay tasks they believe they won’t perform well or that they’ll fail altogether. They may try to put off a task until they suddenly feel more inspired or have a better idea, even though inspiration is more likely to strike once a person starts a task.

Distraction: Distractions in our environment can prevent us from focusing on the task at hand. Many of us can relate to the lure of social media over a dreaded activity, such as paying bills. Researchers believe procrastination has increased in recent years. Technology has been a factor. However, procrastination has been reported as a human behavior throughout history.

Mental health issues: Procrastination can be the direct result of a gaggle of mental health issues like depression, anxiety, ADHD, etc. It is often used to diagnose such mental health issues.

How to stop procrastination?

People who procrastinate are often aware that they should not be doing so, and thus looking for ways to stop.

Fortunately, there are a number of different things that can be done to fight procrastination and start getting things done on time. These can be the “anti-procrastination” exercises:

  • Make a to-do list: To help stay track, consider placing a due date next to each item.
  • Take baby steps: Break down the items on the list into small, manageable steps so that they tasks don’t seem so overwhelming.
  • Recognize the warning signs: Pay attention to any thoughts of procrastination and resist the urge. If you begin to think about procrastinating, force yourself to spend a few minutes working on your task.
  • Eliminate distraction: Ask yourself what pulls your attention away the most—whether it’s Instagram, Facebook updates, or the local news—and turn off those sources of distraction.
  • Pat yourself on the back: When you finish an item on your to-do list on time, congratulate yourself and reward yourself by indulging in something you find fun.
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