Telling someone who procrastinates to buy a weekly planner is like telling someone with chronic depression to just cheer up – not going to happen.
Procrastination is something that most people have at least a little experience with. No matter how well-organized and committed you are, chances are that you have found yourself frittering away hours on trivial pursuits (like watching TV, checking your Facebook status, shopping online) when you should have been spending that time on other projects.
Do you realize that twenty percent of people identify themselves as chronic procrastinators? For them procrastination is a lifestyle, albeit a maladaptive one. And it cuts across all domains of their life. They don’t pay bills on time. They miss opportunities for buying tickets to concerts. They don’t cash gift certificates or checks. They file income tax returns late. They leave their Christmas shopping until Christmas eve. We all know at least one person like this.
I’m definitely not in the chronic category – but I can be a part-time procrastinator – but only when it doesn’t interfere with my work or life in general. I always make sure to pay bills or file taxes on time, even if it comes down to the very last minute before they’re due. I hate getting charged a fee for missing the due date – it’s so irresponsible. I never miss cashing a gift certificate or check mostly because I don’t receive them very often and I always consider the possibility of the institution closing before I get the chance to cash in. My procrastination is usually exercise involved – but it does get done. Obviously it is done out of necessity – not love. I hope that changes. I just signed up for another half marathon which takes place in August so now I’m wondering if July will be too late to crash-train for it? Maybe that’s a motivational problem instead. It’s not really the same thing is it? How do you know if you’re a chronic procrastinator? Let us count the ways:
1) Let’s begin by blaming our parents (always a reliable excuse) – after all they set the blueprint for us turning out the way we are. Why do you think so many of us are seeing shrinks? It is one response to an authoritarian parenting style. Having a harsh, controlling father keeps children from developing the ability to regulate themselves, from internalizing their own intentions and then learning to act on them. Procrastination can be a form of rebellion, one of the few forms available under such circumstances. What’s more, under those household conditions, procrastinators turn more to friends than to parents for support, and their friends may reinforce procrastination because they tend to be tolerant of their excuses.
2) Procrastination predicts higher levels of consumption of alcohol among those people who drink. Procrastinators drink more than they intend to—a manifestation of generalized problems in self-regulation. That is over and above the effect of avoidant coping styles that underlie procrastination and lead to disengagement via substance abuse.
3) Procrastinators tell lies to themselves. Such as, “I’ll feel more like doing this tomorrow.” Or “I work best under pressure.” But in fact they do not get the urge the next day or work best under pressure. In addition, they protect their sense of self by saying “this isn’t important.” Another big lie procrastinators indulge is that time pressure makes them more creative. Unfortunately they do not turn out to be more creative; they only feel that way. They squander their resources.
4) Procrastinators actively look for distractions, particularly ones that don’t take a lot of commitment on their part. Checking e-mail is almost perfect for this purpose. They distract themselves as a way of regulating their emotions such as fear of failure.
5) There’s more than one flavor of procrastination. People procrastinate for different reasons. Here we can identify three basic types of procrastinators:
- arousal types, or thrill-seekers, who wait to the last minute for the euphoric rush.
- avoiders, who may be avoiding fear of failure or even fear of success, but in either case are very concerned with what others think of them; they would rather have others think they lack effort than ability.
- decisional procrastinators, who cannot make a decision. Not making a decision absolves procrastinators of responsibility for the outcome of events.
6) There are big costs to procrastination. Health is one. Just over the course of a single academic term, procrastinating college students had such evidence of compromised immune systems as more colds and flu, more gastrointestinal problems. And they had insomnia. In addition, procrastination has a high cost to others as well as oneself; it shifts the burden of responsibilities onto others, who become resentful. Procrastination destroys teamwork in the workplace and private relationships.
7) Procrastinators can change their behavior—but doing so consumes a lot of psychic energy. And it doesn’t necessarily mean one feels transformed internally. It can be done with highly structured *cognitive behavioral therapy.
According to psychologist Piers Steel, people who don’t procrastinate tend to be high in the personality trait known as conscientiousness, one of the broad dispositions identified by the Big 5 theory (to be discussed separately in another post) of personality. People who are high in conscientiousness also tend to be high in other areas including self-discipline, persistence, and personal responsibility. Falling prey to these cognitive distortions is easy, but fortunately there are a number of different things you can do to fight procrastination and start getting things done on time.
Fear is one of factor that contributes to procrastination. This can involve a fear of failure, a fear of making mistakes, or even a fear of success. Psychologist Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Psychology Today contributor and author of The Search for Fulfillment, suggests that challenging your faulty beliefs is important. If you are afraid of success because you secretly believe that you don’t deserve it, it is important to realize that your self-handicapping might be keeping you from achieving your goals. By addressing the fear that is keeping you from getting started, you can begin to overcome your procrastination habit.
* Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy that is guided by the understanding that feelings are very important AND that feelings are informed by our Thoughts and our Behaviours. We can’t change how we Feel but we can interact with our Thoughts and Behaviours in such a way as to invite different Feelings to emerge.
There are 16 key reasons why people procrastinate:
- Not knowing what needs to be done
- Not knowing how to do something
- Not wanting to do something
- Not caring if it gets done or not
- Not caring when something gets done
- Not feeling in the mood to do it
- Being in the habit of waiting until the last minute
- Believing that you work better under pressure
- Thinking that you can finish it at the last minute
- Lacking the initiative to get started
- Blaming sickness or poor health
- ??? – I forget this one
- Waiting for the right moment
- Needing time to think about the task
- Delaying one task in favor of working on another
My unprofessional theory is that this is a problem generally easy to overcome. There’s just way too much to do in life and it’s easy to let things start to pile up. And we tend to take on too many tasks without thinking things through. If we just try to get things done little by little and stop saying “yes” to people when we really mean “no” things will start to get done. Just do what you can – don’t take on more than you need to. You’ll feel much better.
Credit: Psychology Today