Why Do People Procrastinate and How to Overcome Procrastination

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Do you have a friend around you who procrastinates, is always late for appointments, and always fails to complete tasks on time? We think procrastination is just a habit, no big deal, but in fact, there is a strong psychological motivation behind habitual procrastination.

According to statistics, procrastination is a widespread phenomenon, with one survey showing that about 75% of people consider themselves to procrastinate sometimes and 50% consider themselves to procrastinate all the time. Severe procrastination can have a negative impact on an individual’s physical and mental health, such as the emergence of strong feelings of self-blame, guilt, constant self-denial, devaluation, and psychological disorders such as anxiety and depression, and once this state occurs, it needs to be taken seriously.

I got inspiration from this book Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy.

Table of Content:

Procrastination Meaning and Definition

What is the connection between procrastination and mental health conditions?

The best way to overcome procrastination

Procrastination Meaning and Definition

Many of us know procrastination as delaying things we need to do, no matter their level of difficulty. Procrastination is a self-defeating behavior pattern associated with short-term benefits and long-term costs.

Our well-being can be affected by procrastination if we develop the habit of putting off necessary tasks, even if the consequences are adverse.

Procrastination and coping is an issue that affects 20-25% of adults worldwide. Studies have shown that chronic procrastination is predominantly linked to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and poor study habits.

There are several risks associated with procrastination that can negatively impact a person’s mental health. Individuals who procrastinate often suffer from high levels of anxiety as well as difficulty controlling their impulses.

People who procrastinate tend to suffer from more stress, and they tend to delay treatments over time, which can create a pattern of unhealthy conditions that can eventually lead to death. Procrastination is even associated with physical illness.

Why do people procrastinate

People procrastinate because their drive to delay is irrationally stronger than their drive to act. The reason for this is generally that their motivation and self-control are compromised by issues such as exhaustion and delayed outcomes, and are opposed by an urge to feel better now, as well as by fears and anxieties.

It is mainly determined by people’s self-control and motivation, which are influenced by a variety of factors. The drive to act represents how strongly people are driven to take action at a given moment. In an example of self-control, a person’s motivation may be influenced by the amount of time it will take them to be rewarded for taking action, whereas the amount of time it will take them to be motivated can influence their self-control. People’s drive to act can be reduced by fatigue, delayed outcomes, depression, ADHD, and low self-efficacy, among many other issues.

On the other hand, the drive to delay refers to a strong tendency to avoid taking action at an instant’s notice. As a result, one must avoid negative emotions (e.g., anxiety and fear associated with a certain task) and increase positive emotions (e.g., enjoyment from digital entertainment), a behavior that is sometimes referred to as “giving in to feel good”, to feel better in the short term. Perfectionism, for example, may also be rooted in an emotional desire to feel better short term, which is often underlying this drive.

Oftentimes, procrastination can be the result of a number of issues that can lead to a cycle that can be problematic. As an example, someone who is anxious about completing a task will procrastinate on the task, which means they will perform poorly, which will make them more anxious about similar tasks, which will make them more likely to procrastinate in the future for the same reasons. Similarly, this can happen when someone loses touch with their future self, causing them to repeatedly tell themselves they will begin working soon (e.g., in a few minutes or days), even though they have broken many of these promises in the past. This means that the individual is constantly experiencing a gap between their intentions and their actions.

We have listed below a compilation of concrete reasons that explain why people procrastinate and how they can identify and prevent them from doing so. The list is based on a psychological mechanism, which we have already discussed in this section, that can be considered as the cause behind procrastination.

What is the connection between procrastination and mental health conditions?

The first thing to understand is that procrastination is not a sign of laziness. Procrastination generally does not indicate a mental health problem, but it has been linked to mental health problems.

In several studies, procrastination is associated with depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Several other conditions, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and others, can also be affected by procrastination, according to the American Psychological Association.

Symptoms of mental illness, such as racing thoughts and fatigue, can make it difficult to take on tasks. Procrastination and mental health concerns can sometimes go together. While putting things off can cause stress, it can also lead to mental health problems.

Self-regulation and procrastination

Individuals may have trouble self-regulating when they prioritize short-term benefits over long-term rewards.

A quality of self-regulation is the ability to plan ahead and pause before reacting. Substance use disorders and impulse control disorders require self-regulation skills.

Mood and procrastination

The Association for Psychological Science points out in an article reviewing 20 years of studies about procrastination that mood and emotional instabilities contribute to procrastination.

Managing challenging emotions such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder is more difficult when we do not stay focused on the task at hand.

Those who procrastinate are less likely to express their concerns and needs. Procrastination is associated with delaying seeking professional help from mental health professionals.

It’s crucial to identify and address procrastination in order to prevent greater distress.

Anxiety and procrastination

It is common for people to avoid tasks due to a fear of unpleasant outcomes. For example, they may delay learning the result of a test or avoid it completely if they are worried about the outcome.

Perfectionism can also affect people with anxiety, causing them to feel stuck with a project if they feel they aren’t performing well. When the best ideas don’t come to them, or if they fear they won’t earn a top grade, they may delay completing an assignment.

A person with anxiety may feel overwhelmed, which may make it difficult to begin a task at all. It can be difficult to begin a task when we perceive an overload of information.

Depression and procrastination

Depression is characterized by negative thoughts, low self-esteem, and a belief that one cannot accomplish the task at hand. People with depression often dwell on negative thoughts and feel self-doubt.

A common symptom of depression is a lack of energy and an inability to motivate oneself. If a person lacks the energy to complete a task, they may decide to put it off until they feel better. When someone suffers from depression, however, it may be hard for them to gauge whether they feel motivated enough to accomplish their task.

Indecisiveness, another symptom of depression, contributes to procrastination because people who are depressed ruminate on past procrastination and lack self-compassion.

ADHD and procrastination

ADHD inattentive symptoms include procrastination (versus hyper impulsive symptoms).

As well as having difficulty managing attention and staying organized, ADHD inattentive and hyper-impulsive individuals can be easily distracted, have difficulty staying organized, and have difficulty regulating attention. Aside from working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control, they can also have difficulties starting and completing tasks due to problems with executive functioning.

As another symptom of ADHD, hyper fixation can cause procrastination because people are more likely to avoid tasks they do not find compelling when they become extremely focused on them. As a result, they lose sight of time or become unaware of their surroundings as they become absorbed in the engrossing activity.

The best way to overcome procrastination

You can make positive changes to your mental and physical well-being by overcoming your tendency to stall. Here are some suggestions from experts to help you overcome this tendency.

Embrace self-compassion. There is a link between procrastination and a low level of self-compassion among procrastinators. Sirois’s research indicates that procrastinators often feel guilty about letting others down or disgusted at their own tardiness. As a countermeasure, treat yourself with kindness and understanding. “I just recognize that, yeah, maybe I screwed up and maybe I should have started earlier, but I don’t have to beat myself up,” she said. The research suggests that self-compassion actually increases people’s motivation to improve themselves. Sirois notes that self-compassion does not make people lazy. “Research shows self-compassion actually makes people more motivated to improve themselves,” she says.

In his words, Ferrari offers the same advice to avoiders who procrastinate because they worry if they will be judged: Be confident about what you are doing instead of worrying about what others think.

Make the task meaningful. Sirois said finding meaning in the task in question is one of the best ways to stop procrastinating. You may want to write down why getting it done on time is important to you, for example, because getting it done on time will help you avoid negative consequences, like late fees or bad grades. Sirois said that if you think about the value of completing the task, you’ll feel more connected to it and less likely to procrastinate.

Begin small. As Ferrari refers to it, the problem with procrastinators is the opposite: They are unable to see the forest for the trees. It is their incapacity to see the forest for the trees that paralyze them into inaction. Or, if they are able to see the forest, all they can see are the trees.

A tree should be cut down one at a time, he said. He said, “You can’t do one tree?” he asked. “But you can’t do one tree? Give me three branches.” It is likely that you will continue working on your task once you start, he said, as long as you’ve made even a small amount of progress. Ferrari describes indecisive procrastinators as “procs,” or “Procs,” who are particularly helpful in this area. As perfectionists, these people often feel a sense of pressure to perform perfectly on a big, daunting project, and more often than not, they struggle when the task is split up into manageable chunks, rather than trying to complete it perfectly on a manageable scale.

As another matter of advice, he said to set deadlines for yourself for these small tasks. For those who thrive under pressure, doing this will allow them to experience the adrenaline rush they feel when they wait until the last minute.

Choose your first task carefully. Gretchen Rubin, an author whose books include “Better Than Before,” which provides advice on curbing procrastination, says some people want to tackle unpleasant tasks first, while others “psych themselves up by doing smaller things.” The more they accomplish small, easy things, the more they feel ready for the big one.” It all comes down to personal preferences and knowing yourself. Despite this, she said, people might use other work as a stall tactic when tackling the most daunting task of the day.

Ensure you are in a spot that is free of interruptions. There is a particular difficulty with resuming a task once you have been interrupted. We get interrupted constantly: by our phones, by our families, by the howling dogs, and through the TV. But once you have been interrupted, Rubin says, it is much more difficult to get back to what you were working on before.

Don’t fall into the “procrastination” trap. It’s one thing to spend 15 minutes straightening up the immediate area where you’re working. It’s another to work on a task after tidying up your work area. If, however, you are saying, “I need to alphabetize all my books back there, dust them, and maybe paint the bookshelves,” you might be procrastinating. You can tell if you are procrastinating if you lose all desire to tidy and organize after the task you were cleaning was completed. If you are aware of this tendency, you can prevent it from consuming half your day.

Give yourself a reward. Several teachers and parents employ the Premack principle, which essentially states that “what someone wants becomes the reward for what they don’t want to do,” Ferrari said. Make a deal with yourself: You can only watch your favorite TV show if you wash 12 dirty dishes in your sink before watching it. He said you can apply the idea to almost anything you’re putting off.

A change in society’s attitude may also help, Ferrari points out. We don’t reward the early bird in society, he adds. The punishment for late bills or taxes is fine, but there is no reward for early payments. Procrastination could be curtailed if earliness was consistently rewarded, he said.

Seek external assistance. Ferrari recalled that students used to come by and hold professors accountable for their projects decades ago by posting notes on their office doors. It was referred to as “public posting.” Social media is an excellent way to continue this tradition. Make a Facebook or Twitter post about your goals and ask your network to hold you accountable. You should tell your friends, for example, if you want to go to Lizzo, that you won’t purchase tickets until you do A, B, and C, and you should hold me accountable for them as well.

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