if not now when?

Why We Procrastinate

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I was always the student that put off doing my homework until the last minute. I’ll admit, I even procrastinated writing this article. Many of us do. We procrastinate the big things, the little things, the phone calls, reports or spring cleaning.

“Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” – Marthe Troly-Curtin

what is PROCRASTINATION?

“the action of delaying or postponing something

Procrastination (the word) stems from the Latin roots pro (forward) and crastinus (belonging to tomorrow), meaning deferred until the morning. Which for the most part, is not a bad habit to have. Some things are better left until the morning, to look at in a new day from a different perspective.

It has been studied by psychiatrists and psychologists for years, examining the causes and repercussions of avoidance behaviour. Studies by leading researcher by Joseph Ferrari and his colleagues reveals that whilst  we all procrastinate, for some, it is a chronic behavioural pattern.

For some, it stems from the thrill of waiting last minute. The build up of pressure, the ticking clock all leading to a rush when the task finally gets completed on time.

For others, it stems from a more negative source. Fear of failure, low energy, negative feedback or associations or a lack of self-control can demotivate you from completing a task.

Procrastination is not about doing what your not supposed to be doing, it’s about doing nothing.

where does it come from?

Contrary to popular belief, procrastination rarely stems from laziness. More often than not, it stems from anxiety. Psychologist and author Neil Fiore defines it as “a mechanism for coping with the anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision.”

When we are completing a task, we rely on our self-control to make ourselves sit down (or get up) and do it. For self-control, we need motivation. So, when we face demotivating factors; anxiety, fear of failure, negative feedback, depression, lack of energy or feeling overwhelmed, these feelings outweigh our motivation and self-control, so that we put of doing the job indefinitely.

Many student might also attest to this; the anxiety or stress of a situation leads to a desire to put it off and, contrary to what your grandmother might tell you, is not a modern phenomenon and can’t be blamed on shorter attention spans or the distractions of the internet. Greek philosophers Aristotle and Socrates wrote about ‘Akrasia’, lack of self-control or acting against your better judgement.

Is procrastination bad?

“Procrastination is a tendency to delay the start or completion of a desired task to the point of experiencing discomfort. It leads to dysfunctional ways of being and a reduced quality of life. Procrastination is not the same as waiting, postponing or delaying.” – Joseph Ferrari PhD.

Procrastination and the advantages and disadvantages of it have been argued over for some time.

On the one hand, it can lead to a downward spiral of anxiety, stress and guilt that take a toll on your mental health and overall lifestyle. It can damage your self-esteem in personal and working matters, which can have a bad impact on your day to day life. For instance, I did procrastinate sitting down and writing this, and I felt guilty and stressed the entire time. So why did I? Because I anxious about writing a bad piece, about not doing enough research or not getting it finished on time. So, I avoided it. But whilst I avoided it, I did think about it, and ended up planning a lot of it in my head before buckling down to research and draft.

Correlations have been found between procrastination and mental health issues, including anxiety, stress, depression, guilt and low self-esteem. For some, it can indicative of further neurological disorders such as ADHD, and chronic procrastination may be symptomatic of a psychological disorder.

On the other hand, there are many who support the act of taking time to consider before acting. Procrastination can encourage better prioritization, creative thinking and managing delay. It can give you time to cool off, level your thoughts and process a decision or a situation.

Sometimes, we need to step away from a project or a decision, to mull it over, sleep on it and come back with a fresh pair of eyes.

types of procrastination

Some scientists distinguish a difference between active and passive procrastination.

Passive procrastination is doing nothing, its not doing the task but not replacing it with a useful one.

Active procrastination is taking a deliberate decision to put off the task, usually by those who work well under pressure.

When we procrastinate, the way we do it, and what we do with that time, can be what makes all the difference.

“Procrastination is not Laziness”, I tell him. “It is fear. Call it by its right name, and forgive yourself.”- Julia Cameron

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