The Psychology of Procrastination

We’re all familiar with the act of procrastination. Some more than others.

And it’s no secret we have all procrastinated and continue to do so until this day.

It is said that a procrastinator often puts off a task for lack of better time management and enthusiasm or laziness.

But is that all there is to it?

What are our motivations for procrastinating? Why do we constantly do it despite knowing the repercussions that come with it?

Procrastination 101: Lessons From Joseph Ferrari, PhD

Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D. is a professor of psychology at DePaul University.

A recognized contributor to the psychology of procrastination, his research and work are greatly credited by the American Psychological Association (APA) as well.

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The American Psychological Association is a group of highly qualified professional psychologists, students, educators, consultants, and clinicians based in the United States. The main pupose of APA is to further advance research on psychology. Moreover, APA believes that psychology, more than a science, is a means of elevating well-being and health.

Apart from that, he has released a number of books and articles on procrastination, providing expertise to those who struggle with it.

APA reached out to Ferrari in an effort to further understand the psychology behind why people procrastinate.

The exchange dived into underlying disorders, contributions of technology, society’s role, and simple solutions to the problem.

Chronic Procrastinators Versus Non-Procrastinators

It’s no secret we all put off a task every now and then.

However, that does not necessarily define us as procrastinators. In fact, procrastinating every once in a while is considered normal among people.

Feeling relieved? We do too.

But what if not getting things done becomes a way of life?

That’s when chronic procrastination comes in. Once the habit of procrastinating is nurtured by a person, it carries over into all aspects of their life. And this leads to even more loss of motivation, failure to accomplish tasks, and more procrastination.

People who procrastinate often acquire a “maladaptive lifestyle”. Though procrastination is not deemed a serious condition, it does lead to a number of personality changes such as:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Passive-aggressive Tendencies
  • Revenge
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

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In contrast, what makes a non-procrastinator?

A person who does not procrastinate typically has a strong sense of personal identity.

Non-procrastinators do not worry themselves with “social esteem”, a term used by psychologists to describe how other people like us.

This type of person may still put things off once in a while, but unlike a procrastinator, they do not make a habit out of it.

These people are very much aware of the tasks that they have, and make the choice of acting on them consistently.

Why Are You Still Procrastinating?

Everyone is somewhat aware of their procrastinating tendencies, and yet, everyone still continues to procrastinate.

As with anything, there is a psychology behind this fact.

Lack of Interest

People often put tasks off when they have no interest in them. It’s rather simple psychology.

A boring task will not instigate motivation for the doer of the task.

Procrastinators would rather do something they enjoy rather than something that bores them. People tend to confuse prioritizing lovable tasks as simply prioritizing what makes them happy.

The underlying fact is that they are disguising their procrastination as such.

Stress

It is inevitable for some tasks to bring us stress. Whether it may be related to work or school, the feeling of stress rises when a task feels all too important to mess up.

Instead of getting it done to eliminate the stress, procrastinators ALLOW their low self-esteem get the best of them. Ultimately, the task is delayed through a conscious decision to prioritize other things.

One example of this is when students with bad grades feel discouraged to perform tasks well.

Their low self-esteem wires their brain into thinking that they are incapable of doing things well, hence the inaction to avoid the responsibility.

Technology

Unsurprisingly, technology influences many aspects of our lives, procrastination included.

Research shows that technology can help get things done and overcome procrastination. At the same time, technology can be the cause of procrastination when not used properly.

People do not have to mindlessly scroll through the internet for hours on end.

But because technology is so accessible, these tendencies occur.

There are technological systems we can make use of to prevent such mindless scrolling too, which is why proper usage is essential to avoid procrastination.

Habit

One reason why you can’t seem to stop procrastinating is you have already formed the habit of procrastination.

The thing with habits is they develop over time and therefore can be unlearned over time as well.

When you put off one thing after another, tasks only accumulate and give procrastinators even more reason to continue the behavior.

Beating Procrastination

The American Psychological Association (APA) dives further into their exchange with Joseph Ferrari regarding procrastinators.

Ferrari states that procrastinating is like a phenomenon of inaction.

A task is delayed consciously by replacing it with another less meaningful task. In some situations, people may go beyond the resources that are already available to them in an effort to delay.

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One Way to Avoid Procrastinating is by Formulating a Reward System for Yourself

Procrastinators will put the gratification first without putting in the effort.

Turn this around by using the reward as motivation to get things done. When you do this constantly, it will eventually become a way of life, therefore eliminating chronic procrastination.

It’s typically a mental battle to continue building healthier habits, especially when you have become so accustomed to the bad ones.

The prize can be as simple for as long as it gives you a sense of fulfillment and confidence to do more.

One example is maintaining a proper exercise routine.

Motivate yourself to not put it off by rewarding yourself with a balanced yet delicious meal after. The result will leave you fulfilled and more confident to take on another workout the next day,

Another Way to Overcome It is by Getting the Help You Need

Feeling stuck is completely normal, but it is an entirely different situation when you feel it constantly and find it difficult to get out of.

This is why asking for help is important. No one should ever feel ashamed of it.

Help may be in the form of therapy or simply delegating the action to someone else when you feel incapable. The sooner you are able to address your need for help, the more time you will have for important matters.

Lead a Life of Action

The contributions of APA should serve as an inspiration for people who procrastinate to become more self-aware of the effects it has on their lives.

When we view psychology as a means to improve our welfare, we form more conscious efforts to sustain a better life.

The next time you consider delaying a task, think of the consequences it may impose not just on that day but on your life as a whole.

For more information on the subject, refer to Dr. Ferrari’s in-depth discussion in the book entitled “Still Procrastinating: The No Regret Guide to Getting It Done”.

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