I planned to write this post on Wednesday, its now Tuesday. Why is that relevant? Well, it’s about procrastination!
Procrastination is not a new phenomenon. It comes from the Greek word Akrasia meaning ‘weakness of will’ and was being discussed by Aristotle, Socrates and Plato. The Oxford Dictionary describes procrastination as ‘the act or habit of putting off or delaying something’
This is a habit I am very familiar with. As soon as I decide to sit down and complete a pressing task, I suddenly realise that I’ve run out of coffee, the bins need emptying, and that it must surely be lunchtime, even though I’ve just had breakfast.
If you’re a procrastinator too, you’ll probably recognize this kind of pattern. But why do we procrastinate?
1) Instant gratification
Psychologically the human brain is primed to value instant as opposed to future rewards. Completing a task that doesn’t produce an immediate return feels much harder to motivate ourselves to do. Writing a report doesn’t payout in the same way as eating chocolate so we are not as quick to get on and do it.
2) Present vs Future You
Behavioural psychology research has revealed a phenomenon whereby there is a disconnect between our future-self aspirations and our current-self actions. When you book a holiday many months in advance and decide that you’re going to have the perfect beach body, you are actually setting a goal for your future self. However, only our current self can take action. Often that beach body ideal (future self) becomes oooh look lovely slice of cake (present self).
3) Fear of failure
Another reason we procrastinate is due to a fear of failure. Feeling afraid that we will do badly or fail at a task can prevent us from getting started. We want to avoid the unknown and the discomfort of doing tasks we don’t feel confident in achieving. The thought goes something along the lines of if I don’t do it I can’t get it wrong or get laughed at or not achieve what I had in my mind. It feels much better to put it off in order to avoid failure or embarrassment. Ultimately the underlying fear is that we are just not good enough to succeed so it’s best not to put ourselves through the disappointment.
Feeling overwhelmed by challenging tasks can cause us to avoid them. This is in an attempt to reduce stress. Unfortunately, this is rarely a successful ploy. Avoidance is a common form of coping with anxiety and is linked to having high levels of stress. When we start to feel stressed about doing something we react by delaying its implementation and then we end up feeling more stressed about not doing it in the first place. The more we delay completing the first task, the more likely other priorities will arise. Feelings of stress and guilt can build up until a sense of complete overwhelm ensues. The goal to bring temporary relief by avoidance is eventually replaced with anxiety about being behind in what needs to be done.
5) Motion vs action
Have you ever found yourself seemingly busy working, only to discover that an hour or so later you’ve not actually achieved anything you planned to do? This is a more cunning form of procrastination where we spend time making elaborate plans and lists and organising our desks and stationery. In essence we’re wasting time going round the houses rather than getting on with the job we meant to start. This is probably why I’ve always loved writing lists. My sister used to joke that I made lists of the lists I had! List writing is great, but getting stuff done and off the list is so much more rewarding.
6) Perfectionist tendencies
Perfectionist tendencies are when we strive towards impossibly high, often unachievable, goals. When we set ourselves such high expectations it’s no wonder that this creates a feeling of never being good enough. We feel confused about where to start, so we don’t start at all. Those of us with perfectionist traits will overthink and delay carrying out a task because in our minds it can’t be anything less than perfect before it’s presented or submitted.
Ultimately procrastination makes us feel terrible. We end up in a situation where we don’t achieve the things that we want or need to do. Then we end up feeling guilty and unable to enjoying the time we are spending avoiding what we could just be doing.
Are you a procrastinator, and if so, which of the above reasons resonate with you the most?
Take a look at my previous blog to find out how Pilates can help with anxiety and mental health.