No one is perfect and every one of us is prone to procrastination. They say, only lazy people like to put off all the tasks. But the truth is, strong and successful people have this habit, too. Numerous studies have revealed that procrastination has nothing to do with laziness. There’s a more important reason to know. Putting off until tomorrow is a bad habit and once you find out the root cause of it, it will be easier for you to beat this habit and start getting things done on time. Read on to finally learn the truth about why we procrastinate.
How many times did you putt off important and even less important tasks? How did you feel? Chances are, you felt irritated, depressed, or stressed out. When we procrastinate, we’re more likely to get angry at ourselves, albeit those around us suffer too. We have inner dialogues, promising to ourselves that we’ll do that task in a few minutes. Once we start doing it, we find an excuse to delay it again. This is a vicious circle that equals self-harm.
Etymologically, the word procrastination has two meanings. The first meaning is derived from akrasia, the ancient Greek word that means doing something against your better judgment. Another meaning is derived from procrastinare, the Latin word that means putting off until tomorrow.
When we’re trying to put off until tomorrow, we’re aware of our intention to avoid the task and the fact that doing so is actually a terrible idea that can cause a lot of troubles. Despite realizing it, we do procrastinate anyway. That’s why procrastination is so irrational.
The habit of putting things off always has negative consequences. We procrastinate because we are unable to control our mood swings or unwillingness to accomplish a task. Maybe, the task is hard to complete or you had a fight with your significant other in the morning and now your mind is full of thoughts related to it.
Your mood plays a significant role in how often you procrastinate. If you’re chronically unhappy, you procrastinate daily and this habit greatly contributes to your mental health. People who procrastinate have a high risk of anxiety, depression, heart disease, and even cancer. That’s why it’s critical to figure out what makes you procrastinate.
When avid procrastinators fail to accomplish something on time, they believe bad time management is a culprit for it. In reality, it’s your negative mood that makes you put off all those important tasks and start watching all the episodes of your favorite show. We all experience challenging negative emotions once in a while and it’s essential to learn how to handle those emotions.
Ideally, once you get rid of negative emotions like fear, self-doubt, resentment, frustration, insecurity, anxiety, and boredom, your procrastination habit should vanish, as well. Constantly putting off until tomorrow isn’t a time management issue, but an emotion regulation one.
According to a research study, procrastination can be explained as the pre-eminence of a short-term repair of the mood over the longer-term aspiration of planned actions. In other words, procrastination isn’t about getting on with the task but about staying more concentrated on handling negative moods.
The nature of our antipathy typically depends on the situation we are in or the task we have to accomplish. It might be because the task is unpleasant itself. For instance, you don’t feel like doing a new project your boss gave you without asking your opinion. Or, it might be the result of negative feelings towards the task, including low self-esteem, self-doubt, insecurity, or anxiety. When reading the instructions for a new project, you might think that you’re not smart or professional enough to complete it. Even if you are, will your boss like it? What if you fail and lose your favorite job?
All these negative thoughts will make you believe that it’s better to put the project aside and organize your desk or check your social media feed instead. However, this negative thinking only unites the negative feelings or associations you might have with the project. The problem is, we fail to realize that those negative feelings won’t fade away and thus you’ll probably face them the next time you come back to that project.
A growing number of studies have been done on the self-blaming and ruminative thoughts, which we usually have when we procrastinate. These are procrastinatory cognitions. The truth is, the thoughts a lot of us have about putting things off until tomorrow usually reinforce our stress and distress, which worsen the act of procrastination.
When procrastinating, we often feel relief but this relief is momentary and this is what’s making the cycle particularly vicious. When you delay a task, you instantly get a reward for it. You get some free time for your social media, or your favorite show, or for sleeping. The worst thing is that when people are rewarded for something, they’re more likely to do it again. That’s the major reason why people can’t ditch a habit of procrastinating. Once a habit of putting things off becomes chronic, it will become harder to stop this habit. Many people lose their well-paid or favorite jobs because of chronic procrastination.
Moreover, chronic procrastination negatively affects our physical and mental health, triggering various diseases and conditions, including hypertension and heart disease. Chronic procrastination has been linked with low life satisfaction, general psychological distress, chronic stress, anxiety and depression, along with poor health behaviors.
Many people confess that they procrastinate in order to feel better, fight stress, or sleep more for better health. In fact, they end up feeling anxious, unhealthy, and stressed out. Procrastination can help you feel better but for a short while. After that short while, you’ll realize that your to-do list has enlarged and that boring task you were desperately trying to avoid is still must be done.
Procrastination is an ideal instance of today’s bias, as we tend to prioritize short-term desires and needs, ignoring long-term ones. When you feel an urge to procrastinate, you accept it instead of eliminating it. This is because you think you’ll feel better and thus will be able to work better. Everything happens otherwise, though.
Studies have shown that on a neural level, when we procrastinate, we don’t perceive our “future selves” as parts of ourselves but as strangers. On a neural level, we believe that task will be done by someone else or that problem will be solved itself. When we put things off, a part of the brain thinks that it’s better to do something more relaxing. In the beginning, we dismiss all the negative emotions, but then end up feeling run-down.
In the midst of procrastination-related stress, we’re unable to think and make any serious decisions. When a challenging task pops up and it makes us feel insecure or anxious, the “threat detector” area of the brain – the amygdala – sees that task as a real threat to either our well-being or self-esteem. People who intellectually recognize that procrastination is bad and it can cause serious problems down the road experience more stress than those who refuse to admit this bad habit. Whether you recognize it or not, your brain is still wired to finding a way to eliminate the threat seemingly attacking you right now.
This process is called amygdala hijack and it’s not easy to stop. You can’t just tell yourself to quit a habit of putting things off, no matter how many productivity tricks you’d try out. Elimination of the root cause of procrastination takes a lot of effort and time.
The next time you’re tempted to put your tasks off until tomorrow, pay your attention to the sensations and feelings thriving in your body and mind. What are the sensations that elicit your temptation? What do those sensations remind you of? Do they make you feel happy or depressed? How are they connected with your urge to procrastinate? Once you learn your sensations and feelings that trigger procrastination, it’ll be easier to banish it.
Your task is to calm down your nerves and get rid of those feelings. It doesn’t mean you should ignore them. Recognize and accept them. If you suffer from anxiety or depression, start with treating it. Once you feel happy again, you’ll be less likely to procrastinate. Practice positive thinking on a daily basis.
Researchers also claim that people who hate their jobs tend to procrastinate more often than those who love what they do. So, reconsider your job position and see if it makes you feel depressed or anxious. Sometimes it’s the only way to stop procrastinating.
Procrastination is no joke as it can be just a hidden sign of a more serious problem like anxiety or depression. It may also be a sign it’s time to quit your job. Procrastination has nothing to do with laziness, keep it in mind.