Why do we procrastinate?

The reasons for procrastination are a mystery to many

I went over what procrastination is in the first part of this series. Now it’s time to talk about the reasons for it. 

How come we’re aware that procrastination doesn’t help, yet we can’t stop doing it? What are the psychological reasons for it? Why do we procrastinate?

Reasons for procrastination

“Your problem isn’t working, it’s the habit of avoiding.” -Mel Robbins

Procrastination can have varying causes. Even experts in the field pursue different theories as to why we procrastinate.

Generally, procrastination is a way of self-sabotaging to protect oneself. Your subconscious mind is saving present you from pain and discomfort by screwing future you over.

Let’s go over a list of possible reasons for procrastination. Keep in mind that most of the reasons are subconscious and you won’t always know what exactly is causing you to procrastinate.

  • Mental discomfort. Stress can completely kill your motivation and drive to get stuff done. When you’re stuck thinking about something else, you probably won’t be productive.
  • Fear of failure. You might procrastinate on the work required to get closer to your biggest dreams because you are afraid that you’ll find out you don’t have what it takes to achieve them. Social expectations are also a huge factor here.
  • Fear of success. Similar to the fear of failure, you might fear the changes that will come along with success. For example, you could procrastinate on starting your career as a musician because you’d be afraid to play in front of big crowds once you’re successful.
  • Boredom and disinterest. Some tasks suck but need to be done. No amount of self-help and motivation will make you love doing the dishes if you don’t enjoy doing the dishes.
  • Resistance. You might be procrastinating on a task because it was imposed on you, or because you can make someone else’s life harder by doing the task later.
  • Perfectionism. Related to the fear of failure comes perfectionism. Your standards for a given task might be so high that you’re procrastinating on starting it. Here, procrastination serves as a self-defense mechanism for your self-worth and “saves” you from doing a sub-par job by not doing a job at all until it’s too late to do the task perfectly. At that point, you’ll already have an excuse (I couldn’t do this perfectly because I only started 2 hours ago)
  • Lack of knowledge. Not knowing how to do a task can make it seem way more complicated than it is, increasing fear of failure. Even if you have what it takes, you can still fall into the trap of analysis paralysis. This is a huge problem in the self-improvement scene. So many people know exactly what they need to do to have a better life, but they keep reading guides and buying books to learn more so they can do a better job. Truth is they are procrastinating because of the work and discomfort required to change their life. I was like this for months before I finally realized that changing your mindset and knowledge is great, but almost worthless without taking action.

Those are just some of the many possible causes of procrastination.

It’s important to note that you do not procrastinate because you are a lazy, depressed, or a weak person. Procrastination is merely a defense mechanism that occurs in successful people just as much as in less successful people.

In fact, common traits among successful people, such as perfectionism and fear of failure, are direct causes of procrastination.

Coping Mechanisms

The thing about procrastination is that we know when we are doing it most of the time. However, we use coping mechanisms to lessen the guilt of doing so. Some of them are:

Avoidance

Avoiding the situation or place where the task takes place (not going near your desk so you don’t think about studying)

Denial

Pretending that the procrastinatory behavior is actually more important than what you are procrastinating on.

Distraction

Engaging in behaviors that take the focus off the task that needs to be done. This often manifests in the form of browsing social media or playing video games.

Descending counterfactuality

Comparing the consequences of one’s procrastinatory behavior with others’ worse situations (Yes, I procrastinated and got a B− in the course, but I didn’t fail like that other student did.)

Valorization

Pointing in satisfaction to what one achieved in the meantime while one should have been doing something else.

Blaming

Attributing the procrastination to outside factors out of one’s control. (I’m not procrastinating, but this assignment is tough.)

Mocking

Using humor to validate the procrastination. Often this manifests in making fun of other people for striving towards the goal. (source)

 

Going through this list made me understand how often I and others around me engage in those behaviors without even realizing it.

So I printed it out and hung it above my desk. I go through it regularly, especially when I get that creeping feeling of guilt. Am I blaming the circumstances? Trying to distract myself? Convincing myself that I am actually not procrastinating? Answering those questions has helped ground me and catch my procrastinatory behavior lots of times. I can only recommend you try something similar yourself.

Conclusion

As you can see, the real reasons for procrastination are much more complex than just being lazy. It is helpful to be aware of some of the causes when you’re trying to be productive.

The next and last part of this series is an in-depth look at how to stop procrastinating. you can check it out here

 

Did this article help you? Is there anything you’d like to add or discuss? Please let me know in the comments!

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