Why do people have this marked tendency to procrastinate? To understand this, we must try to understand the phenomenon of procrastination , that tendency that we sometimes manifest in our daily lives, which can be summarized as “procrastination”.
Procrastination: what is it? The definition itself is simple, it consists of putting off what we have to do: put the washing machine on, study for the language test, the tax return…
But the mere act of delaying something is not procrastinating, the concept of procrastination carries in its own definition an absurd delay, it is not postponing because it makes sense in a certain context, it is doing it irrationally, sabotaging our interests .
The person who lives obsessed with completing any task at the first opportunity can be as dysfunctional as the one who leaves everything to the last moment, neither one nor the other plans their time intelligently. Overcoming procrastination implies making intelligent use of one’s time , aimed at achieving one’s objectives.
It is in the choice of what you will do now and what you will leave for later that procrastination lies, not in procrastination itself.
But if we know that procrastinating takes us away from our goals, why do we do it?
It appears that both genetic and environmental factors explain procrastination.
On the one hand, this is a phenomenon common to all cultures and times in history. It is a trend that affects slightly more men (54%) than women (46%), is observed more among young people and decreases with age.
According to the data provided by science, most of it is explained by genetics; however, the environment also contributes powerfully to our compulsive postponement of our chores.
So much so that modern life has turned procrastination into an epidemic that has consequences at a personal, organizational level and even makes itself felt in a country’s economy.
According to survey data, 95% of people admit that they take procrastine, and one in four admit that they take it constantly. Procrastination is a habit and as such tends to last.
One might think that it is because of perfectionism, never finish things because of the obsession that they are perfect, but the truth is that the data indicates otherwise.
For a long time it was believed that procrastination and perfectionism went hand in hand , this error can be explained by the fact that perfectionists who procrastinate are those who tend to ask for help in therapy (and that is where the data came from), but there are many other people who are perfectionists who do not go to therapy and who do not get into the habit of procrastination. In particular, a much more fundamental role is that of impulsivity: living impatiently in the now and wanting everything right now.
The role of impulsivity
Self-control and delayed reward have a lot to do with impulsiveness and this makes it very difficult for us to have a bad time for the sake of a future reward.
Very impulsive people tend to be disorganized, easily distracted, have difficulty controlling their impulses, find it hard to be persistent, as well as to work methodically.
This difficulty in planning and this easy distractibility makes them perfect victims of procrastination.
Impulsive people try to get out of a task that causes them anxiety , they get distracted, they push it away from their conscience. Excuses and self-deceptions are common.
This seems very logical, of course, as we generally try to avoid suffering. However, this only makes sense if we look at things in the short term, because in the long term this leads to even greater suffering. Avoiding the unpleasant routine check-up by the doctor can lead to the detection of prostate cancer when it is already too late.
Sometimes the pressure of all we have to do is so distressing that we give ourselves over to distracting tasks so that we don’t think about what’s on our minds. It often happens that we are doing something that deep down we know we shouldn’t be doing because there is something more important and priority to attend to. This means that we are not doing what we should not be doing and that we do not enjoy this time of relaxation either, because our conscience constantly reminds us of our obligations .
However, impulsiveness does not explain everything, procrastination is due to multiple causes.
The procrastination triad
Expectations, courage and time are the pillars that support this type of self-sabotage.
Expectation refers to our confidence in the achievement of our goals and while procrastination is sometimes linked to overconfidence, the opposite is much more common. That is, if what we are pursuing seems to us that we cannot assume, we simply give up . Impotence, seeing oneself as incapable, leads us to stop trying.
This leads us to a state of decay and frustration known as learned helplessness, in which we surrender to circumstances because we believe ourselves incapable of changing anything and stop fighting. This phenomenon is closely linked to depression.
In the end this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: believing that we won’t be able to make it, makes us give up. When we stop trying effectively we become capable and that confirms our beliefs about ourselves. It is a vicious circle.
The value has to do with how attractive we find what we are putting off. Usually our procrastination list is filled with boring tasks such as washing the dishes, learning those endless articles of constitution or doing the Christmas shopping. Of course, the value of each thing depends on one’s appetite and some people tend to procrastinate more than others.
Since it’s easier to put off something we don’t like, that doesn’t motivate us , the less value a task has for oneself the less likely it is that we will start doing it.
The lack of pleasant value makes other more pleasant activities distract us and thus we easily get distracted and avoid more stimulating things, postponing as much as possible the tasks that seem to us to be soporific.
The time factor
Time leads us to procrastination because we choose immediate gratification , because we are more tempted by a reward that materializes immediately, even if it is small, than by fighting for a long-term goal, even if it provides us with greater benefit.
Impulsivity, which we talked about before, is what is behind all this, and some other traits linked to the impulsive temperament are lack of meticulousness, low self-control and propensity to distraction.
Acting without thinking, not being able to have feelings under control … leads to procrastination.
The time factor makes us see tomorrow’s goals and rewards in an abstract way, so much so that it takes away from reality. On the other hand, everything that has to do with today is more concrete and that makes it seem more real to us.
Procrastination is a deep-rooted habit that can cause large doses of suffering, leads to distraction and distraction from our goals . It is closely linked to impulsivity and time management, it is influenced by the value of the reward we pursue and by the beliefs we have regarding our own abilities.
Author’s note: this article should have been published last month, but I’ve been procrastinating. In the next article I will talk about some useful clues to overcome this self-sabotage.
- Steel, P. (2010). The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done. Canada: Random House Canada.