Are you procrastinating or not? What is procrastination? Well, I too had these questions, so I decided to read more on this topic. Here is what the article I read on New York Times Classics explains… When we procrastinate, we’re not only aware that we’re avoiding the task in question, but also that doing so is probably a bad idea. And yet, we do it anyway.
“This is why we say that procrastination is essentially irrational,” said Dr. Fuschia Sirois, professor of psychology at the University of Sheffield. “It doesn’t make sense to do something you know is going to have negative consequences. People engage in this irrational cycle of chronic procrastination because of an inability to manage negative moods around a task.”
Wait. We procrastinate because of bad moods?
In short: yes.
It is a way of coping with challenging emotions and negative moods induced by certain tasks — boredom, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, resentment, self-doubt and beyond. “Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem,” said Dr. Tim Pychyl, professor of psychology and member of the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University in Ottawa.
Over time, chronic procrastination has not only productivity costs, but measurably destructive effects on our mental and physical health, including chronic stress, general psychological distress and low life satisfaction, symptoms of depression and anxiety, poor health behaviours, chronic illness and even hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
In the case of procrastination, we have to find a better reward than avoidance — one that can relieve our challenging feelings in the present moment without causing harm to our future selves. The difficulty with breaking the addiction to procrastination in particular is that there is an infinite number of potential substitute actions that would still be forms of procrastination, Dr. Brewer said. That’s why the solution must therefore be internal, and not dependent on anything but ourselves.
One option is to forgive yourself in the moments you procrastinate. In a 2010 study, researchers found that students who were able to forgive themselves for procrastinating when studying for a first exam ended up procrastinating less when studying for their next exam. They concluded that self-forgiveness supported productivity by allowing “the individual to move past their maladaptive behaviour and focus on the upcoming examination without the burden of past acts.”
Another tactic is the related practice of self-compassion, which is treating ourselves with kindness and understanding in the face of our mistakes and failures. In a 2012 study examining the relationship between stress, self-compassion and procrastination, Dr. Sirois found that procrastinators tend to have high stress and low self-compassion, suggesting that self-compassion provides “a buffer against negative reactions to self-relevant events.”
In fact, several studies show that self-compassion supports motivation and personal growth. Not only does it decrease psychological distress, which we now know is a primary culprit for procrastination, it also actively boosts motivation, enhances feelings of self-worth and fosters positive emotions like optimism, wisdom, curiosity and personal initiative. Best of all, self-compassion doesn’t require anything external — just a commitment to meeting your challenges with greater acceptance and kindness rather than rumination and regret.
Still, procrastination is deeply existential, as it raises questions about individual agency and how we want to spend our time as opposed to how we actually do. But it’s also a reminder of our commonality — we’re all vulnerable to painful feelings, and most of us just want to be happy with the choices we make.
Excerpts taken from New York Times Classics website.