Why People Procrastinate
There are a few different reasons why people tend to procrastinate, but one big reason includes how people see themselves in the world, also known as rules and assumptions. Rules and assumptions guide our behaviour, and aren’t necessarily a bad thing. For example, the assumption that “If I commit a crime, then I will be punished,” is a pretty useful one to have. It helps keep us out of trouble. Rules and assumptions become unhelpful when they are inaccurate and inflexible; these would include words like “should” or “must”. There’s a few very common ones associated with procrastination.
I need to be in charge
People who have rules about being in charge will often think things to themselves like:
- I must be in charge at all times
- I must call the shots in my life
- Things should be done my way
- I shouldn’t have to do things that I don’t want
These are reflective of someone who dislikes or resents not being in control or in power. This person likely assumes that if they are not 100% in control of what they do, then they are weak. So if a superior (like a boss or teacher) asks this person to do something, the person may feel angry that they aren’t the one in control, using procrastination in an attempt to take control back. It allows them the opportunity to do things on their terms instead of on the other person’s terms.
For others, the most important thing in their life is experiencing pleasure. These people tend to be impulsive and do not tolerate boredom very well. They will often think things to themselves like:
- Life is too short to be doing things that are boring and hard
- If I forgo fun, then I will become a boring lifeless drone
These are reflective of someone who has a need for instant gratification and don’t believe in “short term pain for long term gain.” These people often get bored and frustrated when faced with an uninteresting task. For them, procrastination is a way of alleviating boredom and frustration, and helping them seek out the pleasure they desire.
Fear of Failure
For some, procrastination is driven by a fear of failure. This person may often think:
- I must do things perfectly
- I must not fail
- If I try, then I will only fail
- If I put my work out there, others will only think badly of me when they see how bad it is
- If I succeed, then more will be expected of me, and I won’t be able to cut it.
For this person, they assume that when their work is going to be evaluated, that it will be evaluated in a negative way; their fear of not being perfect paralyses them in anxiety and fear. They then come to the conclusion, that if they never follow through with the task, then they can’t be judged negatively or fail. A fear of success is actually the same thing; it’s just a fear of failure in disguise. Therefore, by procrastinating, they are actually alleviating their intense experience of anxiety and fear.
Fear of Uncertainty or Catastrophe
For others, they procrastinate because of a fear of the unknown. They’d often think to themself:
- I must be certain
- I should be prepared for the worst
- If I take action, the something bad will happen.
- I’m better off just not doing anything than risk it going bad
Very rarely are we ever 100% of how something will turn out in life, especially when related to things like health check ups, confronting a relationship problem, having to make decision, etc. Procrastination is a way of alleviating the fear that something that could lead to a catastrophic outcome. If they don’t do anything, then nothing changes, and if nothing changes, then nothing catastrophic can happen (at least for now).
Low Self Confidence
Some people don’t think very much of themselves, and may think:
- I can’t do things because I’m incapable
- If I try things, then my inadequacies will show through
When these people are faced with a task that requires a bit of self-confidence such as tackling a new work responsibility, starting a new course, or confronting someone, they will believe that they can’t do it, leaving them feeling depressed. By procrastinating, they don’t have to face the fact that they may not be able to do something and avoid feeling inadequate; however, because they never challenge themselves, they don’t actually know what they’re made of.
When life becomes tough, others don’t think they have are capable of completing certain things. They may think:
- I can’t do things when I’m stressed/fatigued/unmotivated/depressed
- I must rest when my energy is low
- If I do things when I’m stressed/fatigued/depressed, then I will just make things worse
For these people, they believe that they are incapable of doing anything when experience tough times. They use procrastination as a way of rebuilding energy to get rid of their exhaustion, with the idea that if they rest rather than do, things will somehow get better.
Stay tuned next week, when we’ll talk about the consequences of procrastination.
This blog post was adapted from Module 2: Understanding Procrastination Part II.