The problem with procrastination
Do you leave it until the last minute to pay a bill or take ages to book dental appointments? Have you still not got around to looking for your dream job? Or are you still waiting to start writing that novel? If so, you’re a procrastinator. Proper, ongoing procrastination is serious: it can hinder your pleasure, your career – even your health.
Worrying about things we haven’t done weakens our immune system, whether that be from insomnia or all the stress hormones flooding our body. Health-related activities are often affected by procrastination too: putting off joining a gym, booking in for a smear test, failing to have that holiday inoculation – random events that could have long-term damaging effects on your life.
Why do we do it?
1 To avoid stress:
Research in 2013 by psychologists Dr Fuschia Sirois and Dr Timothy Pychyl identified that procrastination can be a mood soother. It stops us fretting in the present about unpleasant or difficult tasks or duties we resent. While we’re procrastinating, we’re soothing our distress. The problem is that procrastination is only a short-term solution, and once we finally stop, we find ourselves still left with the unfinished task ahead.
2 To fight off fear:
Procrastination can also be about fear: of success, of failure, or simply a fear of the emptiness or boredom we may find ourselves left with once we’ve completed the task. I had a patient who had been putting off completing her university dissertation for three years. We explored her fear of leaving the safe cocoon of study and being a student. Putting things off allowed her to feel safe in the moment, and stay in a situation she felt comfortable in for as long as possible. With procrastination, we don’t have to change, grow, or self-improve.
3 We’re wired that way:
Procrastination can be linked to many psychological traits. It often goes hand-in-hand with perfectionism – we put things off to avoid or delay discovering that the end result is not as perfect as we want it to be. It can also sometimes be about anger, so try and work out whether this is your tendency.
With procrastination, acknowledge the pattern, and challenge it in your head each time you’re aware it is happening. Ask yourself: what’s going on here? Do I really need to be on Facebook again? Is loading the washing machine actually the most vital thing I need to do now? What am I afraid of that’s making me feel nervous about facing that blank page? The good news is that because procrastination is a learned response, we can unlearn it. Get started with our top 5 tips to help you stop procrastinating now.