The Real Reasons People Procrastinate and How To Stop
Procrastination refers to postponing to act or make a decision that you are supposed to make. You know how many times you have put off writing that pending report. You know that you have been delaying to organize your kitchen. Don’t even get me talking about the garage or basement and how many times you have promised that you will finally organize it!
When looked at closely, procrastination boils down to being illogical, because you know the right thing that you need to do at a certain moment but you still go ahead and opt for the wrong thing. It seems not to make sense, but on closer scrutiny, a common thread emerges to link the different manifestations of procrastination. That common denominator is that the things you postpone are linked to undesirable emotions.
If the problem is looked at in that way, procrastination becomes clearer to understand since it is possible to identify and deal with the negative emotions that cause us to avoid doing the things that we ought to do.
The 9 Causes of Procrastination
1. Task Aversion
Many people procrastinate because the decision they have to make or the action they need to take is unpleasant or undesirable. For example, if you don’t like someone, you will find yourself putting off making a needed call to that person since you don’t look forward to interacting with that individual. Just take a moment and see if you can identify some recent episodes of procrastination that you can attribute to task aversion and you will be amazed by how frequent this emotional cause of procrastination occurs!
2. Abstract or Unclear Goals
Many times, we are fired up to act by concrete goals that motivate us to reach for a desirable future. For example, many overweight people wish to reduce their weight. However, setting a goal to “lose weight” doesn’t paint a clear enough picture to drive that individual to act. In contrast, someone else who states their goal as “going to the gym on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday immediately after work, and spending at least 30 minutes running fast on a treadmill” will have a clearer picture of what they want to attain. Such a person will be more likely to follow through than the one who has a vague goal.
3. Rewards are Far Off
We are hardwired to value immediate rewards more than rewards that will be received in future. This could explain why many people find it hard to save for retirement when they are still in their twenties because the reward is decades away and yet they can get immediate satisfaction by taking a trip now or splurging on a luxurious dinner that same day. A lot of procrastination can therefore be explained by the limited attractiveness of a future reward as opposed to going against reason and doing something pleasurable now.
4. Lack of Energy
It is also possible to procrastinate because you lack the energy to do what you need to do. For example, someone whose job is very tiring may find it hard to muster the energy to go to the gym in the evening. Such a person needs to revise how they schedule their activities so that the lack of energy doesn’t lead them to indefinitely postpone important things. Such a person can go to the gym over the weekend, for instance.
A number of people may find themselves procrastinating as a result of having an impulsive nature. Such people often find themselves putting off necessary decisions or activities just so they can take part in something that has caught their fancy at that moment. For example, a student may put off preparing for a test simply because the urge to go to the beach has overtaken their desire to sit at their desk and read.
Perfectionists may also find themselves procrastinating frequently, especially as regards to showing other people what they have done. For example, a perfectionist may keep postponing to submit a report because they don’t want to do so and the recipient spots an error in that document. Perfectionists may also get caught in analysis paralysis since they don’t want to overlook anything in what they are doing. However, not all perfectionists will procrastinate. Some are driven by perfectionism to accomplish tasks in time so that they don’t attract criticism.
The inability to make an actionable decision can also lead people into procrastinating. For example, someone who decides to start dieting may procrastinate because they are finding it hard to select one of the several dieting plans available to them. Several factors can contribute to indecisiveness, such as having many options from which to select, the available options being closely related to each other to the extent that you can’t pick one over the other, and so on.
8. Focusing on Future Options
It is also possible to find yourself postponing taking action now because your attention is taken by the options that you have in future regarding that same issue. For example, you know that you need to exercise but you keep putting it off because you intend to enroll at a gym some time in future. The problem with such thinking is that you neglect something you can do now just because a future action that you plan to take will address your concern.
This is somehow related to task aversion, but it has more to do with your desire to avoid or wish away something unpleasant or something that you don’t currently have control over. For example, you may be aware that your finances aren’t in good shape and this awareness may make you become anxious each time you think of checking the bills in the mail. The bills will bring into sharper focus your financial hardship, so you procrastinate and avoid checking those bills.
It is important to identify what exactly is causing you to procrastinate because once you know the root cause, it will be easier for you to break the habit. This is by no means an easy task, since as psychologists will tell you, procrastination offers an immediate reward of avoiding something undesirable and that reward means that we tend to keep procrastinating. By looking within and finding the reason why we procrastinate, we can start the journey of breaking the habit so that we become known as men and women of action. Our next post will look at the different ways through which we can stop procrastinating. In the meantime, share in the comments some of the factors that make you to procrastinate!
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