In the words of Victor Kiam, the man who liked the shaver so much that he bought the company, “Procrastination is opportunities’ assassin”.
In it’s purest form, the word literally means to put something forward for tomorrow. Psychologists often cite such behaviour as a mechanism for coping with the anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision. Why is it that we don’t put off “procrastinating”? We just go ahead and do it when the feeling comes. Perhaps if we found out what we are getting by procrastinating, (as all behaviour gives us something or we wouldn’t do it), we could look for that in other things we are putting off. Just a thought!
Procrastination may result in undue stress, a sense of shame and crisis, severe loss of personal productivity, as well as the social stigma that comes with not meeting responsibilities or commitments. These feelings combined may promote further procrastination, therefore forming a spiraling downwards into an even deeper depth of despair. While it is regarded as normal for people to procrastinate to some degree, it becomes a problem when it impedes normal functioning. Chronic procrastination may be a sign of an underlying psychological disorder.
Causes of procrastination
The psychological causes of procrastination vary greatly, but generally surround issues of anxiety, low sense of self-worth, and a self-sabotage mentality. Procrastinators are also thought to have a lower-than-normal level of conscientiousness, more based on the “dreams and wishes” of perfection or achievement in contrast to a realistic appreciation of their obligations and potential.
Research on the physiological roots of procrastination mostly surrounds the role of the prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain is responsible for executive brain functions such as planning, impulse control, attention, and acts as a filter by decreasing distracting stimuli from other brain regions. Damage or low activation in this area can reduce an individual’s ability to filter out distracting stimuli, ultimately resulting in poorer organization, a loss of attention and increased procrastination.
Perfectionism gives power to the procrastinator
Traditionally, procrastination has been associated with perfectionism, a tendency to negatively evaluate outcomes and one’s own performance, intense fear and avoidance of evaluation of one’s abilities by others, heightened social self-consciousness and anxiety, recurrent low mood, and “workaholism”.
Which type of Procrastinator are you?
The relaxed type
The relaxed type of procrastinators view their responsibilities negatively and avoid them by directing energy into other tasks. It is common, for example, for relaxed type procrastinating children to abandon schoolwork but not their social lives. Students often see projects as a whole rather than breaking them into smaller parts. This type of procrastination is a form of denial or cover-up; therefore, typically no help is being sought. Furthermore, they are also unable to defer gratification. The procrastinator avoids situations that would cause displeasure, indulging instead in more enjoyable activities. In Freudian terms, such procrastinators refuse to renounce the pleasure principle, instead sacrificing the reality principle. They may not appear to be worried about work and deadlines, but this is simply an evasion of the work that needs to be completed. They ignore the time needed for their preparation for examinations. Their logical mind will give reasons to procrastinate.
The tense-afraid type
The tense-afraid type of procrastinators usually feel overwhelmed with pressure, unrealistic about time, uncertain about goals, and many other negative feelings. They may feel a sense of malaise. Feeling that they lack the ability or focus to successfully complete their work, they tell themselves that they need to unwind and relax, that it’s better to take it easy for the afternoon, for example, and start afresh in the morning. They usually have grandiose plans that aren’t realistic. Their ‘relaxing’ is often temporary and ineffective, and leads to even more stress as time runs out, deadlines approach and the person feels increasingly guilty and apprehensive. This behavior becomes a cycle of failure and delay, as plans and goals are put off, penciled into the following day or week in the diary again and again. It can also have a debilitating effect on their personal lives and relationships. Since they are uncertain about their goals, they often feel awkward with people who appear confident and goal-oriented, which can lead to depression. Tense-afraid procrastinators often withdraw from social life, avoiding contact even with close friends.
How do I overcome procrastination and become productive?
Over my many years of working in the arena of human behaviour, including the 48 years I have been dealing with my own, I have studied many great psychologists and experts who have given me strategies to utilise. The biggest challenge for the procrastinator is that information can sometimes become something else we put off using. I could easily recommend many books that you may never read, send you video links you may never watch, or give you a checklist of things to do or not do that may add to your feeling of overwhelm. Before any of this would be of any use to you, first you must find out what pain you are avoiding by procrastinating, what you are missing out on by procrastinating, and then way up the balance and see if it is worth the effort.
Over the coming weeks we will journey together in our quest to become someone who embraces imperfection and just has a go, feeling the fear and doing it anyway, taking responsibility for our inaction and moving to a whole new level of self awareness. Not everyone will get on the bus and, even of those who do, not all will stay for the whole journey, but I promise you, if you stick with it, your life will change forever.
Have an amazingly productive week….enjoying imperfection…you deserve it!
The People Builder