Why we procrastinate

Procrastination is a problem that affects pretty much all of us. In fact, 95% of us procrastinate. 20% of us are what are called ‘chronic procrastinators’. We procrastinate to the point where there are serious negative effects in critical life areas. Careers, health, financial wellbeing, and relationships suffer. So what exactly is procrastination? And why do we do it, even though we know that it will often leads to regret at not having started earlier.

How We Procrastinate

Procrastination is avoiding or putting off tasks – that our better judgement tells us we should do now. More often than not, we procrastinate by doing other tasks. All of a sudden, cleaning out that cupboard or rearranging our desktop seems much more important. Watching that YouTube video on some randomers prediction as to the ending of Game of Thrones is now unexpectedly much more enjoyable than before. This is how procrastination differs from laziness. When we are lazy we do less of the task we should be doing – or simply nothing. Yet, when we procrastinate we generally distract ourselves with other menial tasks such as cleaning or watching content which normally wouldn’t interest us. Why on earth would we do this?

The why.
How we procrastinate gives a hint about why we procrastinate. In its essence, procrastination is an emotional problem. We procrastinate because of how we feel. In turn, we feel the way we do because of how we think. What we believe leads us to feel certain emotions. These emotions lead us to procrastinate. It is trying to avoid these emotions that causes us to try and distract ourselves. We distract ourselves by doing other tasks – such as tidying or watching Youtube.

Three major emotions: anxiety, boredom and frustration underlie most procrastination. These emotions are caused by two cognitive processes (ways of thinking). The first, Ego disturbance causes us to feel anxious. Ego disturbance is simply when we beat ourselves up, or chastise ourselves, for not living up to our own expectations. We believe we will fail to meet our own expectations and we feel anxious about it. This causes us to avoid the task. For example we might think “I won’t be able to do it” or I won’t do it well/perfectly”.

The second cognitive process which leads us to procrastinate is ‘Low Frustration Tolerance’. This is when we believe that we won’t be able to cope with, or shouldn’t have to cope with, the boring or mundane nature of certain tasks. Again, this belief causes us to avoid the task. For example, the employee who avoids doing that mundane or annoying task that their boss has given them. They often think: ‘It’s stupid’ or ‘I shouldn’t have to do this’. This thought leads them to get frustrated or bored, and avoid doing that task. Often it would be much easier and painless to just do it now. Another classic example of procrastination is when we act as the ‘crisis maker’. The crisis maker believes “I can’t perform unless I’m under pressure”. Typical crisis-maker behavior includes leaving an important task until the last minute. They think they will feel bored without the stress and pressure of having to do it ‘under the gun’.

So we procrastinate because of our beliefs. These beliefs cause us to feel anxious through doubting our capabilities. Or, these beliefs cause us to feel bored or frustrated. We think we shouldn’t have to do the task, or at least we shouldn’t have to do it now. Regarding what to do about this – I’ll address that in my next blog post!

Hope that some of you find that useful

Jayson