A Dangerous Delay

Procrastination can be caused by many factors, ranging from poor judgement to low self-esteem.

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photo courtesy of jamesclear.com

Oftentimes, procrastinating can be more painful than just completing the task at hand.

Kristen Kinzler, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Whenever you have an assignment or project, the world tends to feel like it’s suddenly full of possibilities. You could scroll through Instagram or turn on your favorite show on Netflix. You could go for a run, or clean your room, or even just stare at the wall of your bedroom for a few hours. How can you work when there are so many other pressing matters to attend to?

All the while, you know you’re ignoring your responsibilities. You know you should get to work. You hear that incessant voice in the back of your head nagging you to do something– anything– productive. But for some reason, it just feels fundamentally impossible.

Procrastination is an intrinsic part of human nature. While it may feel like a modern issue, our tendency to push things off until the last minute has been around for as long as humans have had work to do. In 800 BC, Greek poet Hesiod warned his followers not to “put your work off till tomorrow and the day after.”

Oftentimes, procrastination is seen as something we can control. Chronic procrastinators are labelled as lazy, and proper time management is supposed to be procrastination’s antidote. One of its most frustrating aspects is that it’s self-inflicted. Most of the time, when we procrastinate, we know they’ll end up regretting it later. Short-term relief, it appears, outweighs long-term consequences.

However, the reasons we may push back our responsibilities are often more complex than simple apathy. 

Some psychologists are beginning to explore how our emotions surrounding a task impact when we complete it. Naturally, if someone dislikes something they must do, they’ll try to avoid it. But if that person feels insecure about their abilities, chronic procrastination can occur.

Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem,” Dr. Tim Pychyl, a psychologist at Carleton University, told the New York Times.

Many studies suggest that individuals with anxiety, depression, or other mental illnesses are more likely to avoid their responsibilities. If a person has negative emotions about themselves, it can impact the motivation they have to complete a task. A term called psychological distress also tends to be one of the main causes of procrastination.

Additionally, while they may seem like contradictory mental patterns, perfectionism and procrastination actually tend to be connected. The theory is that perfectionists need everything they do to be flawlessly, so they’d rather push off a task than perform poorly. A poor outcome is likely their worst nightmare.

Kristen Kinzler

That also explains why procrastinators aren’t always inadequate students. Many high achievers may procrastinate simply because they fear failure. If you’ve been impeccable your whole life and you’re presented with a challenge, the stakes might feel even higher.

For other students, however, procrastinating can emerge from insecurities regarding classes that make them feel inadequate. It can be avoiding writing an essay that you know you’ll be graded especially harshly on, or it can be neglecting the math homework you already know you don’t know how to do. 

Such procastination only makes matters worse. Psychologists say that, as we actively push off tasks, we actually just feel more anxious. Then, we blame ourselves for not being responsible, and we feel guilty. This influx of negative emotions causes us to procrastinate even more, creating a vicious cycle.

This is especially concerning because studies show that chronic procrastination can lead to higher stress levels, worse mental and physical health, poorer grades at school, and even lower salaries at work.

Of course, every person has a slight tendency to procrastinate, and most of the time, it’s just a harmless aspect of being human. But when procrastination becomes consistent and debilitating, it often has other causes. Treating those factors can be the first step in addressing the issue.

Experts suggest that one of the main ways to avoid procrastination is to allow yourself to make mistakes sometimes. Doing a task imperfectly is better than not doing it at all. One of the only good things about procrastination is that you can control it. If you acclimate yourself to doing tasks, even if you don’t feel like you’re doing them perfectly, you’ll be more likely to just get them done in the future. 

Whether your procrastination stems from bad judgement or low self-esteem, most experts have the same advice: do your best to push through it. ”

Another perk is that if you normally hold yourself to a particularly high standard, even your unpolished work is likely to be good enough. 

Practicing self-compassion can also help to fight against procrastination. Self-compassion basically means that instead of scolding yourself over your mistakes, you try to give yourself some patience and kindness. A simple rule of thumb is to react to your own actions like you would to a friend’s.

A study conducted in 2012 found that people who practiced more self-compassion tended to have less negative emotions and therefore handled their challenges more responsibly. 

Whether your procrastination stems from bad judgement or low self-esteem, most experts have the same advice: do your best to push through it. 

Sometimes, that can mean making completing your goal as unavoidable as possible. Delete the social media apps off your phone for a few hours to avoid distractions. Put your tennis shoes and gym bag by your front door so they’re accessible. Do the homework for your least favorite subject first, just to get it out of the way.

But pushing through procrastination can also be reminding yourself that you are capable and adequate and worthy of the work you’re doing. It can be allowing yourself to make mistakes and offering yourself the forgiveness you probably deserve.

Either way, no matter how tempting it may be to do literally anything else when you’re given an unattractive task, not procrastinating means you’re actually just doing future-you a big favor. You’ll thank yourself later.