It's happened again. Despite our best-laid plans, and the greatest of intentions, we find ourselves scrambling to complete a task at the 11th hour. We had promised ourselves that this wouldn't recur; yet here we are again, racing against time, feeling frustrated and guilty once more.
All of us procrastinate at times. Some of us do it more often than others and some of us make it a habit. If you've had enough of your procrastination, but don't know how to stop the cycle, it may be helpful to start with understanding why we do it.
In "The Feeling Good Handbook,” David Burns identifies 10 reasons that contribute to our procrastination:
Putting the Cart before the Horse: Many of us feel that we should wait until we are in the mood before starting, not recognizing that getting in the mood may never happen. Oddly enough, motivation often occurs once we start taking action. It's the getting started that is the main thing. So, to borrow Nike's mantra, the best solution is to “Just Do It!” Start by planning to spend just 5 or 10 minutes on the task and see what happens.
The Mastery Model: If the task is more challenging than we had originally thought, we may give up on it. We may complain, “It's too hard. I don't understand. I don't know how to do it,” as we abandon our work for an easier task, like scrolling through our TikTok account. How to counteract this? Breaking things down into manageable bite size pieces is a start. And recognizing that working hard on the hard things in life is often much more rewarding than taking the easy way out.
Fear of Failure: If success is our ultimate goal, we may believe that our self-worth is tied up with how successful we are. We may equate the possibility of failure with criticism and rejection by others. It is often easier to blame ourselves for laziness than to admit the possibility that we might not succeed in something. So rather than run that risk, we just keep deferring our work. To counter this, Burns recommends that we perform a cost-benefit analysis to determine the advantages and disadvantages of procrastinating. By recognizing the costs, we can help avoid this type of self-sabotage in the future.
Perfectionism: Perfectionism is closely connected to the fear of failure. Perfectionists strive for the impossible. We are overwhelmed with unrealistic expectations and continuously feel disappointed by unattainable goals. By making our goals more realistic, we can simplify the job and reduce our resistance.
Lack of Rewards: For those of us who are self-critical, we may never get that sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in what we do. Even though we may be receiving extrinsic rewards for a job well done, unless we believe it ourselves, we may not be able to motivate ourselves to do what needs to be done. Without that intrinsic reward system, taking on another task may feel pointless. Building in a set of tangible rewards after completion of a job may help, but challenging our negative thoughts will have an even longer lasting effect.
Should Statements: If our mental tapes are full of “shoulds,” “oughts,” “musts” and “have-tos,” we probably spend much of our lives feeling guilty and resentful. The more resentful we feel, the more we may resist doing the things we need to do. Removing the “shoulds” will clear the way for seeing the “wants” in our lives and may make doing things much easier.
Passive Aggressiveness: Unable to tell people what we really think, we may use procrastination as a way of expressing our anger towards others. Consistently turning up late to meetings, postponing responses until they're too late and “forgetting” to do things are convenient ways of “sticking it” to the other. Learning to be honest about our feelings and openly expressing them is not easy, but has infinite rewards.
Unassertiveness: If we are unassertive, we may take on more than we should because of our difficulty in saying no. By procrastinating, we find a way of refusing without speaking the words. Learning to say no, setting limits and taking care of our needs may be hard for those of us who have grown up feeling unentitled, but it's well worth learning how to do.
Coercion Sensitivity: We may procrastinate because we feel rebellious towards whomever is placing demands on us. We don't resist doing things as much as we resist being told or asked to do things. However, we may be defeating our own purposes in an attempt to resist being controlled. Talking about your feelings with the other may help to resolve the issue.
Lack of Desire: Sometimes we procrastinate simply because we just don't want to do what we need to do. Admitting this fact can go a long way in understanding the obstacles in our way and in ridding ourselves of them.