Procrastination is a relatively popular term these days and is often used as a substitute for laziness. However, this type of behavior has nothing to do with typical inactivity. Almost all of us procrastinate at some point. For many, this problem does not affect their quality of life. But if you find that you are constantly putting off responsibilities and then regretting it and facing negative consequences, you can get into a negative cycle. There are several ways to fight the procrastination of important tasks. What is procrastination? Is procrastination related to perfectionism?
WHAT IS PROCRASTINATION?
Procrastination is one of the defense mechanisms that involves constant, even irrational delay in performing a task or activity. Typical behavior of this condition is pushing back deadlines for school work, important phone calls, or simple house cleaning. Procrastination is accompanied by constant self-reproach and resolutions that “I will really do it tomorrow!” However, when a new day comes and your work is still not moving, you become angry with yourself again and feel great regret. Does this sound familiar to you?
According to a 2014 study on procrastination and coping with workload, 20-25% of adults worldwide are chronic procrastinators. The problem may be related to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, ADHD, and poor study habits. Procrastination is also associated with negative functioning and risks to mental health. People who procrastinate tend to have high levels of anxiety as well as poor impulse control. Procrastination is even associated with physical illness. People who delay responsibilities experience more stress and tend to postpone treatment, which can cause a cycle of poor health due to putting things off.
Studies consistently show that our level of stress is higher due to procrastination. Scientists believe that procrastination has increased in recent years. One important factor determining this behavior is the emphasis and development of technology. However, procrastination has been reported as a behavior throughout human history. There are several reasons why you may still be procrastinating on a given task: a feeling of boredom, lack of faith in your abilities, fear and anxiety, social anxiety, perfectionism, and distractions.
Paradoxically, the most common problem with procrastination is found in people who are very ambitious, have learned perfectionism from childhood and cannot fail. Learning through mistakes and success is one of the most natural mechanisms for humans, but not in this case. To avoid failure, the procrastinator avoids any activity for as long as possible. In this way, he/she consciously diverts attention from problems and focuses on temporary distractions, such as watching TV series or shopping. When the procrastinator finally starts their task, they often do it inaccurately and hastily. This allows them to have a safety net of their own perfectionism – “I did it badly because I didn’t have enough time. If I had, I would have done it much better.”
The closer the deadline, the worse your work becomes. Procrastinators very often have a problem with properly assessing the time they will need to complete a task. The result is that they start working on it too late, which results in increased stress, anxiety, and a desire to escape disappointment in themselves.
Procrastination in Children and Adults
Children can procrastinate for the same reasons as adults: they may be afraid of making mistakes, or they may want to avoid an unpleasant task in the short term, only to struggle with it later on.
It’s important to keep in mind that children who procrastinate may not be clear on what is expected of them. For example, a child who procrastinates on turning in a homework assignment may have unclear instructions. If you notice that your child is procrastinating, be patient and explain your expectations clearly to them.
On the other hand, children who chronically procrastinate may have a tendency toward this behavior because it has worked for them in the past. It’s important for parents and other caregivers to enforce healthy habits and help children develop them. Studies show that young people procrastinate more often than older age groups.
In fact, it seems that many people grow out of procrastination as they mature. A 2016 study that analyzed procrastination across several different age groups found that procrastination was highest in 14- to 29-year-olds, the youngest group studied. The same study reported that people procrastinate less as they age. Researchers believe that the decline is related to personality development, changes in time perception, and increased coping abilities to handle stress.
In particular, people tend to develop more conscientiousness as they age. Individuals with this personality trait tend to be careful and thorough. Conscientiousness is associated with several positive aspects of life, from job fulfillment to healthy relationships. The more conscientious a person is, the less likely they are to procrastinate. Another reason why older people may procrastinate less is the awareness that time is limited. Young people tend to have abstract thoughts about time. As people become more aware of their own mortality, they realize that they cannot put off what needs to be done indefinitely.
Delaying important tasks affects both personal and professional life. The most characteristic feature that always accompanies procrastination is living in constant fear and stress of deadlines that haunt you. Feelings of disappointment, regret, or even self-hatred often go hand in hand with procrastination.
Its main symptom, however, is persistent delay in performing more or less important tasks and replacing them with something else. Browsing Facebook, binge-watching a new series, or spending hours shopping are just some of the disruptive elements that a procrastinator uses on a daily basis. Their goal is to alleviate guilt and temporarily improve their mood.
IS PROCRASTINATION RELATED TO MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS?
It is important to know that procrastination is not a sign of laziness. Although procrastination itself is not considered a mental health condition or illness, it is associated with mental health problems. Several studies have linked procrastination to depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. According to the American Psychological Association, procrastination may also play a role in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and several other conditions. When procrastinating and worrying about mental health, it can be difficult to know what comes first. Symptoms of mental illness, such as obsessive thoughts and fatigue, can make tasks harder to complete. On the other hand, procrastination can cause stress, which leads to concerns about mental health.
Procrastination and self-regulation When people choose short-term rewards over long-term benefits, they may have problems with self-regulation. Self-regulation involves behaviors such as our ability to plan ahead or stop before we react to a particular stimulus. It also plays a role in substance use disorders and other conditions that involve impulse control.
Procrastination and mood In an article examining 20 years of procrastination studies, the Association for Psychological Science points out that procrastination involves an inability to regulate mood and emotions. When we stay on task, even if that task evokes fear, we manage challenging emotions. Many mental health conditions, including bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety, can make mood regulation more difficult. Chronic procrastinators express their needs and concerns less often. Procrastination is associated with less behavior seeking mental health care, including delays in seeking professional help. All of this leads to greater anxiety, making it important to identify and address procrastination.
When procrastination indicates anxiety Avoiding tasks out of fear of an unpleasant outcome is a sign of anxiety. For example, when people fear the outcome, they may put off studying for a test or certification, or avoid taking the test altogether. People with anxiety may also struggle with perfectionism. In this case, they may feel “stuck” on a project if they feel they are not doing it as well as possible. They may delay completing a task if they don’t have the best ideas, or if they think they will achieve less than the highest grade. People with anxiety may have a tendency to feel overwhelmed, which can make it difficult to start a task. When we perceive information overload, it can be difficult to know where to start.
The role of procrastination in depression People with depression tend to dwell on negative thoughts and have self-doubt. They are more likely to struggle with low self-esteem and believe they cannot complete a given task. Lower energy levels and difficulty with motivation are also two common symptoms of depression. If someone can’t muster the energy to complete a task, it may be easier to put it off until they feel better. With depression, however, it can be difficult to judge whether or when someone feels motivated enough to complete what they need to do. They may also think about past procrastination and lack self-compassion, which can deepen the cycle of postponing things. Indecision is another symptom of depression that contributes to procrastination.
Procrastination and ADHD
Procrastination is a symptom of the inattentive type of ADHD (as opposed to the hyperimpulsive type).
Individuals with the inattentive presentation of ADHD – as well as those with the combined presentation of inattentive and hyperimpulsive types of ADHD – may struggle with attention regulation, organization, and be easily distracted. They may also struggle with aspects of executive functioning, including working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control. All of these factors can interfere with initiating and completing tasks.
Hyperfocus is another symptom of ADHD that can contribute to procrastination. When individuals become extremely absorbed in tasks they enjoy, they are more likely to avoid less compelling obligations. They become so engrossed in the exciting activity that they lose track of time or lose awareness of their environment.
PROCRASTINATION-HOW TO FIGHT IT?
Procrastination and the associated long-term stress can lead to depression, neuroses, and other psychiatric disorders. Let’s fight it. How?
First, think about the reasons for your passivity and reluctance to act. Is it a result of a fear of responsibility or perhaps a desire to escape important decisions? Procrastination becomes a habit over time, and any other habit can change.
Unfortunately, overcoming procrastination requires rebuilding habits and forcing oneself to enforce them at the beginning. So grit your teeth and persevere!
Important: If you are struggling with depression or neurosis in addition to procrastination, consult a professional (psychologist or therapist).