This awareness of the negative consequences we have to face is why scientists associate procrastination with our emotions – and how much we let those emotions control our behaviour.
Research published in the journal Social and Personality Psychology Compass revealed that when we procrastinate, we give in to our desire for immediate gratification. By postponing something that makes us feel bad, we “prioritize our mood of the moment rather than the consequences of our inaction on our future.”
What is Chronic Procrastination?
It’s one thing to procrastinate from time to time because of outside stressors like a busy schedule, says Lauren Cook, a clinical psychologist and founder of Hearts Psychological Services in California.
“But when it becomes a real habit no matter what to do, it’s a sign that procrastination may have become chronic.”
We’ve all suffered the consequences of putting off a task, whether it’s missing a deadline or letting a tooth decay deteriorate a little too much.
- They always feel they are on top of others and often disappoint them.
- People around them are frustrated, leading to job losses or repeated love failures.
- They become defensive when avoiding tasks, such as blaming others or using excuses.
- They struggle with feelings of incompetence.
- People feel overwhelmed by deadlines and responsibilities.
- They spend their time on smaller, less critical tasks.
Chronic procrastinators may also be surrounded by people who allow them to behave this way, including finishing tasks for them, constantly giving them reminders, or trying to help them better manage their time. And for the procrastinator, this help is not always welcome.” You may see these people as controlling and don’t like them.
What causes Chronic Procrastination?
Another dominant feature of chronic procrastination? Once you’re caught in the gear, breaking free from it is hard.
A study published in the Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy found that negative feelings like stress, anxiety, low self-esteem and imposter syndrome lead to procrastination, making task avoidance a defence mechanism for managing these difficult emotions.
So when we put something off, we feel temporary relief. This reaction activates our brain’s gratification centre, reinforcing the habit of procrastinating. But procrastination is also rooted in our body’s response to stress.
Whether you’re afraid of success, failure, judgment, or admitting you don’t know how to do something, any form of uncertainty or doubt can cripple your ability to act.
Or you may worry about the consequences of completing a task, according to Joyce Marter. For example, postponing a difficult conversation is easier if you’re concerned about the other person’s reaction.
“I’ve seen a lot of people procrastinate when it comes time to act in situations that can advance their careers or improve their financial situation because they want their resume, business plan, website or proposal to be perfect before submitting them to someone.
But when we strive for perfection, we constantly change goals, leading to delayed results, more frustration, and often more procrastination.
Does Procrastination Harm Our Health?
The brief satisfaction we feel in procrastinating comes at a price. “The negative emotions you associate with a given task won’t go away by avoiding that task.
The Harmful Effects of Procrastination on Mental Health
It’s not just the stress surrounding a task that increases as deadlines approach. A study published in the Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy describes how chronic procrastination leads to decreased self-esteem and helps improve overall stress and anxiety in someone.
These findings depend on “procrastinatory cognitions” or negative thought patterns accompanying avoidance of a task, including shame, guilt, failure, and self-doubt
Negative thought patterns are also why procrastination can quickly become a vicious circle. “The more we procrastinate, the more we doubt our ability to accomplish tasks. In addition, it can eat away at our self-confidence.”
The impact of procrastination on physical health
From a practical point of view, postponing a doctor’s or dentist’s visit also delays the necessary medical treatments.
Yet a study by Personality and Individual Differences found that chronic procrastinators are also generally less likely to engage in wellness-focused behaviours such as maintaining good physical activity and eating a good diet.
Joyce Marter explains that stress and anxiety triggered by procrastination can also have physical effects throughout the body: insomnia, changes in eating habits, gastrointestinal problems, headaches, higher blood pressure, etc.
These physical symptoms of stress and anxiety can also make a person vulnerable to more severe problems. For example, a recent study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine linked chronic procrastination to a greater risk of suffering from cardiovascular disease and hypertension.
How Can I Stop Procrastinating?
“In the long run, procrastination can create a vicious cycle: putting something off strengthens your desire to start over, even if it creates more problems.
But because chronic procrastination comes from our emotional reactions, downloading yet another time management app may not be enough to end the vicious cycle.
Instead, a study published in Learning and Individual Differences found that getting rid of the habit of procrastinating is about regulating our emotions; specifically, we are talking about learning how to tolerate negative emotions and modify our reactions. According to experts, emotional regulation is a time-consuming process, but you should start with strategies like these:
When we have a task to accomplish that makes us feel anxious, not up to par, or annoys us, it’s rewarding to postpone those negative feelings. But unfortunately, the relief felt drives us to procrastinate repeatedly, significantly when the stress of putting something off worsens.
By changing this reward cycle, on the other hand, we can replace the perceived benefit of procrastination with more productive incentives.
“When you complete your tasks on time, reward yourself by taking quality time to care for yourself or do something you love. You could even ask your loved ones to help you find incentives, such as being able to watch a TV show together once you’ve completed your task.”
Challenging False Thought Patterns
According to research in Europe’s Journal of Psychology, these negative thought patterns contribute to diseases like anxiety and depression.
Over time, cognitive distortions can become automatic thoughts that form our central beliefs. This way, even a neutral or positive event could trigger anxiety, stress, and procrastination.
Here’s how common cognitive distortions can influence procrastination:
Perfectionism: You avoid starting or finishing a task because you are afraid of making a mistake.
Dramatization: as you believe you will never be qualified for a specific job, you postpone preparing your CV and its submission.
Overgeneralization: since you received lousy feedback for a project you had done previously, you assume that you will fail in all your future tasks.
Minimization of the positive aspects: you focus on a small negative comment during an otherwise glowing performance evaluation.
Practice Mindfulness Strategies
Joyce Marter says mindfulness practices like meditation, deep breathing, and yoga help us stop ruminating about the past or worrying about the future, making it easier for peace of mind and clarity of mind here and now.
“It’s the equivalent of restarting your computer,” she explains. This can help you let go of negative and anxious thought patterns that trigger procrastination.
Accept Responsibility (And Additional Help, If Needed)
“Avoid the urge to blame your boss, your partner or the weather. Admit that you suffer from chronic procrastination and commit to seeing it just as you would if you had a physical health problem.”
This could mean establishing accountability systems, such as asking your family, friends or colleagues to take stock of your progress in specific tasks and responsibilities.
But when a vicious cycle of procrastination begins to affect your daily life, your relationships, or even harms your mental health, it may be time to seek additional help.
“Consider having your mental health assessed to see if disorders like depression or ADD/ADHD could contribute to your procrastination problem.
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