Tuesday, 21 July 2020

Why do we procrastinate?

Procrastination is a funny thing. We know the things that are good for us, we know the things we should be doing, yet so often we do something totally different, and even sometimes the total opposite.

For example, we know we should exercise more, yet we end up watching box sets on the couch; we know we should eat healthier food, yet we find ourselves eating our third Big Mac of the week; and we know we should tidy the house, but we end up leaving it for days so that it becomes even worse than when we first realised it needed to be cleaned. When you think about it, it doesn’t make much sense, does it? What place in human development does procrastination have? Surely its far too negative for it to be something to gravitate towards, yet all of us procrastinate at some point each day.

The big question is, why on earth do we do it?

Common reasons for procrastination

Decision paralysis

We have so many things going on in our lives that when it comes to occupying our time and our head space, we struggle to establish what's really important. 

If you're sitting down to write a big assignment for your university degree, you have to manage the difficulties of being distracted by your phone, the latest ASOS sale, an article of interest that popped into your email inbox, a game that you’ve become addicted to on your smart phone, and how beautiful the weather is outside.

Our brains are overloaded more than ever with stimuli – decision paralysis is a result.

Time inconsistency

One of the biggest reasons we procrastinate is down to time inconsistency. You can understand this better by looking at the following example: 

You want to start a new career, and this requires you to get a degree in the new area you want to work in. You've researched the degree you need and you know that it will likely take about four years to get it. Great! You’ve figured out the long-term goal you need to accomplish. However, this goal was created for your future self, and it’s your present self that needs to take action to complete it.

The difficulty is that your future self and your present self both have different desires. Your present self likes immediate gratification, and your future self prefers long-term benefit. However, that long-term benefit might be months, even years away, and so often your present self and its desire for gratification right now wins the internal battle.

It’s great that you've dedicated your future self to achieving that long-term degree, but your present self needs to sit in front of the laptop and get on with that massive report that is due to be submitted next month. We all know that to obtain a degree in four years’ time we have to work hard now, but a couple of episodes of Game Of Thrones right now isn’t going to hurt….right?


If our belief in our ability to undertake a task is limited, we will procrastinate more. For example, you may want to lose two stone by this time next year, but you’ve tried so many times before and its never worked…what makes this time any different? 

Our belief in our abilities has a direct correlation to our procrastination.

Instead of trying a new workout or diet regime to lose weight, you might tell yourself:

  • It’s too hard to try this again, I’m inevitably going to fail, just like last time.
  • I’m not that overweight to be honest, and in truth there are plenty of people far less healthy than me.
  • It seems like so much effort just to lose a little bit of weight, I’m going to just chill out instead.

All of these are examples of common thinking processes from someone that lacks self-belief, and if we don’t believe in our ability or capacity to achieve the goal we've set ourselves, then we are much more likely to procrastinate in striving to achieve it.

In truth, procrastination is a really subjective thing, you may procrastinate for totally different reasons to someone else. One of the most important steps to helping manage your procrastination is to understand it better.

Take some time to have a think about how some of the points we’ve covered here might apply to you and your procrastination and join us tomorrow for an article on how to overcome procrastination.

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