What is Procrastination?

Procrastination is “to put off intentionally the doing of something that should be done.”

On average, people spend 2 hours and 25 minutes/day procrastinating, much of it fooling around on the internet, even though 94% say it is adversely impacting their happiness.

Last week, we talked about the toxicity of Overthinking. In a way, they are cousins, Overthinking and Procrastinating. Both are habits of the mind designed to help us somehow. Both can easily backfire when left to their own devices.

A Harvard study found that more people suffer from procrastination than “alcohol, drug, abuse, or depression,” and look what it is linked to:

  • Chronic procrastination has been linked to mental health problems, stress, and lowered general well-being studies.
  • According to a recent poll, 94% of respondents said procrastination makes them unhappy.
  • Chronic procrastinators are more likely to have headaches, colds, and digestive problems.
  • A 2015 research found a link between chronic procrastination and hypertension, heart disease, and cardiovascular illness.
  • Procrastination has been linked to underperformance, financial stress, and low self-esteem.

And yet, just as with overthinking, people almost brag about it. Some people even define themselves by the trait. Yeah, I am a procrastinator. Like it’s no big deal. Only it is a very big deal, in that a lot of people are doing it and this is not good.

So why do so many people put off doing what they believe they should do?

What Causes Procrastination?

Go here if you want to read about the 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 types of Procrastinators. I’m more interested in general causes than types and found this great list, which you can unpack more here:

  • Abstract goals.
  • Outcomes that are far in the future.
  • A disconnect from our future self.
  • Feeling overwhelmed.
  • Anxiety.
  • Task aversion.
  • Perfectionism.
  • Fear (e.g., of failure, evaluation, or negative feedback).
  • Perceived lack of control.
  • ADHD.
  • Depression.
  • Lack of motivation.
  • Lack of energy.
  • Sensation seeking.

The list above got me thinking about someone I talked with just this week. Let’s call her Sue.

Sue got called on the rug big time, by her director, for putting off things her director really wanted her to do. Turns out, Sue said that it was not that she didn’t like the tasks per se. Sometimes, that is the reason task aversion, on the list above. But not in Sue’s case.

And, it was not that she had too much else to do. She did have other things to do, which she enjoyed more so she did those, especially since these other activities gave her a more enhanced sense of herself.

They should add something on the list about this, I think, something about the role of identity. But they did list “Perceived lack of control.” Bingo! Close enough.

Sue dug a little deeper and realized she didn’t really want anyone telling her how to allocate her time. She didn’t like how that felt. She wanted to be in charge of herself. So she was having none of it and paying the price.

Ways to Fix Procrastination

From my book GETTING TO G.R.E.A.T.: “A great life depends on a great fit between who we are and the environments in which we work and live.”

Rather than continue to procrastinate in ways that make her and others unhappy, Sue can now either get with whatever program is expected of her, or arrange her career going forward with greater autonomy—possibly in her own business, which is calling to her.

Notice by this example, however, the issue is not about time. People tend to think the problem is time. Check out the list above and you will see it is more about regulating how we feel than regulating our time.

But for any who insists it is time, i.e., that you can only do so much in a day—here from an earlier post is how you can free up a lot of energy and time by getting in control of your mind:

Researchers found that the mind wanders a whopping 70% of the time. Research also indicates that you will likely be happier when you take back some of that 70% actually to focus on what you are doing. And more productive too. When you take the mind wandering waste out of your process time, you’ll be freeing up energy for other things that matter…

Now, I have noticed with a lot of clients that the minute they commit to get something done, they start fighting against it. Just another voice telling them what to do, even if it is their own!

This shows up in dieting, exercising, going to bed on time… Oh yes, there is “Revenge Bedtime Procrastination,” which has something to do with feeling controlled all day, then taking back control by doing whatever we want at night.

It’s okay. Self-forgiveness has been found to help regulate our feelings about ourselves enough to lessen procrastination the next time around.

So we can tend it, or we can tackle it! Mel Robbins 5 Second Rule is a really great way to take charge of, to get out in front of, a procrastinating mind.

And so is Polyvagal Breathing, another great way to kick our decisions about ‘to do or not to do’ upstairs to our higher functioning mind. I like to call this Power Breathing, which you can find in the “Complimentary…” box on my website at madelaineweiss.com.

Practice, practice, practice…and let us know what you find.



Photo by Pixels Brett Jordan

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About the Author: Madelaine Weiss
Madelaine Claire Weiss (LICSW, MBA, BCC) is a Licensed Psychotherapist, a Board Certified Executive-Career-Life Coach, and bestselling author of “Getting to G.R.E.A.T. 5-Step Strategy for Work and Life.” sfas

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