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"Why People Procrastinate"
By: Jose Maria M. Villarama IIDilly-Dallying

Why do people continue to procrastinate even when the reasons behind them are premised on tall tales and can lead to disaster?  While some believe that procrastination can be resolved by simply getting an electronic organizer or journal-type weekly planner, the motives behind procrastination may be more deep-seated than some may actually realize.   Psychologists have identified the following characteristics or tendencies of procrastinators:

They tend to rebel. Experts say procrastination may be a response to a parent who is harsh and controlling and who would not allow his or her child to process their intentions and act on them. While it is understandable for parents to make choices for children who are perceived to be immature and, therefore, incapable of deciding, children should be allowed to make their own judgments.

They tell themselves lies. Procrastinators make excuses like, “I will be more motivated tomorrow” or “The closer I am to the deadline, the more I will get an adrenaline rush and get the job done faster” to justify putting work on hold.  They also validate their decisions by saying that what is being put off is not as urgent or important as some other thing.  

They have difficulty regulating themselves in other aspects of their life. Procrastinators tend to indulge in things more than what is normal.  Case in point is alcohol consumption. Procrastinators will likely drink more alcohol than average Joes. Aside from being a manifestation of poor self-control, overindulgence is also an escape from the reasons behind procrastination (i.e., parental issues, etc.).

They are easily distracted or look for diversions on purpose. While these distractions may be part of office or school work, such as checking out the latest features of an upgraded version of a word processing software, procrastinators use the diversions to avoid finishing the main task at hand.   

Three Types

Given these different reasons for procrastinating, Dr. Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D, associate professor of psychology at De Paul University in Chicago, classified procrastinators as follows:       

  • Thrill-Seekers. Like Charisma, they are the ones who wait to do things at the last minute, claiming they get a natural high or euphoric rush by doing so.
  • Avoiders. They detest fear of failure or even the fear of success. As such, they avoid a task.  Although they are not concerned that others will think that they lack effort or are lazy, they will object if people say they lack the necessary skill or ability to accomplish the task.
  • Decisional Procrastinators. They delay doing tasks because they cannot make decisions on their own. Since they divest themselves of any responsibility, they think they can never be blamed when something goes awry.

The Cost

Because of the stress it renders, procrastination can take its toll on one’s health.  Evidence has shown that students who procrastinate catch more colds and flu, have more gastrointestinal problems, and experience insomnia. Procrastination can obviously tarnish reputations and strain teamwork and relationships, especially if the blame is regularly passed on by a decisional procrastinator to others. Of course, it can jeopardize or cost one’s job.

Getting Back on Track

The good news, however, is that the behavior can be changed.  Psychologists and life coaches propose several ways to redirect one’s motivation, mood and enthusiasm to stay on course:

  • Identifying the cause. Whether the causes of procrastination are deeply-rooted in family history or are just circumstantial, identifying them and nipping them in the bud are important.  If this means undergoing therapy or consulting a work counselor, then one should actively seek out this solution.
  • Rewarding instead of avoiding. Motivation is one thing that is lacking in most procrastinators.  Therefore, if one always sees a reward or prize at the end of the task, even one as petty as getting a massage or watching a movie, for example, it can give one the necessary push to get the job done.
  • Avoiding thinking traps. Thinking that a task or project is difficult or will be a challenge to complete already sets the tone for dilly-dallying. Even when the solution to the challenge is simple, conditioning one’s mind that the task-at-hand is booby-trapped will cause one delay after another.
  • Thinking about the ‘what ifs’. While regretting things after the fact are never good, thinking of the “what ifs” before they even happen may be a good motivator.  “What will happen to me if I don’t do this?” or “What will I stand to lose (or gain) if I don’t complete this?” are some good questions to ask when not feeling motivated.    

The key word, therefore, is “motivation.” In the end, fighting one’s inner demons is the only way to drive oneself to get the job done and get it done right. 

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