The causes of procrastination are seemingly obvious. You’re lazy. You’re disorganized. You don’t value other people’s time.
But in reality, procrastination often stems from much deeper psychological issues. Maybe you’re reacting to overbearing parents, or maybe you’re concerned that other people will think you’re stupid if you mess up.
Whatever the problem, the first step to conquering the behaviour is figuring out exactly what’s causing it.
We’ve laid out seven surprising reasons behind the tendency to put things off. Don’t delay — read on and find out which one might help explain your procrastination.
1. Your dad was really strict when you were a kid.
Research led by Timothy Pychl, Ph.D., found that women who grew up with authoritarian fathers (those who place a high value on obedience and aren’t particularly warm) are more likely to procrastinate as adults.
Pychl says that’s possibly because procrastination is a passive aggressive way to rebel against external agents of control — something they weren’t able to do when they were young.
2. You’re afraid to succeed.
It might sound counterintuitive, but sometimes people put things off because they’re worried they will do a good job. That might saddle them with more responsibilities and subject them to higher expectations from others, says Pamela Wiegartz, Ph.D.
For example, you might think your boss will be so impressed with your work on a project that she’ll give you a harder project to tackle and assume that you’ll do an even better job on it.
Over at 99U, Mark McGuiness advises readers in this position to think instead about the new resources their success will bring them, such as added confidence and a positive reputation.
3. You’re afraid to fail.
Logically, you’d think if you were so worried about failing, you would leave yourself enough time to complete your work, but it doesn’t always work that way.
For one thing, the fear of failure can be so debilitating that you can’t accomplish anything.
Moreover, if you procrastinate and do mess things up, you can blame it on the fact that you were rushed. That way, no one thinks of your performance as a reflection of your true abilities.
To help conquer your fear of failure, serial entrepreneur Jonathan Fields advises people to ask themselves outright: “What if I fail — how will I recover?” In other words, envision exactly how you would pick yourself back up and try again.
4. You don’t want to acknowledge your shortcomings.
Oregon State University’s Academic Success Center has a good example of how a student might undermine her success by refusing to acknowledge her own skill deficits.
Let’s say she’s a slow reader and she’s been tasked with reviewing several long articles. Instead of owning up to the fact that she needs help with her reading skills and facing the possibility that people will think she’s dumb, she keeps putting the task off.
A better way to deal with this situation is to confront the problem and seek professional assistance, in a setting where no one will ridicule you.
5. You need to adjust your perception of time.
In other words, if it’s July 2015 and you find out a project is due in January 2016, you’ll be more likely to procrastinate than if it’s June 2015 and you find out the project is due in December 2015. That’s because we categorise time in terms of years, and a same-year deadline seems sooner than a next-year deadline, even if they’re both six months away.
The next time you find out an assignment is due the following week, try reframing the deadline as “like the present.” In the study, participants achieved this by looking at a calendar in which the current date and the due date were the same colour.
6. You have an “all-or-nothing” mindset.
Losing 20 pounds might seem like a tremendous undertaking, so it’s tempting to put it off endlessly.
People with this mentality “think of the 20 pounds rather than the day-to-day struggle of chipping off the weight and gradually reaching a goal,” Judith Belmont, Ph.D., told Today Health.
One way to combat this type of thinking is to break things up into smaller tasks. As Belmont suggests, think about cutting out a few hundred calories every day (or whatever your doctor suggests) to make the goal seem more manageable.
7. You don’t practice self-compassion.
Procrastinators tend to be more stressed than other people — even before they start procrastinating.
According to a recent study, that’s possibly because they have self-defeating thoughts like, “I’m simply too stupid to benefit from more studying, so I’ll just hang out on Facebook.”
On the other hand, people who are kind to themselves during difficult times are better at self-regulating, which involves the capacity to control your impulses.
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