Safe Haven Counselling

Mind Matters: The Truth Behind Procrastination

“Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem.”

dr. timothy pychyl

Procrastination, a widespread challenge, is often misunderstood as just laziness or poor time management. However, procrastination is a complex psychological behavior that’s deeply rooted in our mental and emotional makeup. Recognizing and addressing this behaviour can lead to significant personal growth and achievement.

Procrastination is not just a simple act of delaying tasks; it’s an intricate psychological phenomenon. It’s the inner battle between our desire for immediate pleasure and our need to achieve long-term goals. Dr. Timothy Pychyl, a leading researcher on procrastination, suggests, “Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem.” This shifts the focus from managing time to managing emotions.

The Roots of Procrastination

The psychological roots of procrastination are deep and multifaceted. It often stems from a fear of failure, a perfectionist attitude, or even a form of rebellion against control and authority. Sometimes, it’s a coping mechanism to deal with the anxiety of starting or completing a task, and sometimes it’s a form of self sabotage if the thing we want to start would benefit our lives. Understanding these underlying factors is the first step in addressing procrastination.

Know Your Why

Understanding your “Why” – the intrinsic motivator that drives your actions – is crucial in achieving long-term success and fulfillment. This “Why” refers to the internal reasons and personal values that propel you towards your goals. It’s about having a clear sense of purpose and direction, which is essential in maintaining motivation, especially in the face of challenges or setbacks. When you know your “Why,” your goals are no longer just tasks to be completed; they become part of a larger, more meaningful narrative.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivators

The two main types of motivators, differ significantly in their nature and impact. Intrinsic motivators are internal: they stem from personal satisfaction, interest, or the joy of doing something. Examples include a passion for learning, the pleasure of mastering a new skill, or the fulfillment derived from contributing to a cause. On the other hand, extrinsic motivators are external factors like money, grades, praise, or status. They involve achieving a reward or avoiding a punishment from external sources. While extrinsic motivators can be effective in the short term, they often lack the enduring power to keep individuals engaged and satisfied over the long haul.

In terms of effectiveness, intrinsic motivators are generally more powerful than extrinsic ones. This is because intrinsic motivation is closely tied to personal fulfillment, autonomy, and mastery – factors that are inherently more sustainable and satisfying. People driven by intrinsic motivators are more likely to persist in the face of difficulties and derive greater satisfaction from their endeavors. In contrast, reliance on extrinsic motivators can lead to a dependency on external rewards and diminish personal satisfaction, potentially leading to burnout or disengagement when the external rewards are no longer present or sufficient.

Strategies to Break the Procrastination Cycle

  1. Know Your Why: As mentioned above, having an intrinsic why is often a huge gateway to action. If you don’t have a meaningful Why you are more likely to continue procrastinating.
  2. The Power of SMART Goals: To conquer procrastination, start with setting SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound. These provide a clear roadmap and make the task at hand less daunting.
  3. Be Realistic: If a goal seems insurmountable it likely will be. If you set a goal to run a marathon a month from now, or to learn a language before you head on vacation in two weeks, you are likely to find yourself procrastinating by the time you’re a couple of days in. Be realistic about what is possible, and if your goal is big
  4. Break Tasks into Bite-Sized Pieces: Looking at a big task can be overwhelming. Break it down into smaller, more manageable tasks. This makes starting easier and provides a sense of accomplishment along the way.
  5. Reward Yourself Procrastination often wins because it offers immediate gratification. Counter this by rewarding yourself for completing tasks. This could be as simple as a 10-minute break, a snack, or a quick walk.
  6. Employ Time Management Techniques: Techniques like the Pomodoro Technique (25 minutes of focused work followed by a 5-minute break) can be highly effective. They help in managing attention and preventing burnout.
  7. Overcome Your Fear of Failure: Often, we procrastinate because we’re scared of failing. Acknowledge this fear and work through it. Remember, done is better than perfect. As author and entrepreneur Seth Godin points out, “The only thing worse than starting something and failing… is not starting something at all.”
  8. Track your progress. Tracking the small steps you take along your journey towards change will help you to celebrate your small wins. In his book, “Atomic Habits,” James Clear notes, “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” A great tracking tool if youre working on implementing new habit is “The Habit Journal” from Evergreen Journals.
  9. Find an Accountability Partner: Sharing your goals with someone and having them check in on your progress can greatly increase your chances of success.
  10. Practice Mindfulness: Regularly practicing mindfulness can help you understand your procrastination triggers. Reflecting on why you procrastinate can provide valuable insights for overcoming it.

Embracing Self-Compassion and Self-Encouragement

One of the most crucial yet overlooked aspects of overcoming procrastination is self-compassion. Being harsh on ourselves for procrastinating can create a negative cycle of guilt and further delay. Kristin Neff, a leading expert in self-compassion research, states, “With self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend.”

Encouraging oneself lovingly involves recognizing your worth and potential, irrespective of productivity levels. It’s about understanding your journey towards your vision and goals as a process that requires patience, encouragement, and self-love. As you walk this path, celebrate small wins and learn from setbacks without self-judgment.

If It Feels Too Hard

Despite applying various techniques to tackle procrastination, you may find that these methods don’t seem to work, or the struggle to overcome procrastination feels insurmountable. This challenge can often be an indication of deeper underlying issues. In such cases, seeking the help of a therapist can be incredibly beneficial. A therapist can help uncover the root causes of procrastination, which may be linked to deeper emotional or psychological factors such as anxiety, fear of failure, perfectionism, or underlying mental health conditions. If you feel you would benefit from having a safe space to explore these issues, book a free consultation with us today.