Here are the real reasons why you procrastinate; and laziness is not one of them!

By Femitha Ebby, Psychologist at Untangle.

July 21, 2023

It is Friday evening, and you have just come back from college. It’s been a long tiresome day for you, and all you want to do is unwind and relax. You keep an eye on your to-do-list from time-to- time, but then go back to the netflix show you’ve been watching. After all, the first few tasks on the list are not due until Monday. You watch the show, knowing that you still have two more days to complete the task. 

“I will do it tomorrow,” you say to yourself. 

Fast forward to Sunday night, you realize you still have not done the task. In a hurried state, you manage to pull an all-nighter, find whatever materials you can get your hands on, and come up with an unpolished product which will certainly be met with criticism. You are fed up with your behavior, and start blaming yourself for always pushing things to the last minute. You wish you’d get done with tasks on time.

Haven’t we all been here at least once in our lives? Have you ever wondered why you could never get yourself to do things on time?

Procrastination or keeping things for later is one of the very commonly recurring challenges in our daily lives. When we engage in procrastination, we clearly know the logical consequences of the action. However, this hardly stops us from procrastinating. Ever wondered why that could be? Although, the easiest explanation behind procrastination is laziness, this is seldom the reality. Read on to find more about the root causes of procrastination:

1. When you find the task boring:

Be it the uninteresting paper you have not been preparing for, the assignment that is not stimulating enough, or the same-old household chores you have been doing for years, it is completely normal to keep these for later simply because these are boring. When a task is not challenging enough or doesn’t have an element of novelty to it, we might not feel like doing it. 

However, there are simple ways in which boring tasks can also be made interesting. Keeping your favorite tv show playing on screen or an uplifting track on phone while doing your chores can turn an otherwise mundane chore into a slightly interesting activity. Similarly, doing your boring assignment with an accountability partner with whom you get to take an occasional coffee break might turn out to be rewarding in itself. Keep in mind that these are only temporary solutions, and ensure you receive professional support if procrastination becomes chronic. 

2. When the task is challenging:

Nobody likes doing boring tasks all the time. Suppose you are presented with a deeply challenging task— something you have never attempted before. How would you feel? Would you invite that in without any worries, or would you keep waiting for the “right” moment to get started? When a task is overwhelming, very challenging, and not something we are experienced with, procrastination becomes a fairly common response. 

We may keep pushing it for later, until we realize that later has also passed. Our brains are not wired to put the long term gratification we might get out of a task in the forefront of our minds. Instead, we tend to get fixated on the short-term gratification we might get out of mindless scrolling, consumption of irrelevant information on social media, binging on food or media, or literally anything except for the task we are supposed to do. 

Since we do not like momentary feelings of discomfort, and would prefer going through the situation at a later point in our lives. This can be concerning, but a manageable difficulty nevertheless. When you catch yourself dwelling upon the momentary feelings of discomfort, pause for a moment, close your eyes, and visualize the long-term gratification you’ll get to experience if you choose to work on the task at the moment. If visualizing is not something you are good with, take a notebook and jot down the long-term benefits this specific challenging task will bring.

3. Fear of failure:

If the task elicits fear or anxiety in us, we might try to avoid the threat as much as possible. We are innately equipped with the knowledge to evade threats. Therefore, when a person is certain that the task is too overwhelming for them to handle, they calm their nervous system by doing everything, but the task.  

Fear of failure which leads to procrastination is a culprit in itself, for it never helps us to reach a place where we understand that it is nothing to be afraid of. Allow yourself time to reflect upon your fear, and see where it could be coming from: Is it emerging from your previous experiences or vicarious learning? If you are unable to process the fear, worry not. This is precisely why we have professionals who will help you!

4. Perfectionism:

Suppose you have always been someone who turns in the perfect work. When you are young or maybe a school-going kid, this may not have been a problem. As you’ve grown older, you might have realized that the earlier perfectionistic tendencies are no longer a blessing, but a hindrance. This eventually leads to procrastination and fear of starting with tasks, because you worry you may not be able to do a perfect job. 

It can be very difficult to normalize mediocrity if this is not something you are used to. All you can do is try taking small steps towards normalizing it. This can be done through approaches like CBT and REBT along with a professional’s guidance. Eventually you will get to a place where consistency matters more than perfectionism, enabling you to finish your tasks on time. 

All of us procrastinate from time-to-time. If you are generally not someone who does this, you may begin by asking yourself what might be different about the task that’s making you feel a particular way. We may not find answers to every question, and that is completely okay. If you are struggling with chronic procrastination, which has been impacting the quality of your life, reach out for support. Help is always available.