The Perils Of Procrastination

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By: Marlene Affeld

I frequently find insight, inspiration, magic, and motivation in the words of others. Today, while musing about procrastination and the plethora of chores I must accomplish before the day is over, I found words of merit in a Chinese proverb.

“This one makes a net, this one stands and wishes. Would you like to make a bet which one gets the fishes?”

Do you shelve till tomorrow that which you should do today? I am often guilty of deferring action until a later time when it would be in my interest to “do it” now. However, I avoid work, wishing a task or problem would just “go away.” It seldom does! Avoidance frequently just makes the situation much worse.

We all put off mundane chores when something more important demands our focused energy. A hectic life requires that we prioritize, applying the adage of “first things first”. Prioritizing is not procrastination.

Procrastination is “behavior characterized by needless deferment of action or involvement until a later time or delaying making a decision when such a delay is counterproductive to our best interests”.

A recently published survey reports, “Twenty percent of Americans identify themselves as chronic procrastinators. For this segment of the population, procrastination is a lifestyle, albeit a counterproductive one. They fail to pay their bills on time, they miss appointments and frustrate their friends with their tardiness. They file their income taxes late and leave their Christmas shopping until the last minute. They avoid making decisions. A procrastinator’s maladaptive behavior causes anxiety and stress and often threatens their very lives when they delay seeking medical treatment.”

Individuals indulging in procrastination have a tendency to underperform in almost areas of their lives: professionally, family relationships and health. Struggling with it, repeatedly promising themselves that next time will be different, they vow not to dally and delay; a promise rarely kept.

Procrastination is worrisome when it impedes normal function. We need to address the problem of procrastination by evaluating the consequences of our delaying tactics. Have you lost a job, damaged a friendship, missed a financial opportunity, or damaged your health by “putting off until tomorrow what you should have done today?”

A lot of people use procrastination as a way of coping with the anxiety associated with either starting or finishing a task or action. Granted, we all procrastinate to varying degrees. We tell ourselves, it’s is okay to put off a chore or obligation that is too unpleasant, painful or stressful; we are busy, “too much to do in too little time”. Procrastinators tend to lie to themselves. We manufacture complex excuses, avoiding the unpleasant, difficult, or tedious. We will do it later.

“Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task”. ~ William James

Procrastinators are optimistic about their ability to manage an obligation, keep an appointment or turn work in on deadline: reassuring themselves and others, “don’t worry; everything is under control; I will get it done”.

Therefore, applying this kind of thinking, there is no need to start) As an example, a procrastinator may have a report to prepare for work that is due in six weeks. It will only take a few days, so no need to start today. Procrastinators, wrongly lulled into a false sense of security, allow time to slip away.

At some date, they cross an imaginary marker and realize they are not in control. There just isn’t enough time to do the job they avoided.

At that point, they address the problem, but they are making progress only because they haven’t any other choice. Backs against the wall with no alternative, they get to work.

Progress is made, but freedom lost. Procrastinators rush during the final hours to complete an assignment, telling themselves and anyone else that will listen, they function best “when they are behind the eight ball”. Procrastinators justify the delay, explaining they enjoy the euphoric rush of a pressured deadline. What nonsense!

Procrastinators never learn if they could have done an enhanced job if they had only taken the time needed to finish the task correctly. The report presentation may have been acceptable, but was it their best effort? Because of the delaying tactics, procrastinators will never know.

Procrastination creates confusing mixed feelings: a minor pride of accomplishment, scorn for the employer who doesn’t recognize a sub-standard performance, and an underlying sense of shame and guilt for not doing their very best.

No matter what the scenario, the result is reinforcement. The procrastinator is frequently rewarded positively for poor behavior. “Look – I got the assignment done, no one knows I didn’t give it my best effort.” Consequently, counterproductive, time-sapping patterns are repeated over and over again.

images-3Procrastination extracts a high cost from others as well as oneself. Procrastinators shift the burden of responsibility onto family, friends, and co-workers who quickly become resentful. Research studies report, “Procrastination destroys teamwork and erodes cooperation in the workplace and personal relationships. Procrastination has a high potential for painful consequences leading to feelings of inadequacy, guilt, self-doubt and depression.”

Procrastinators present a greater level of alcohol consumption and excessive use of prescription and illegal drugs. This behavior manifests in generalized problems of self-regulation. The effect of avoidance coping modality underlies procrastination, leading to disengagement and substance abuse.

Procrastination Sabotages Success

Procrastinators experience difficulty seeking therapy, or finding an understanding source of support, due to the stigma and misunderstanding surrounding extreme forms of procrastination. The problem is often mischaracterized simply as a lack of willpower, ambition or just plain laziness.

Research on the physiological roots or cause of procrastination targets the role of the prefrontal cortex area of the human brain. This region of the brain is responsible for brain functions such as attention, creativity, and impulse control; acting as a filter, decreasing distracting stimuli from other areas of the brain.

Low activity or injury to this area of the brain may reduce a person’s ability to filter distracting stimuli, ultimately resulting in a loss of attention, reduced organizational skills, and increased procrastination. This is similar to the prefrontal lobe’s integral role in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) where under-activation is the common problem.

Recognizing and acknowledging that we do in fact procrastinate and realizing how, and to what degree, it impacts our everyday life, is the first step in reducing its power.

Procrastinators can change their behavior. Keep working on it. You may still procrastinate, but as you consciously decide not to delay you will experience more freedom from stress and gain personal self-satisfaction.

Old habits are hard to break. When you succeed, take the time to savor the victory. Remember how good it feels to act decisively. It will be a helpful boost next time you feel in need of a bit of encouragement.

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