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Procrastination is a protest! ... against discomfort.

No, it’s not because we are lazy or have poor time management skills… we actually procrastinate because we want to avoid feeling something uncomfortable. That simple. Humans tend to want to avoid discomfort at all costs.

The discomfort around study is multifaceted and can include:

  • Physical discomfort of nervous tension, eye strain, sore muscles, uncomfortable study area, fatigue.
  • Emotional discomfort of anxiety, lowered mood, stress, overwhelm, confusion, guilt, concern, frustration, irritability, resentment, self doubt, boredom.
  • Social discomfort of having to isolate to study, decline invites to participate in events or gaming, miss out on experiences others get to engage with.

Procrastination is a simple way to avoid these and other types of discomfort.

We avoid a task to feel better; in the short term we prioritise feeling better now because we don’t want to deal with it or don’t know how. 

Researchers have worked out that strangely we perceive our ‘future selves’ as being quite distant and distinct to our actual self; kind of more like a stranger! So future stranger can deal with all the physical, emotional and social discomfort while I try to enjoy the moment. Right’s not my problem, it’s theirs. We also use ‘justifying statements’ to feel better about the procrastination. 

Another thing that happens in our brain when we are stressed, nervous, anxious is that the amygdala perceives the study task as a threat and will activate a threat removal response. Researchers have used the term ‘amygdala hijack’ to describe the extreme of when our emotions completely hijack any reason or rationality.

The problem with procrastination is that it increases anxiety, nervous tension and stress, which puts us at greater risk of amygdala hijack, can make us sick and is linked to poorer performance!

Three different types of Procrastination Thinking:

  1. The thoughts we have that lead us to project bad feelings about the task and therefore activate a threat removal response. Threat Generation. 
  2. The thoughts we have to justify the procrastination and feel better about the decision to procrastinate. Justification.
  3. The thoughts that keep us procrastinating.

Catch yourself with these types of thoughts? Look out for them from now on and jot down the most common: 

Threat GenerationJustificationThinking that keeps us procrastinating

“It’s too boring” “It’s too hard” “I’m not good at this” “I can’t do this” “Where do I start?...what am I supposed to do?!” “I need to do really well!”

“I was never taught to do this properly” “I’ve got till the end of the week to finish this anyway” “Maybe I can just go out/watch one more/play it for an hour, then I’ll definitely come back and work hard for the rest of the night and get heaps done”

“I’ll just check messenger  / insta / etc quickly to see what’s happening” “I’m too tired, I’ll do it later”  “I can’t find my glasses anyway” 

What to do to reduce procrastination 

  • Understand and validate it’s a normal part of being human. Whether you do some subtle procrastination or are an absolute master overt procrastinator, accept and acknowledge it’s a normal part of life. 
  • Forgive yourself for procrastinating! Research actually shows that self forgiveness and self compassion leads to a reduction in procrastination. This way you can move on and focus more on the next task without carrying the weight of guilt or discomfort of what’s happened prior. 
  • Understand the various ways you procrastinate and what type of discomfort you’re avoiding so you can actually address it properly and ask for the help you need. 
  • Increase your motivation and optimism by engaging in the self-compassion three step practice.
    • Be kind and speak kindly to yourself just as you would to someone you really care about or someone you have the responsibility to care for. 
    • Recognise that procrastination is a common issue that almost everyone experiences and that all people want to avoid discomfort; it’s normal. 
    • Reconnect to the present moment and notice what’s going on right now. Notice what your mind is telling you and what your body is feeling. 
  • Sometimes it’s helpful to break a task into smaller chunks. Other times it’s best we just focus on the very next step. Action comes before motivation, so taking the smallest step like turning on your computer or setting up your workspace may increase the likelihood of you getting to it. 
  • Get in the way of procrastination by making it more difficult. Some ideas are:
    • Switch off Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, gaming and any other notifications for a period of time. 
    • Change your passwords so it’s a hassle to log in to Social Media, games or Netflix. Delete the automatically saved passwords from your devices so you’re not automatically logged in to distractions (have them written down elsewhere for when you do need them).
  • Visualise your future self and connect with that person, do the right thing by them. 
  • Be realistic about the time of day and work spaces that are more conducive to working well. Plan out work moments in work spaces that are right for you. See our Tip Sheet ‘Get Set! ... Preparing to Study.’
  • When you experience the urge to put something off until later, or you notice your attention is drifting from a task, re-focus by engaging in strategies such as:
    • Reading out loud. 
    • Tell someone about what you have learned or what you know so far about the topic. 
    • Identify three reasons it’s better to just work on it now. 
    • See our Tip Sheet ‘Meta-Cognitive Strategies for Academic Success.’

Protest against the tendency to procrastinate! Work your way through uncomfortable moments to get work done and achieve success.

Melbourne Centre for Women’s Mental Health offer a range of options for those wanting support with study or work. 

Book in with one of our experienced Clinical Psychologists today if you need special assistance with Anxiety or Depression that may be impacting on your studies or work.

Skocic, S. 2019