The Thief Of Time: Why Do We Procrastinate?

WellNest co-founder and psychotherapist Zainib Abdullah discusses the hidden reasons behind procrastination behaviour.

There comes a time in our lives where we are no longer those wide-eyed kids following a schedule and structure to the letter.

We come home one day and decide to maybe not finish our homework tonight, maybe watch a little Smart Guy first - who could we really possibly be hurting?

From that moment when we realize sometimes we don’t have to finish everything at that exact moment, we find ourselves at a constant crossroads:

Complete the task we know needs to get done

Or take the opposite road and avoid the task altogether

We’ve all been guilty of it at some point or another. I am guilty of it right now! I have spent days thinking about how I am going to write this post, rather than just sitting down and finishing it. It happens to the best of us.

We all end up thinking the same things on a constant loop;

“I can start tomorrow, it won’t take long, so I am set!”

“Will anybody really be upset if I complete this a little later?”

“I have more important things on my plate that I need to worry about, I can put this off” - and off, and then off again…

It doesn’t matter what reasons we give, because every reason ends up being the most compelling one. 

What is important to note is that we can stop procrastinating, if we ultimately want to!

And why else would you be here, if not to help catch the thief of time? Sometimes what helps in overcoming the struggle, is understanding it.

So, What is Procrastination, REALLY?

There is a common misconception that procrastination is another form of laziness. That people have no interest or desire to complete tasks, and are unwilling to use their energy to do so.

However, procrastination is really a conscious decision that one makes to delay the completion of a task, despite the negative ramifications of doing so.

We don't necessarily need a valid reason for this decision, and sometimes we may even do inconsequential tasks instead of what really needs to get done.

This thought process, despite being a conscious decision, can occur quickly and out of habit.

Why Do We Procrastinate? 

Now that we’re clear on the distinction between general laziness and procrastination, it can be upsetting to know that when we procrastinate, what we’re really doing is making a conscious decision to not complete a task.

Sometimes that realization can be difficult to grapple with, especially if your habit for procrastination has put you in a tight spot at work, at school, with friends or even your family.

The reason we procrastinate comes back to our conscious thought process and general attitudes in life. People often procrastinate because they hold specific views or make assumptions that are unhelpful.

These views and assumptions often take the form of “should” or  “must” statements, and tend to be inflexible and inaccurate. They end up generating uncomfortable or frightening feelings tied to completing the task or goal, and procrastination becomes a method to avoid discomfort.

This avoidance leads to positive consequences such as the pleasure that comes from avoiding the feelings of discomfort. When we lean into this, we reinforce the validity of those faulty rules and assumptions! This ultimately encourages procrastination.

You might think, then, that negative consequences would curb procrastination more effectively.

However, the negative consequences - like grade penalties or upsetting a boss - end up causing feelings of greater discomfort. The more the discomfort paramounts, the more one becomes averse to completing the task and thus creating a need to continue procrastinating.

Therefore, overcoming procrastination comes down to challenging the rules and attitudes themselves.

The Rules And Attitudes Behind Procrastination

1. The Need To Be In Charge

This rule tends to be true for people who feel the need to be in charge and in control at all times.

When you believe that you must be in control, you might feel angry when assigned a task by a superior:  “I should only complete tasks that I want to.” In this case, procrastination serves as a way to ease that anger and soothe the feelings of discomfort.

2. Pleasure-Seeking

This rule is often accompanied by the belief that pleasure and enjoyment must be prioritized always.

This perspective leads to sentiment like “I should only do things that are fun and bring me joy.”

However, the desire for instant gratification leaves no foresight for long term pay off. For those of us with this view, the grind of work or school can make us feel bored and frustrated. Procrastination acts as a remedy for those feelings.

3. Fear Of Failure Or Disapproval

This one shows up in those of us who have challenges with perfectionism.

People who have a fear of failure, tend to hold their abilities and completion of tasks to an incredibly high standard. The problem with this type of thinking is that when we holds ourselves to the standard that we must consistently deliver extraordinary efforts, we make room for the fear of failing or falling short.

This often sounds like “I must finish this task perfectly.”

Completing tasks tied with some form of performance indicator (i.e. grades, performance review, bonuses, etc.) can bring up feelings of anxiety, fearfulness or shame.

Procrastination becomes a way to quell these feelings because you can’t fail if you don’t do the task at all.

4. Fear Of Uncertainty Or Catastrophe

We often experience a fear of what is unknown. Some of us need to be very certain of all possible outcomes, and when we are uncertain, we tend to fixate on worst-case scenarios.

This can sound like “I must be certain that everything is going to be okay.

However, in life no one can ever be 100% certain about anything! Therefore, when the goals or outcomes are uncertain, people with this thinking style may be reluctant to approach the task.

Procrastination is used as a means to alleviate  feelings of anxiety and fear of uncertainty- if no action is taken, then nothing can change.

5. Low Self-Confidence

Many of us have a hard time identifying our value, and in turn we end up doubting our abilities and potential.

We may think that we can’t accomplish certain tasks, or are unworthy of doing so. These rules can sound like “I can’t do this, because I have no skills.

When faced with tasks that require self-belief, we may feel like we can’t accomplish what we need to.  This leaves us vulnerable to experiencing depression or despair.

Here, procrastination is used to avoid a task that will mean facing perceived inadequacies or flaws.

6. Depleted Energy

When we go through stressful experiences, we may feel mentally/physically exhausted. Or perhaps we are experiencing low motivation, to the point that we can’t be inspired to do anything.

This can sound like “I can’t do anything when I’m feeling sad/depressed/unmotivated.

When we are depleted to begin with and then faced with a task, we end up feeling frustrated or upset.

Here we may procrastinate because we believe that if we rest, things may end up better than if they were to complete the task- and this can be absolutely true!

You may experience any one of the above, one at a time, in any combination, or all at once. 

Final Thoughts

Procrastination infiltrates many areas of our lives, and leaves us feeling exhausted, ashamed or alone. Just know that it is a very normal part of  life, and challenging yourself to push back against inflexible thinking can help you in the long run!

I hope the above tips and insight help you in your quest to reclaim your time. If you find yourself experiencing any difficulty trying to overcome discomfort, or want to talk more in depth about ways to conquer procrastination, my email is always available to you - or book an appointment with any one of the skilled members of my team!

Stay tuned for our next post on how to overcome procrastination!

-Zainib

Zainib Abdullah is the co-founder and a psychotherapist at WellNest Psychotherapy Services. Her approach to healing incorporates various therapeutic modalities. She works from a client-centred, anti-racist/oppressive/colonial & trauma-informed framework. As a yoga teacher and student in the lineage of Classical Yoga, she further incorporates mindfulness based therapies to support clients in accessing greater connectedness to their inner wisdom and peace.