Why We Procrastinate

According to research 80-90% of people procrastinate on a regular basis and 50% procrastinate consistently and problematically*. The reason we procrastinate is simple and brain-based. Once you understand why you procrastinate, you can take the steps you need to overcome procrastination.

What is Procrastination?

Dr. Peter Vishton on The Great Courses course Outsmart Yourself: Brain-Based Strategies to a Better You defines it as a self-defeating behavior by which things are put off that should be done promptly, given existing goals and information.

You have a task that is important to you. It is weighing on you and causing you to feel stress and pressure. Therefore, you sit down and promptly begin doing……

something else 😦

Why Do We Procrastinate?

Essentially, on a subconscious level, we feel negative emotions toward a certain task. The way we try to get relief from the negative emotions is to avoid the task.

1. We Are Driven to Reduce Anxiety

When we begin thinking about a task that brings up negative emotions in us, we avoid it. Our fight or flight mode kicks in and the pain centers on our brain light up. According to Barbara Oakley in A Mind for Numbers,

“Medical imaging studies have shown that mathphobes, for example, appear to avoid math because even just thinking about it seems to hurt. The pain centers of their brains light up when they contemplate working on math.”

So, why are tasks bringing up negative emotions?

2. We Battle the Fear that We Won’t Be Good Enough

It could be that you’ve had a bad experience with that task in the past. Maybe you didn’t measure up to your expectations, you received sharp criticism from someone else, or you just associate it with a traumatic experience.

The fear of failure is strong and adverse for many people.

It could be that you are a firstborn or functional firstborn, according to Dr Kevin Lemen’s fascinating book The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are. (note, I’m not an affiliate. I just like it). He holds that all firstborns are perfectionists. If they are a discouraged firstborn, they will either avoid starting tasks or start them but not finish them. If the task is never finished, it can’t be criticized for not being good enough.

Whether you have a perfectionistic bone in your body or not, if you have experienced a critical authority in your life, you are more likely to associate tasks with anxiety and negative emotions.  The more anxious you tend to be, the more you procrastinate.

3. We Lack Willpower To Work Through Tough Emotions

When those pain receptors light up in your brain and your sympathetic nervous system sets you up to fight, flight, or freeze, you have a choice to make.

You can set your jaw and move forward with grit and perseverance. OR you can avoid the task by doing something else. You have to have the willpower to change your automatic responses to life.

What’s the Solution?

Well, I could just say to:

  1. Work on developing the emotional maturity to have the willpower you need to keep going and confront the tasks.
  2. Check out Stop Procrastinating By Doing Nothing 
  3. Or to try seeing fear in a different light. Check out my Taiwanese student’s opposite take on fear in this video. His view of fear could stamp out procrastination in your life. 

But, this topic deserves it’s own post. Check out 5 Brain-Based Solutions to Stop Procrastinating for the top solutions to overcoming procrastination.

Your Best Life

Sip Life Slowly is designed to help you get more out of life. To help you be more present in it and to enjoy it more. A key to living your best life is to joyfully embrace the things that give you lasting joy and to turn from those things that are cheap counterfeits. You may also like:

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*Outsmart Yourself: Brain-Based Strategies to a Better You 


Copyright ©  2019 Angela Edmonds. All rights reserved.


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