Sorry, I didn’t quite get around to it. Really? Again with the Procrastination?

Procrastination is simply the action of delaying or postponing something. The practice of carrying out less urgent tasks in preference to more urgent ones, or doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones, thus putting off impending tasks to a later time, sometimes to the “last minute” before a deadline. This actually becomes a rather serious matter for many people. There is this tendency to change the priority of a task, thereby making it less likely that you will get to it any time today. Procrastination in large part reflects our perennial struggle with self-control as well as our inability to accurately predict how we’ll feel tomorrow, or the next day. To me, procrastination is actually a form of dishonesty. First, you make a promise that you will get something done today for someone. Then, you put off starting any aspect of the project. You ultimately fail to deliver “the goods” when promised. Your dishonesty comes from giving someone your word only to  never get around to doing it.

This habit can become somewhat of a complex psychological behavior that effects everyone to some degree or another. Procrastinating has the potential to put you on the spot when the time comes that you were to have in your possession certain information or a special item. Perhaps there was a critical task you were meant to complete. Most people procrastinate, but some are so chronically affected by procrastination that it stops them fulfilling their potential and disrupts their actual work load. Procrastination not only affects a person’s work, but also commonly involves feelings such as guilt, inadequacy, self-disgust, stress and depression.

Procrastination. A similar experience to masturbation, it feels good while you’re doing it, but it sucks afterwards when you realize that you just screwed yourself. You are sitting there with nothing more than a wee willie of a problem. No story boards. No report. No photographs. No market studies. Just an idea that has no empirical evidence that it will work. Universally common to college students, procrastination is often addressed as a bad habit. Yet, in most cases, this isn’t a nuance, but a perpetual occurrence – no longer qualifying for the term “habit.”

Typically thought of as a behavioral trait, procrastination thrives on a cycle of blame shifting and avoidance. Falling victim to this “habit” myself, I embarked on a mission to seek out the causes of procrastination. Chronic procrastinators avoid revealing information about their abilities, prefer menial tasks, make poor time estimates, tend to focus on the past and do not act on their intentions. These characteristics have been related to low self-esteem, perfectionism, non-competitiveness, self-deception, self-control, self-confidence, depression and anxiety.

Behavioral procrastination is equated with self-handicap. Essentially, this self-handicap provides a means for further blame shifting, as could be seen in an example of a student doing poorly on an exam and using procrastination as an excuse. Studies on self-handicapping have shown that people use a wide variety of strategies in order to construct barriers for their success. The placing of these mental barriers is the work of the I-function manipulating the internal experience. Two studies conducted by Ferrari and Tice in a laboratory setting had participants (men and women) perform an identical task twice. In the first study, participants were notified that they would be evaluated on their performance of the task. Time was allotted for practice or engaging in fun activities. Results found that participants procrastinated for 60% of the time. The second study described the identical task as a fun game. Results of activity during the time allotted showed that procrastinators, in comparison with non-procrastinators, spent the same of amount of time on the practices. Thus, the results suggest that procrastination was a behavioral self-handicap only when the task was deemed evaluative. The pervasive tendency of the self-handicap creates a cycle of self-defeating behavior, which in turn send negative feedback to the I-function. Correspondingly, this self-inflicted degradation and shame is translated into health problems.

The second type of procrastination is decisional, e.i., postponing a decision when dealing with conflicts and choices. People with high decisional procrastination display tendencies of perfectionism in taking longer to make decisions. Thus, the study by Ferrari and Dovido hypothesized that people with higher decisional procrastination, in comparison with people lower in decisional procrastination, seek out more information about a chosen alternative before making a decision. This hypothesis underscores the fear of error and necessity for perfection in people with high decisional procrastination. In addition, varying levels of decisional procrastination correlates to fundamental differences decisive strategies.

The argument Ferrari and Dovido put forth associate decisional procrastination with caution and assurance of correctness, by collecting data, before making a decision. Clearly the implications of this form of procrastination differ from those of behavioral procrastination, characterized by distraction and avoidance. Decision-making or critical thinking, is an activity of the brain. Yet, it seems to me that people with high decisional procrastination take greater care in taking a step forward, thus the I-function would have to be considered in light of the fact that while a decision is being made, the thoroughness is connected to notions of concern, desire and fear; reflecting individual traits. If there is a problem with the prefrontal cortex, there is no filter mechanism at work. Underactivity of the prefrontal cortex is common with Attention Deficit Disorder. While this argument is compelling, it personally made me feel as though I experience underactivity of the prefrontal cortex all too frequently. The behavioral aspects of the frontal lobe are critical in functioning from day to day and it is the abundance of these characteristics that make it seem unlikely that they would all be working perfectly at any point in time. On a lighter note, the prefrontal cortex offers the procrastinator a scientifically legitimized excuse for procrastination.

To balance the negative connotation of procrastination, there is evidence in the decisional procrastination theory (overly cautious decision-making) that it may have positive long-term functions. In all fairness, the opposing view is that procrastination is essentially an obstacle to achievement in both the long-term and the present. The attitude one takes towards procrastination is connected to which argument is more convincing. I began my research to find out why my friends and I put off work until the last minute. In return I uncovered debates of psychological v. biological, underscored with mind v. brain. Procrastination is a strong act of agency supported by the I-function. The neuro-biological perspective of the prefrontal cortex stripped procrastination of any elements of agency. While eradicating procrastination will never occur on a universal level, we can hopefully removed the myth surrounding the ever-common act and in effect may even encourage an individual to start studying, compiling, ordering, calling, inviting, or otherwise planning earlier.

It’s tempting to think that definitions are only for beginners, too simple for serious consideration and your time here as an expert. I disagree. We need to think carefully about our definition and, most importantly, the assumptions in the definition.

Overcoming procrastination is often easier said than done, especially for those who procrastinate! Are you one of those people who always find some reason to wait until next week to start getting fit and healthy and begin that new healthy lifestyle you have been talking about?  Well, if you are, I suggest you stop talking, stop procrastinating, and start doing!  Those who keep putting healthy living off remind me of that old Saturday Night Live character named Rosanne Roseanna Danna, played to perfection by the late Gilda Radner.  Those of you familiar with Gilda will remember that “It’s Always Something” was the punch line for her Rosanne Roseanna Danna character, the embodiment of the necessity of overcoming procrastination.  I might add that it was also the title of Gilda’s autobiography!

With that said, I have some news for those of you who have been seeking means of overcoming procrastinating.  No matter what you do, who you are or how well you prepare, something will always come up to test your will, confront your motivation and challenge your commitment to healthy living.  This is not only the rhythm of life; it is also a reality of lifestyle change as well.  So why not make today THE DAY you start overcoming procrastination and living that healthy life because there will never be a time with no interruption.  As Gilda would say, “It’s always something!”

“Procrastination usually results in sorrowful regret. Today’s duties put off until tomorrow give us a double burden to bear; the best way is to do them in their proper time.” ~ Ida Scott Taylor


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