Procrastination research – our thoughts

Procrastination is something that affects nearly everyone at some time or another. When it involves putting off a dreaded task, it is understandable. Even chronic procrastination can sometimes be viewed as a modifiable bad habit.

However procrastination research by mental health professionals has uncovered that chronic procrastination can be a symptom of an underlying neurosis. Often procrastination is used as a form of self-defense, and a way to mask one’s abilities due to low self-esteem. Many chronic procrastinators fall into a broad personality type that includes individuals who have similar traits. Very often these individuals, though of normal to superior intelligence, prefer to perform menial tasks rather than ones that will present a challenge.

As a rule, procrastinators have a poor sense of time and make poor time estimates, resulting in unrealistic deadlines. They tend to be passive individuals who are, non-competitive. Nevertheless, they often use self-deception to maintain perfectionist goals and ideals. All of these traits and out of touch attitudes may result in an individual who also suffers from depression and anxiety. These individuals engage in self-handicapping behaviour that results in failure, thus further reinforcing their poor self-esteem. This form of procrastination represents a dangerous cycle and reflects an individual who may need professional help to combat this neurosis.
Procrastination research has defined this type of behavior as a way to set up conditions that will ensure failure, but in a way that allows the blame for this failure to be shifted. It is moved away from the ability of the individual and to the eternal circumstances, most notably, running out of the amount of time to do an adequate job or a task. One two part research study of procrastination notified participants in the first stage that they would be evaluated on their performance in completing a piece of work within a specified time period. The participants procrastinated for 60% of the time. In the second stage, different volunteers were given the same task but it was described as a game. People approached this more readily, and the researchers surmised that the deciding element was the prospect of being evaluated.

Researchers have also identified a form of procrastination that emanates from decision making abilities. Many individuals procrastinate on a task by requiring an undue amount of information regarding it and approaching it with uncalled for caution. Their approach is often very conservative and they will postpone all action until they are certain that they have assembled enough information to perform the task with a high degree of correctness. These individuals use procrastination to ensure success, but it is again out of proportion to the task. This form of procrastination is also linked to performance fear, although it is a more constructive approach.

Individuals in this group of chronic procrastination were not seen to have tan extreme lack of self-esteem, and certainly did not set themselves up for failure. However, procrastination research did expose that these individuals often suffered from a high degree of anxiety and often set unrealistically high standards.

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