If there’s anything that permeates everyone’s life at one level or another is procrastination, and we all would love to have a better understanding as to why we procrastinate. Depending on your level of self-awareness, you might realize you’re doing it or not; you might not even care. Regardless of that awareness, chances are you are doing it, at least in some areas of your life. Don’t be mad about that. Even the most productive people in the world procrastinate once in a while. In a way, this behavior is part of being human.
Moreso, procrastination is not always bad, but that doesn’t mean that it can become a lifelong habit or that you should be okay with it. Procrastination is rarely a good thing, and most of the time, it’s one of the culprits leading to a lack of accomplishment, anxiety, and frustration. So, why do we procrastinate? What drives us there?
You Are Not A Procrastinator
First things first: you should stop calling yourself a procrastinator. Instead, use the verb: I procrastinate.
When you label yourself in a certain way and repeat that label, you teach your brain to believe it; you cement that label into your mind, and, over time, you’ll start using that label as a lame excuse for your behavior.
Resist naming yourself things you don’t want to be. Instead, look at it as a verb, an action. The difference is that action can be changed by doing something else, which is way easier than trying to be somebody else all of a sudden. When action changes, mindsets shift, and with it, so do behaviors and attitudes. Eventually, you will be something else, too, but it’s all a matter of how you look at it that will either be motivating or not.
So, no, you are not a procrastinator. You procrastinate.
Why We Procrastinate?
With that out of the way, let’s look at the main reasons why we procrastinate. You might see yourself in one or more of these or even all of them. For each one, I’ll give you a few ideas on how to change your mindset in a way that would either eliminate or reduce the impact of that particular element. If you want to learn more techniques, you can also read the in-depth article about how to beat procrastination.
The most critical thing is for you to do a true self-reflection and understand why you procrastinate. Once you understand that, you can make changes.
Fear of failure
You will want to take on many tasks and projects during your life, and you won’t exactly feel ready for them. You may lack self-confidence or experience, and because of that, you’re afraid that you might fail.
First, failure in itself is not always a bad thing. It has long been established that failing is not detrimental; it’s a part of growth and development. When you fail, you learn. When you expect everything to work out as you planned, you will be less and less enticed to act until you feel an utmost certainty for a favorable outcome. Because our lives are inherently uncertain, that’s an impossible aim.
So, when you fear failure, that feeling often translates into procrastination because you are avoiding it. After all, if you don’t do it, you can’t fail.
Imagine how you’d feel if you decided to run a marathon and found yourself unable to finish the race. The embarrassment. The shame.
I’m kidding, of course. There’s no shame in taking a behemoth task and failing at it. It will teach you what not to do and how to work harder next time.
How to fix it
Assume that you will fail. Not that you might fail, but that you will fail for sure. Set your mindset in such a way so that you look at failure as an opportunity for learning. This is not to say that you will psych yourself into failure. Expecting failure will dilute your fear of it. If you are okay with failure, you’ll be more likely to move on and work toward success.
I’m going to learn how not to run a marathon.
Once you fail once or twice, you’ll be able to adapt your training and, for the Nth time, you’ll make it.
Lack of purpose
Every day you wake up, and you do stuff. Unless you’re somehow immobilized in your bed, you’ll get up and do something. It might be something you enjoy or something you find unpleasant, or something else in between.
No matter what kind of day it is, you’ll either do something or do something else.
The question then becomes if what you do is intentional or merely moving where the wind blows. Do you run your life according to a vision or set of goals? Have you thought about your place in the world and established your WHY or purpose? Do you have a clear mission in life?
If the answer is no, you shouldn’t be surprised that you’re procrastinating. In fact, you’re not procrastinating at all—it’s way worse. Procrastination implies that you don’t do something you believe you have to do and want to do.
When you have no vision and no sense of purpose, there is nothing that you want to do. You haven’t thought of it. You lack a purpose, and therefore there is no momentum in you to get moving; no catalyst, no fire.
You simply exist without an intention.
How to fix it
Take some time to create an audacious vision for yourself. It sounds like a daunting task, but it’s not. You can go through the steps I have in my Creation Voyage—Your Vision, or you can use something straightforward like a vision board.
Either way, once you have a vision, your purpose will be easy to define or, at least, easier. It should come through naturally. Bask in it. Let it seep in and kindle your fire. Soon, you’ll feel a strong sense of purpose, and you will never procrastinate ever again because now you have something to chase that you’ve connected with emotionally.
There’s a strange relationship between motivation and action. For most of our lives, we’ve been told a lie, and that lie is that we need the motivation to act.
Get motivated! Get psyched!
The big problem with that: it doesn’t work. You might get motivated once in a while when you see something that genuinely moves you, like listen to a fiery speech, but by and large, you won’t get motivated out of thin air.
Instead, you get motivated when you take action.
If you sit on the couch and wait for motivation to get up and go to the gym, you’ll never get to the gym. But, if you push yourself on day one to hop on the treadmill, that action will motivate you to get up faster and sooner on day two.
When you move, you tell your body what you want to do. Your brain listens and will chip in to help you.
How to fix it
Listen to your inner chatter and pay attention to it. There’s a lot of value in letting yourself think, but then pause and analyze your thoughts. Every time you hear the voice that tells you that you don’t feel like it and perhaps you’ll do it tomorrow when you’ll probably feel like it, know this: it’s just another way you’re telling yourself you’re waiting for motivation. Tomorrow, that voice will tell you the same thing again, again, and again.
The muse never comes when you’re merely waiting. It comes when you create because creation attracts her.
So, next time you hear that thought, quash it right away. As soon as you hear it, you have less than 5 seconds to act before your brain hijacks the momentum and freezes you in place. No matter how many temptations your mind throws at you, don’t listen.
Move first, and motivation will bloom, and where there’s motivation, there’s little room for procrastination.
I’ve mentioned the vision above; that, indeed, is a prerequisite step you need to take before you can fight procrastination. But having a dream is not enough. The vision is big and glorious; it’s empowering and uplifting. However, it doesn’t tell you how to get there. It merely points you in the direction of your dreams and connects you with them.
To move, though, you need action. But if you act without a plan, you’ll find yourself back into the arms of procrastination. When you don’t know what to do this hour, today, tomorrow, and next week, guess what? You won’t do anything. Instead, you’ll simply do busy stuff that falls in your lap or find yourself prey to distractions, such as binge-watching TV and surfing the internet.
Planning implies taking that vision and slicing it into bite-size actionable goals. It also means prioritizing those goals and assigning them to the months, weeks, and days ahead.
How to fix it
Become a master of time management and learn how to do time blocking. Planning your weeks and days is a critical step to prevent procrastination from even having a chance. You can use an app or a simple paper planner. No matter what method you use, if you know your priorities for the day and the week, you can put them in your calendar, and there will be no question about when and what you have to do. When you approach your time in this type of intentional manner, there will be simply no room for you to procrastinate.
This idea goes back to a lack of priority. When you allow everything to become mission-critical before you act on it, you run your life with an urgency-driven mindset. That means that instead of using your logic, intelligence, and knowledge about your life to decide the priority of things, you allow the world around you to evolve into priorities by urgency.
When you do so, you’ll constantly be putting out fires. More often than not, those fires are things that are not important to you, but you have to do them because now they are incredibly urgent. That will eat up your time, but psychologically, it will make you feel like you’re doing something, at least. When you feel busy, you don’t realize you’re not working on the important things.
Not only that this mindset will keep steering you away from the essential things in your life, but it will also teach you to take a lax approach to how you set your priorities and plan your life.
How to fix it
Use the Eisenhower Matrix to assign your priorities on the importance and urgency scales during your planning sessions. By optimizing those, over time, you should have fewer and less urgent matters. Those that are urgent will be true emergencies. In this case, you’ll run your life on your terms, and you will have the mind space and energy to work on what is critical. Most importantly, you won’t have the busyness to use as an excuse to avoid working on the significant things in your life—one less chance for procrastination.
Another common cause of procrastination is perfectionism. The opposite of procrastination is doing the right thing at the right time. That implies finishing a project and moving on to the next one. When you are a perfectionist, you’ll keep accumulating unfinished projects.
Every project, email, piece of writing, or what have you will need another 1% to improve. And then another 1% and so on. When you are a perfectionist, you are never ready to complete anything until it’s perfect. As a result, you don’t finish anything. You’d much rather set something aside forever—such as that novel manuscript—and wait for a day when you’ll have the energy and inspiration to finally perfect it.
The problem: that day never comes.
Even worse, you might continually work on perfecting those projects and, under the guise of working on them, you’ll neglect other critical things.
How to fix it
Paraphrasing Dan Sullivan, 80% gets it done, 100% doesn’t. You need to practice letting go and moving on. Perfectionism is not easy to beat, but there are ways, and it starts with practicing imperfectionism in areas of life that are safe. For example, don’t start by practicing it on your marquee client; instead, practice it in safe environments and get used to releasing stuff that you don’t feel is perfect.
Note that imperfect doesn’t equate to bad. That’s the mindset you need to change.
External Locus of Control
The locus of control is a fascinating psychological phenomenon and one of the most cited psychological studies over the last few decades. It discusses how some people believe that their life resulted from their actions and decisions, while others believe life to be a result of luck or the action of others. The former is the internal locus of control, while the latter is the external locus of control.
If you are a person that leans more toward the external locus of control, you’ll be more prone to procrastination than if you were not. That’s because, again, the opposite of procrastination is action. If you don’t believe that your actions directly influence your life, you’ll be less likely to connect the importance of action to your life. Hence, you won’t be enticed to do anything because it seems meaningless. Which, again, leads to procrastination.
A study from 2000 by Milgram & Tenne found that people with an external locus of control are more likely to procrastinate than those with an internal locus of control.
How to fix it
Although the locus of control is difficult to change, you can practice not letting it drive your actions. Even if you have this innate feeling that the world has conspired to get you to where you are today, decide that you will take charge of one aspect of your life starting today. May it be health, fitness, finances, romantic relationships, or anything else.
Realize that even if your entire life has been, up to this point, the exclusive result of external factors, it doesn’t mean that the future must follow that pattern. Hold yourself responsible and decide that from now on, you will take action, no matter what your past looked like. By shifting your way of thinking, you’ll stifle the voice that tells you that your efforts are meaningless and that everything is up to luck.
Thinking too big
Another way most people fall prey to procrastination is through fear in the face of a massive challenge. As one of the most powerful emotions, fear can change our actions despite our logical thinking. Frequently, we are unable to do anything in the face of fear, and fear often pops up when you’re thinking too big.
Above, we talked about having a vision, and I called it an audacious or grand one. That’s how dreams should be. Those dreams will translate into equally big and bold goals. Sometimes, those goals will seem so big that they’ll scare you into inaction.
The bigger the goals, the more chances your motivation will turn into fear, and when fear creeps in, you freeze. Procrastination, in this case, comes from paralysis because you were thinking too big, too soon.
How to fix it
There are several ways you can go around thinking too big, but one of the best is to develop the skill to divide and conquer. That means practicing slicing those big goals into smaller, manageable action steps that you can take right away and move forward. With every step, the big goal will seem less scary, and fear will be less likely to paralyze you.
The environment in which we operate has a direct influence on our actions, behaviors, and attitudes. Most people find themselves in an environment and begin to adapt or mold to that environment. But when the environment is prone or inviting to distractions, your ability to concentrate and focus on your tasks will suffer.
It’s well known that our brains can only focus on one thing at a time. That’s why the myth of multitasking benefits was debunked years ago. We know that to concentrate, we need an environment conducive to such focus and starved of distractions.
How to fix it
Don’t accept your environment as something fixed. Instead, learn how to create your environment in a way that is favorable to focused work and free of distractions. You can have distractions, so long as they are on your terms. In that way, they won’t distract you; they’ll merely serve as rest and recovery.
If you find it hard to clean your house because you keep watching TV, unplug it. When you find it impossible to write your book or thesis because you keep checking Facebook, add a blocker to your browser. If you can’t exercise because the gym is too far, buy a treadmill.
The idea here is to find ways to prevent you from becoming distracted and, instead, invite you to do the things you have to do. When you make the right thing the easy thing and the bad things the more difficult ones, that’s another victory against procrastination.
Understand Why You Procrastinate
Whereas the reasons above have all been shown to induce procrastination in various forms and levels, the critical piece here is understanding what makes you procrastinate. Often, you blame procrastination on the most apparent reason, but it might turn out to be something else upon further analysis.
To get to the root of things, you need to sharpen your self-awareness and spend some time reflecting and introspecting. Only when you truly understand what are the reasons behind your procrastination can you shift gears and work toward reducing and, in time, obliterating it.
It’s not easy, but it’s also not impossible. It requires you to change your mindset and be self-aware enough to accept that you procrastinate and decide to do something about it.
When your mindset is right, procrastination has no chance. Yes, it will creep in now and again, but that’s okay. You’ll learn how to manage it and even schedule your procrastination to take back control of your life.
Other Resources on Why We Procrastinate
- Why People Procrastinate: The Psychology and Causes of Procrastination
- Psychologists Explain Why You Procrastinate — And How to Stop
- Why Do We Procrastinate? 9 Psychological Reasons Behind It
- Why we procrastinate on the tiniest of tasks
Now, before you go, I have…
3 Questions For You
- Do you consider yourself a procrastinator? If yes, what makes you say that?
- What are the most obvious areas of your life where you procrastinate often?
- Have you tried and anti-procrastination methods that worked for you?
Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!
Hi there! I’m Iulian, and I want to thank you for reading my article. There’s a lot more if you stick around. I write about personal development, productivity, fiction writing, and more. Also, I’ve created Self-Growth Journey, a free program that helps you get unstuck and create the beautiful life you deserve. Enjoy!