Wondering why your attempt at strengthening your self-discipline hasn’t helped you kick your bad habit of putting things off?
Turns out, procrastination isn’t entirely about willpower (or lack thereof). It’s actually caused by the failure to regulate emotions.
According to the experts, the trick to breaking the bad habit is learning to control your negative feelings.
The Wall Street Journal’s Sue Shellenbarger explains that procrastinators try to avoid the feelings of anxiety or worry often associated with difficult tasks by engaging in activities “aimed at repairing their mood, such as checking Facebook or taking a nap,” she writes.
This enables them to put off the task at hand (and the anxiety that comes along with it) and allows them to instead feel good.
But researcher Timothy Pychyl, an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Canada and the author of “Solving the Procrastination Puzzle,” says this pattern, which researchers call “giving in to feel good,” actually makes procrastinators feel worse later “when they face the consequences of missing a deadline or making a hasty, last-minute effort,” writes Shellenbarger.
To avoid that problem and stop procrastinating for good, Pychyl suggests that procrastinators project themselves into the future “to imagine the good feelings they will have after finishing a task, or the bad ones they will have if they don’t,” Shellenbarger writes.
She says that according to Fuschia Sirois, a psychology professor at Bishop’s University in Quebec, this “remedies procrastinators’ tendency to get so bogged down in present anxieties and worries that they fail to think about the future.”
Another mood-repair strategy is self-forgiveness.
The WSJ story points to a 2010 study led by Michael Wohl, an associate professor of psychology at Carleton, that found university freshmen who forgave themselves for procrastinating on studying for a course’s first exam procrastinated less on the next exam.
So if you’re one of the 20% of adults or 70% of college students who self-identify as a chronic procrastinator, you may want to try implementing these strategies immediately. (Not later!)
A study co-authored by Joseph Ferrari, a psychology professor at DePaul University, found that procrastinating predicts lower income and a higher likelihood of unemployment, as well as long-term problems such as failing to save for retirement and neglecting preventive healthcare.