Procrastination Roots: Why Willpower is Sometimes Just Not Enough


Carleton University psychologist Tim Pychyl, a leading expert on procrastination told Business Insider that procrastination is an emotional issue and that we put off doing things as means of handling negative emotions.

This, according to Pychyl, is why know that there are things we need to do and commit ourselves to doing but when the time comes, we put it off because 'we don't feel like doing it'.

It includes the things you put in your schedule, like the time you set out to manage your finances. It is critical and important and it may even be urgent but we may end up not doing it because of shame in learning about the amount you've spent or wary about the loans you have.

Fitness, career or even family matters may fall into the list of things we procrastinate on. Avoidance, according to Pychyl is one way we deal with negative emotions. Declining health or weight gain can make you feel guilty, a career plateau can make one feel embarrassment and family conflicts may bring feelings of guilt. These are real problems that some of us need to deal with in the present but some of us might feel we are not ready yet, so we put it off.

We put it off and avoid it until we can't postpone dealing with these negative emotions any longer because not confronting the issues and avoiding these negative emotions is the quickest way for one's present self to eliminate the problems.

This is what Pychyl refers to as "misregulation of emotions", dealing with negative emotions and coping in unproductive ways. By procrastinating, we rid or present selves of the problems by putting them on hold and passing them onto our future selves to deal with.

We believe doing so could make us feel better because we think of our future selves as strangers. We put off doing chores like laundry or washing dishes to avoid the temporary discomfort not realizing we're actually passing on the burden to our future selves.

Next time you feel compelled to put things off, Pychyl says we should ask ourselves. We don't need to confront the task but we need to deal with the impulse. He says we can be truly prepared for the things we put off when we feel good.

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