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How Science Advises Overcoming Procrastination-Part 1

How Science Advises Overcoming Procrastination-Part 1

All week in therapy I hear the following, “If I know what to do, why do I keep putting it off?” or “I can’t get myself to go to the gym even though I really want to” or “What’s wrong with me that I can’t get started on better self-care?” We all procrastinate a little at times, but if it’s a habit, it’s time to understand why we put things off and how to stop.

According to “Why Your Brain Loves Procrastination” by Susannah Locke (4/18/16, accessed 2/5/20, procrastination?utm_source=pocket-newtab), about 5% of the population has a serious problem with it. Rather than being rooted in a moral deficiency, science views chronically putting off doing things we wish to do as a psychological issue: We simply don’t want to do things that make us uncomfortable or that we think will make us uncomfortable. Explains Locke, “When people procrastinate, they’re avoiding emotionally unpleasant tasks and instead doing something that provides a temporary mood boost. The procrastination itself then causes shame and guilt—which in turn leads people to procrastinate even further, creating a vicious cycle.”

Especially relevant to dysregulated eaters who are generally hard on themselves is the research of procrastination expert, Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada professor, and psychologist Tim Pychyl who states “that students who forgave themselves for procrastinating on a previous exam were actually less likely to procrastinate on their next test. He and others have also found that people prone to procrastination are, overall, less compassionate toward themselves—an insight that points to ways to help.” This conclusion meshes with research that says: when we disappoint ourselves, we feel and do better when we give ourselves compassion rather than criticism. 

Says Pychyl, “When a procrastinator thinks about themselves, they’ll think, ‘Oh, I have a time management problem,’ or, ‘I just can’t make myself do it. There’s a problem with my willpower.’ And when other people think about procrastinators, they use that pejorative term: ‘They’re lazy.’ But psychologists see procrastination as a misplaced coping mechanism, as an emotion-focused coping strategy. [People who procrastinate are] using avoidance to cope with emotions, and many of them are unconscious emotions. So we see it as giving in to feeling good. And it’s related to a lack of self-regulation skills.”

So, next time you put something off, be kind to yourself rather than critical. It will help. Read part 2 for more tips on overcoming procrastination.