Causes of Procrastination

What are the causes of procrastination? Why do we do it? Of course, everyone is different and so everyone will have different reasons. Most of the time, the causes are related to each other as you see when you learn these 7 causes of procrastination.

Before you read on, there are two things to keep in mind. First, identify the three issues that are probably NOT primary reasons you procrastinate.

Laziness, craziness, and messiness are NOT necessarily causes of procrastination. Recognizing things that are NOT causes of procrastination can help procrastinators overcome their nasty little habit, er... nasty big habit!

Second, as stated above, procrastination is really just a habit. It is not a personality defect or a character flaw. Habits can be changed. That is one of the primary goals I have as a Positive Change Coach, to help people change the things they can change (Serenity Prayer again?) and habits can be changed!

7 Causes of Procrastination

1. Our thinking patterns and beliefs are key causes of procrastination. Procrastinator thinking is wrapped up in illogical beliefs, beliefs that are unrealistic and limiting when it comes issues like the ones below.

  • Time: We think we have more time left to finish up a project or perform a task than we really have. Not only that, we underestimate how much time it will take us to complete it and both work together as an apparent cause of procrastination.
  • Inspiration and Motivation: We overestimate the amount of inspiration and motivation we will have for the task tomorrow. Somehow we believe that we will be more motivated in the future.
  • The Right Mood:And one of the most insidious causes of procrastination of all ... we think, and really believe, that we need to be in just the right mood to get started and successfully complete the task.
  • Two-Dimensional Thinking about a particular project, or about all the projects that need doing. 2-d thinking happens when try to deal with it all at once, the beginning, middle, and end. Neil Fiore says 2-d thinking means we insist on knowing the right place to start, and we think we need to know everything we need to know to finish the project, before we can even start. We also have a tendency to try to do everything at once. This is often the kind of thinking that is behind procrastinator's dis-organization and inability to set priorities that I'll discuss later.
  • Our Limiting Beliefs about our own self and our abilities is another thinking related causes of procrastination. Limiting beliefs show up for when we are doing "Self-Talk" (a little further down the list)

2. Perfectionists tend to do a different kind of irrational thinking. Perfectionism can be defined by a need to do things exactly right, and perfectionists often set unreachable goals for themselves which can be a major cause of procrastination. Of course, since the goal was nearly unattainable by mortal man or woman, they have set themselves up to fail.

So their fear of failure and of making mistakes actually makes sense in a warped sort of way. That results in worry about letting someone else down, being disapproved of, being laughed at or mocked for constant failure, or for even trying to do something great. Often they just give up on their goals.... and set different goals for themselves, thinking, "This time I'll try harder. I should work smarter. I need to start early and work steadily." So the whole cycle starts again.

On the other hand, it may not be that perfectionists are procrastinating when they don't get started on a new project, perhaps they are just working hard to make sure they do the one they are working on now to the best of their ability. Ya think?

3. Fear is a big motivator to NOT do things!" When we are driven by fear as our cause of procrastination, we want to delay doing a task or working on a project; maybe it will go away and we won't have to deal with it at all! But it often doesn't go away and we end up failing because we've put so many things off that we really ARE in overwhelm. And so our fear was right, we failed! The whole cycle merely confirms what our Inner Critic and Inner Victim (more about them below!) have been telling us all along, that we aren't good enough (or smart enough, or pretty or rich enough), or that everyone is against us and no one respects our work ... and we are going to fail! So why keep working on the stupid project?

By the way, we aren't only afraid of failure or rejection. A fear of success is far more insidious and difficult to deal with because it is usually unconscious. WE don't even know we have the silly success fear! The thin is, success requires change, and change has both positive and negative effects on our life. It can also be called "motivation to avoid success" if fear of success sounds just to far out.

4. Confusion about values and goals, and how to set priorities often looks like disorganization and messiness; on your desk, on your to-do list, and in your mind. When we aren't really clear WHY we are doing something, or even thinking about doing something, it is sometimes really important to put off doing it! If our goals don't align with our values, whether we are concious of those values or not, we are really much more likely to procrastinate.

Setting priorities is tough because many procrastinators have the 2-dimensional thinking and skewed concept of time as mentioned above. We just don't know how to break out the big deal into little chunks and decide which chunk to do first and by when so it becomes a cause of procrastination. They teach all kinds of things in school, but setting priorities and breaking tasks into bite-sized pieces in a time-line just isn't one of them.

5. Some of us have 'Too Many Interests to Pick Just One! and that fact really resonates with me as a major cause of my procrastination. People are supposed to pick something and "stick with it" according to the cultural standards of our world. Kind of like Mozart... he began his music at age 3 and never let anything interfere, even deafness! But what if we are more like Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo de Vinci, or Maya Angelo? Where would the world be today if they thought they couldn't put off finishing something until tomorrow when some new and exciting idea or project presented itself? I'll bet they were all labeled procrastinators in their time! Barbara Sher calls these people "Scanners" and Margaret Lobenstein calls them "Renaissance Souls."

6. Procrastination has its rewards! The rewards can be a great cause of procrastination. Many people will take a smaller reward in the short term over a larger reward in the future ($50 now? or $100 at the end of the year?).

It is also a great way to reduce tension and stress. True, it often causes stress in the long run but it takes us away from something we perceive to be painful; it is a way to cope with our fears.

If you procrastinate your Christmas shopping, everything will go on sale for 60% off and you'll save all kinds of money (is planed procrastination?)

If you delay doing a job was boring or stupid, someone else might take it over.

Procrastination is a pretty effective way to avoid blowing up emotionally in a conflict with family, co-workers, and police officers.

7. Self-talk is a major contributor if not an actual cause of procrastination. Okay, these two kinds of self-talk may not be an actual cause of procrastination, but they definitely cause it to continue!

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