Try these two simple, science-backed tricks to stop procrastinating

While many may think otherwise, procrastination is not a behavior rooted in laziness. Rather, people engage in procrastination in a bid to avoid the “negative feelings associated” with that task, explains Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Canada’s Carleton University and a renowned expert in procrastination.

“We use avoidance to cope with negative emotions,” explains Carleton. “For example, if a task makes us feel anxious, we can eliminate the anxiety if we eliminate the task — at least in the short term. The key relation here is that negative emotions are causal to our procrastination.”

We keep those negative emotions at bay when we avoid a task that’s likely to generate them in the first place, but soon enough we discover that those feelings eventually turn into self-blame, anxiety, and low-esteem — all of which actually leads to more procrastination, creating a vicious cycle. There are, however, a few ways we can prevent that from happening.

One of these methods involves practicing self-compassion. In fact, a study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences found that college students who didn’t beat themselves up for procrastinating actually procrastinated less as a result. Another study published in Self and Identity discovered that procrastinators aren’t only more stressed-out but also test really low in the category of self-forgiveness.

“I think people don’t realize that procrastinators, especially chronic procrastinators, are extremely hard on themselves—before and after the task. And rather than getting on with the job, they just go round and round spinning their wheels,” says Fuschia Sirois, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Sheffield.

According to Sirois, another tactic to effectively beat procrastination is cognitive framing. Essentially, cognitive framing involves reframing the way you think of the task by attaching meaning to it. “Finding meaning in the task … is really, really powerful. And it’s a great way to start that reappraisal process and dial down some of those negative emotions or at least make them more manageable.” For example, you might avoid washing your laundry, but if you think of laundry as a way to a full closet’s worth of options to wear the next day, you’ll be more likely to do it.

Bearing that in mind, next time you find yourself procrastinating, first forgive yourself and then remind yourself of the benefits you’ll reap when you complete that task you’ve been putting off because of procrastination.

Source studies:

Personality and Individual Differences — I forgive myself, now I can study

Self and Identity — Procrastination and Stress: Exploring the Role of Self-compassion

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