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Procrastination: Why Our Brains Have an Irresistible Urge to Put Things Off

Updated: May 18

Studies have shown that up to 20% of people are chronic procrastinators, and 80% of us admit to procrastinating at least once a week - leading to significant negative consequences in their work, personal relationships, and overall anxiety levels. So why do we still do it and how can we overcome it?

So why do we procrastinate? 

Procrastination is a pervasive issue that affects people across the board, from students cramming before exams to professionals delaying business critical tasks. It's as if our brains have this irresistible urge to put things off until the last minute, just to feel the rush of adrenaline that comes with a deadline. While it's easy to blame procrastination on laziness, its root causes are often more complex and deeply ingrained in psychological and behavioural patterns.

It can seem a harmless nuisance, in fact, it can lead to a vicious cycle of increased stress and anxiety, self-loathing, decreased productivity and missed opportunities. Let's delve into the science behind procrastination and explore the common factors driving it:

1. Fear of Failure: The Paralysing Effect

Research indicates that fear of failure is one of the primary drivers of procrastination. According to a study published in the Journal of Research in Personality, 70% of people who exhibit perfectionist tendencies are more likely to procrastinate due to the fear of not meeting their own or others' high standards. This fear can trigger avoidance behaviour, leading to delays in task completion.

2. Lack of Motivation: The Importance of Intrinsic Drive

Studies have shown that intrinsic motivation plays a crucial role in task engagement and completion. When tasks lack personal relevance or fail to align with one's values and goals, motivation falls off the cliff, increasingly the likelihood of procrastination. A recent Gallup survey found that only 34% of employees in the United States feel engaged at work, highlighting the motivation deficits in the modern work place. The question then is, how can we bring more meaning into our daily lives to manage procrastination tendencies?

3. Overwhelm: Breaking the Cycle

The brain's response to overwhelm can trigger procrastination as a coping mechanism. Neuroscientific research suggests that when faced with a daunting task, the brain perceives it as a threat, activating the body's stress response. In a recent study, 44% of adults reported feeling more stressed than they did five years ago, indicating a growing prevalence of overwhelm in modern society. This physiological reaction can inhibit cognitive functioning, making it difficult to initiate tasks. Breaking tasks into smaller, more manageable steps can help manage overwhelm and facilitate action.

4. Distractions: The Digital Dilemma

In today's hyperconnected world, digital distractions pose a significant challenge to attention span, focus and productivity. Studies have shown that multitasking and over-exposure to digital stimuli can impair attention and cognitive control, increasing susceptibility to procrastination. Creating a distraction-free work environment and using time management strategies can help mitigate the impact of distractions on productivity.

5. Lack of Self-Discipline: The Willpower Conundrum

Self-discipline is a crucial factor in overcoming procrastination and achieving long-term goals. However, fatigue, chronic stress and poor emotional regulation is a big predictor of procrastination. Set routines to reduce decision fatigue and start small, like setting a consistent wake-up time. Meditation can improve focus and reduce stress - even a few minutes a day can help. Breaking big goals into smaller steps helps give you a sense of achievement and increases your likelihood of continuing the desired behaviour. Remember, self-discipline is a skill that develops over time, so be patient and kind to yourself along the way.

Still struggling?

Understanding what gets in the way and taking steps to improve it can make a big difference in reducing procrastination and boosting productivity. If you’ve tried various strategies and still find it difficult to stay disciplined, consider hypnotherapy. It can help address deeper issues and enhance your motivation and focus by reprogramming your subconscious mind. Hypnotherapy might be the gentle nudge you need to unlock your full potential.


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