WRPA top banner
Western Reserve Psychological Associates, Inc.Empowering change for over 40 years
> return to archived articles >

Archived Article

Procrastination—Why We Do It

Do you ever wonder why you have a hard time getting things done or tend to put them off? There are a great many reasons why we do this. Fortunately, however, there tend to be a few key reasons that the majority of people find themselves procrastinating.

One reason many people procrastinate has to do with perfectionism-wanting things done `the right way' or done perfectly without making any mistakes. If we are afraid of making any mistakes, then we're afraid to get started on a task since we could make mistakes along the way to completing the task. Often, if we hold the belief that things need to be perfect, a significant amount of anxiety can occur as we attempt to reach perfection regarding the task at hand. Realistically, it is rarely possible to do anything `perfectly'. The result is often a feeling of being overwhelmed, immobilized, and unable to complete the task in question. Our ability to make decisions regarding how to proceed on the task is often impacted. Self-criticism also often results due to having set high standards for oneself and then being unable to meet those standards-we feel like a failure and feel inadequate.

A related explanation for why some people procrastinate has to do with setting extremely lofty, unrealistic goals. For instance, if we believe "Before I can relax, I have to clean the entire house", anxiety and procrastination can result. It's unlikely that one can get the entire house clean without a significant amount of time and effort. More often than not, we become immobilized since it's an unachievable task, or we spend so much time cleaning that we do it at the expense of other important activities (i.e., time relaxing, time with friends and family, taking care of our emotional and mental health).

Sometimes we procrastinate to avoid something we perceive as unpleasant. For instance, we may avoid completing a task for fear others may criticize or ridicule what we have done. That fear of being judged by others can get in the way of doing things we need to get done. We may also avoid a task if the task isn't something we really want to do (i.e., a teenager being told by his parent to clean his room before he can go out).

We can learn to overcome procrastination. The first step is to self-reflect and identify one's own reasons for procrastinating. Sometimes, overcoming procrastination is simply done by making the decision to just go ahead and do whatever needs to be done rather than putting it off. We can prevent unnecessary anxiety and dread a great deal of the time by simply getting the task over with. For other people, learning to not procrastinate may require learning to challenge the need to do things perfectly, being willing to tolerate imperfections, and setting realistic, modest, and achievable goals. Seeking help from a mental health professional can also help you overcome your procrastination. Just as there are many reasons why we procrastinate, there are many different things that can help a person work through their tendency to put things off, and a mental health professional can help you find what will work for you.

Karen M. Desmarais, Ph.D.

> return to archived articles >