The REAL reasons you procrastinate may not be what you think

I mastered in the art of procrastination. I began to perfect how to procrastinate in the 5th grade when I took violin lessons.  I HATED to practice.  The teacher only gave fingering exercises to do  – it wasn’t “music”, no melody, and I HATED doing it over and over and over.  Instead of being well-practiced in violin playing I became well practiced in procrastination.  I remember feeling very guilty knowing my parents were paying for lessons they could ill afford.  Guilt however, did not stop the procrastination.

According to traditional thinking procrastinators have a time management problem. With better scheduling and a better grip on time, so the logic goes, we will stop procrastinating and get on with the task at hand. Ha! Judy


“Increasingly, however, psychologists are realizing this is wrong. Experts like Tim Pychyl at Carleton University in Canada and his collaborator Fuschia Sirois at the University of Sheffield in the UK have proposed that procrastination is an issue with managing our emotions, not our time.”

Why procrastination is about managing emotions, not time.*

“The task we’re putting off is making us feel bad – perhaps it’s boring, too difficult or we’re worried about failing – and to make ourselves feel better in the moment, we start doing something else, anything else.”

Chronic procrastination is linked with mental and physical health costs, from depression and anxiety to cardiovascular disease

“This fresh perspective on procrastination is beginning to open up exciting new approaches to reducing the habit; it could even help you improve your own approach to work. “Self-change of any of sort is not a simple thing, and it typically follows the old adage of two steps forward and one step back,” says Pychyl. “All of this said, I am confident that anyone can learn to stop procrastinating.”

The Research

One of the first investigations to inspire the emotional view of procrastination was published in the early 2000s by researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. They first prompted people to feel bad (by asking them to read sad stories) and showed that this increased their inclination to procrastinate by doing puzzles or playing video games instead of preparing for the intelligence test they knew was coming. Subsequent studies by the same team showed low mood only increases procrastination if enjoyable activities are available as a distraction, and only if people believe they can change their moods. 

The emotional regulation theory of procrastination makes intuitive sense.

Short-term mood lifters

Procrastination – while effectively distracting in the short-term – can lead to guilt, which ultimately compounds the initial stress.

“The emotional regulation view of procrastination also helps explain some strange modern phenomena, like the fad for watching online cat videos which have attracted billions of views on YouTube. A survey of thousands of people by Jessica Myrick at the Media School at Indiana University confirmed procrastination as a common motive for viewing the cat videos and that watching them led to a boost in positive mood. It’s not that people hadn’t adequately scheduled time for watching the videos; often they were only watching the clips to make themselves feel better when they should be doing something else less fun.”

“Myrick’s research also highlighted another emotional aspect to procrastination. Many of those surveyed felt guilty after watching the cat videos. This speaks to how procrastination is a misguided emotional regulation strategy. While it might bring short-term relief, it only stores up problems for later. (In my own case, decades later, I still remember by delaying my violin practice I ended up feeling even more stressed, not to mention the  guilt and frustration.)”

It’s perhaps little wonder that research by Fuschia Sirois has shown chronic procrastination – that is, being inclined to procrastinate on a regular, long-term basis – is associated with a host of adverse mental and physical health consequences, including anxiety and depression, poor health such as colds and flu, and even more serious conditions like cardiovascular disease.

Researchers say procrastinating helps us feel better when certain tasks fill us with negative emotions – if they are too difficult or boring,

Sirois believes procrastination has these adverse consequences through two routes –

  • First, it’s stressful to keep putting off important tasks and failing to fulfill your goals.
  • Second, the procrastination can involve delaying important health behaviors, such as taking up exercise or visiting the doctor.
  • Over time high stress and poor health behaviors are well known to have a synergistic and cumulative effect on health that can increase risk for a number of serious and chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and even cancer,” she says.

All of this means that overcoming procrastination could have a major positive impact on your life. Sirois says her research suggests that “decreasing a tendency to chronically procrastinate by one point [on a five-point procrastination scale] would also potentially mean that your risk for having poor heart health would reduce by 63%”.

‘Just get started’  ACT

“On a positive note, if procrastination is an emotional regulation issue, this offers important clues for how to address it most effectively. An approach based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ‘ACT’, an off-shoot of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, seems especially apt.”

“ACT teaches the benefits of ‘psychological flexibility’ – that is, being able to tolerate uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, staying in the present moment in spite of them, and prioritising choices and actions that help you get closer to what you most value in life.”

“Relevant here is cutting edge research that’s shown students who procrastinate more tend to score higher on psychological inflexibility. That is, they’re dominated by their psychological reactions, like frustration and worry, at the expense of their life values; high scorers agree with statements like ‘I’m afraid of my feelings’ and ‘My painful experiences and memories make it difficult for me to live a life that I would value’. Those who procrastinate more also score lower on ‘committed action’, which describes how much a person persists with actions and behaviours in pursuit of their goals. Low scorers tend to agree with statements like ‘If I feel distressed or discouraged, I let my commitments slide’.”

“Research shows that once the first step is made towards a task, following through becomes easier”
“ACT trains people both to increase their psychological flexibility (for example, through mindfulness) and their committed action (for example, by finding creative ways to pursue goals that serve their values – what matters most to them in life), and preliminary research involving students has been promising, with ACT proving more effective than CBT in one trial over the longer-term.”

“Of course, most of us probably won’t have the option of signing up to an ACT course any time soon – and in any case we’re bound to keep putting off looking for one – so how can we go about applying these principles today? “When someone finally recognises that procrastination isn’t a time management problem but is instead an emotion regulation problem, then they are ready to embrace my favourite tip,” says Pychyl.”

‘What’s the next action – IF – a simple next step –

“The next time you’re tempted to procrastinate, “make your focus as simple as: ‘What’s the next action I would take on this task if I were to get started on it now?’”.

“Doing this, he says, takes your mind off your feelings and onto easily achievable action. “Our research and lived experience show very clearly that once we get started, we’re typically able to keep going. Getting started is everything.”’

If only I had known all this in the 5th grade I would have been a violin concert virtuoso instead of a blogger. judy

*Dr Christian Jarrettis a senior editor at Aeon magazine.

A Mind Trick to Beat Procrastination

Some researchers say visualising your ‘future self’ can beat procrastination and drive better decisions.

 The act of visual imagery is well known for use in sports but can be applied to any part of your life where you’re procrastinating


The theory goes like this: most of us aren’t particularly good at picturing how our immediate actions will affect us long-term. But if we’re constantly picturing ourselves at a later point in life, and how our daily decisions affect this future person, it can help us make better immediate decisions because it’s easier to imagine the long-term consequences.


“Part of the idea comes from research by Hal Hershfield, psychologist and associate professor of marketing at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, who studies how our perception of time can alter decision-making.”

“In a series of four experiments, people were asked to interact with their “future selves” – digitally altered portraits which showed them in old age – through a virtual reality program. Hershfield found that those who interacted with their future selves were then more likely to allocate money towards a hypothetical retirement savings account.”

Imagining Future Woofer

Hershfield says we often behave in ways that can be detrimental in the long term: “It’s very similar to eating unhealthy today and suffering the consequences over time.”

But “when we help people visualise and more deeply consider their future selves it increases the tendency to act in ways that are more future-oriented.”

In one study 193 university students were assigned to either a present-focused meditation or a future-focused mental imagery meditation. Those who regularly practised visualising their future were better able to empathise with their future selves and experienced a so-called “future-self continuity” due to less procrastination “People who procrastinate feel disconnected from that future self.  The more you imagine yourself in the future the more emotionally connected you feel to that self.”

This idea is not always the key to ending procrastination or altering behaviour, because not all people who procrastinate do so for the same reasons. Instead, it’s important to understand the cause of procrastination.

For example, if the reason for procrastination is simply that you don’t enjoy doing a particular task or are afraid to fail, imaging yourself in the future may make someone even more anxious. “If you are procrastinating because you are really anxious that you are not doing that task well, then visualising the future self might exacerbate anxiety.”

Imagining Future Meowie


Srini Pillay, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of Tinker Dabble Doodle Try, has developed a method to foster this behaviour.

He recommends:

  • Decide on a scene that’s not only specific, but also believable so your brain can better process the visualisation. “Imagine something that feels realistic and congruent with who you are.”
  • The more vivid or detailed the picture is in your mind, the better.
  • Visualise the completion of an entire project by paying attention to every step of the task, not just the end result.
  • Try the visualisation both in first-person (where you are living through the scenario) and third person (where you are watching yourself experience it) – the two perspectives can help you solidify the scenes you are imagining, 
  • choose a time of day where the mind is in a “natural slump” such as the mid-afternoon, and devoting 15 minutes each day to the practice.
  • Don’t expect to master the visual exercise in one session. The task can be stressful for some people.  Repeat sessions until you feel more comfortable with the practice.

Of course, not everyone is capable of imagining challenges. The practice is also more difficult when the reasons behind your procrastination are vague or tougher to understand.

Ultimately, the exercise can help you understand why you’re procrastinating about something that you’re trying to achieve and help you move forward, says Pillay.

“Tinkering with your imagination turns on this unfocused circuit and helps you put together the missing puzzle pieces.”

My Peak Alpha Frequencies aren’t Peaking

Current research points to common underpinnings of neuro-inflammation and immune dysfunction for many chronic conditions like pain, MS, lupus, migraine, cancer, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) or Fibromyalgia.  One of the symptoms people with chronic conditions often experience are flu-like symptoms and brain fog.  The brains of people who have chronic conditions work differently from those of healthy people. 

  • A recent study done at Stanford looked at brain waves of people with ME/CFS and compared them to healthy controls. They found those with fibro or chronic fatigue have decreased  peak alpha frequencieswhich are associated with goal directed behavior being interrupted, and problems with attention and alertness. Getting moving at a task is difficult, and thus why we can feel resistance to everyday tasks.
  • A different study showed that neuroinflammation is higher in people with chronic fatigue or fibro and the level of inflammation correlated with the level of symptoms. One area with the most inflammation was the amygdala, which plays a role in procrastination.
  • Another study found that the reward center of the brain is less activated . Reducing the expectation of reward may contribute to difficulty in starting tasks.

What relief to read new studies that say “It’s not my fault I procrastinate.  I can blame my brain.”

You don’t have to have a chronic medical condition. Anyone who procrastinates or can’t get started on a task can benefit from this 3 step technique.

Focus on what you would like to accomplish: 

1. Stop thoughts of being overwhelmed or feelings of dread.

Let go of any thoughts of anticipatory dread and move on to a calming thought, or instead focus on sensations in the current moment. For example:

  • Look at a something neutral or pleasant – even a pillow’s colors and pattern.
  • At the same time, smile. It can be a fake smile.
  • Take in a deep, slow breath, then breathe out and let go of your negative thought.
  • As you breathe in again, keep smiling and focus on the present moment–what you are seeing, or what you are hearing or feeling.
  • Repeat this as often as you need to. You may need to every few seconds, especially at first.

2. Ask: “What is the next small, easy step?”

  • Break the task into very small, tiny steps. Focus on what’s doable.
  • Once you have taken a first step, repeat the question– What is the next small, easy step?
  • Make it OK to do only part of what you want to accomplish.

3. Focus on the finish line: 

  • Think about what you will gain by completing the task. Ask yourself “What pleasure will I get when I complete this task?”  OR
  • Ask “What pain will I avoid by doing this task?” Sometimes that works even better.
Sharing with others, or use a buddy system can  help you move forward. Call your buddy and tell them what your 3 steps are, and listen to their 3 steps. Then call again to see how you both are doing. This can magnify the power of the 3 steps.

When I’m not so overwhelmed I’ll think about focusing on which teeth I want to brush . . . the cooking and cleaning can wait.


“Combating Feelings of Overwhelm, Resistance, or Listlessness in Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome”,



Procrastination Style, Part III – Solutions

If you haven’t already . . .Take the quiz, Part I

Read the post, Part II –  My Inner Conflicts to see what YOUR Inner Conflicts are so you can solve them.

Beat Procrastination and Make the Grade: The Six Styles of Procrastination and How Students Can Overcome Them

by Linda Sapadin

“1) The Perfectionist: You’re overly concerned with not meeting high expectations; you work so hard you never finish (or, sometimes, never start).”

Alphabetize cans by Peggy

“Solutions: Appreciate that it’s your perfectionism, not external standards that make you do what you do. Set realistic (not idealistic) goals before starting. Focus on progress toward your goals. Engage in positive self-talk. Set time limits for each task. Learn to make mistakes—really—do so deliberately and see what happens!”

“2) The Dreamer: You’re great at planning and scheming but frustrated by the practical reality of sitting down to do hard work”.

“Solutions: Try turning some of your dreams into concrete goals and spend time on them regularly. Figure out how academic success can make you feel good about yourself (pleasure doesn’t only come from external sources). You’re not exceptional— the same standards and expectations apply to you. Don’t wait for the spirit to move you; learn to harness your energy.”

“3) The Worrier: “What ifs” get in the way. You avoid making decisions, resist change, and are fearful about the unfamiliar.”

“Solutions: Remember that not to decide is to decide; delaying decisions changes the course of your life. Turn nerves into excitement. Don’t “catastrophize”—not everything has to feel overwhelming. Believe in yourself—it’ll make you less fragile. Commit, then figure out how to accomplish something. Don’t let qualifiers and negative statements creep into your thinking. Answer your “what ifs” with a plan. Break bigger projects into pieces. Hang out with optimists.”

“4) The Crisis-Maker: You enjoy the last-minute adrenaline rush and tell yourself you work best under pressure.”

“Solutions: Think about multiple reasons to do an assignment (instead of only last-minute stress). Recognize that you don’t know if you’ll enjoy an assignment until you start it. You’re not a victim; see tasks as opportunities. Remember the positive aspects of your responsibilities. Reward yourself for getting started earlier. Get your adrenaline going with other activities.”

“5) The Defier: You rebel against external deadlines and expectations. You might be overt about this, or you might exhibit a more passive-aggressive kind of defiance.”

“Solutions: Take responsibility for where you are and the choices that got you there. Negotiate when possible—you just might get your way. Choose your battles and consider the consequences. Remember the relationship between short and long-term choices. Set aside time to do the things you enjoy. Channel your rebellious side into a cause you care about.”

“6) The Overdoer: There’s too much on your plate because you can’t say no or set appropriate boundaries. As a result, there’s never enough time to do it all.”

“Solutions: Remember that no one has it all; you have to prioritize and decide what to care about. Your academic success should come before making others happy. You’re in control—take control. Learn to say no. You’re entitled to relax and reward yourself; don’t feel guilty for doing so. Be more proactive than reactive. Ask for help!”

Click to access 6%20kinds%20of%20procrastinators.pdf


Procrastination, Part I – What’s Your “Style” Quiz

I prefer to call myself a multi-tasker who has so many projects going there’s never enough time to finish any . . .  rather than a procrastinator

I prefer to call myself a planner who takes planning so seriously that there is never enough time to finish the planning stage . . . rather than a procrastinator.

I prefer to call myself a creative type who is more invested in the process  than the product . . . rather than a procrastinator.

I took this quiz to make sure I was right in my self assessment.

Your Procrastination Style Quiz

from: It’s About Time:  The 6 Styles of Procrastination and How to Overcome Them
by Dr. Linda Sapadin


If MUCH OF THE TIME” is MOSTLY correct for you with each question just circle the question number.  Otherwise, go on to the next question

1.   Do you have difficulty completing a project because your own high

standards have not been met?

2.   Do you get preoccupied with details, rules or schedules that others don’t

seem to care much about?

3.   Do you think a lot about things you want to accomplish, but rarely get them

off the ground or finished?

4.   Do you wait for opportunities to drop into your lap rather than take an

active, “go-get-‘em” approach?

5.   Do you paralyze yourself before starting a project, worrying so much about

the “what ifs” that you are too anxious or out of time to do the task?

6.   Do you hesitate to leave your comfort zone, avoiding situations that might

cause stress or anxiety?

7.   Do you become sulky, irritable or argumentative when asked to do a task

that you don’t want to do?

8.   Do you take offense or are annoyed at suggestions from others regarding

how you could be more productive?

9.   Do you ignore or put off deadlines, then at the last-minute work frantically

to get things done?

10.   Do you enjoy, or take pride in, taking risks or living on the edge?

11.   Do you have difficulty saying “no” to other’s requests and then feel

resentful or overwhelmed when it’s time to do them?

12.   Do you run around doing things, without really feeling that you’re

accomplishing very much?

Your Procrastination Style Answers

If you’ve answered “Yes, that’s frequently me” to any of these questions, you probably know you’ve got a procrastination problem (You probably knew it before you took the test)

Now take a look at your “Procrastination Style(s)


If you:

  • Answered Yes to Questions     1 & 2   You are a Perfectionist Procrastinator
  • Answered Yes to Questions     3 & 4   You are a Dreamer Procrastinator
  • Answered Yes to Questions     5 & 6     You are a Worrier Procrastinator
  • Answered Yes to Questions     7 & 8   You are a Defier Procrastinator
  • Answered Yes to Questions     9 & 10   You are an Crisis-Maker Procrastinator
  • Answered Yes to Questions 11 & 12 You are an Over doer Procrastinator

Here’s a summary of what fuels your procrastination style:

  • Perfectionists procrastinate because they want everything to be perfect (that seems obvious!)
  • Dreamers procrastinate because they hate dealing with all those pesky bothersome details and enjoy the “what if”.
  • Worriers procrastinate because they are afraid of change and worry about “what if”.
  • Defiers procrastinate because their difficulty with authority makes them resent and resist doing tasks.
  • Crisis-Makers procrastinate because they love living on the edge, only get motivated at the last minute to enjoy the adrenaline that comes with crisis.
  • Over doers procrastinate because they have too much on their plate, don’t prioritize well and have difficulty getting it all done

If you want more details check out this post

Now I’m completely confused.  I answered yes to half of each in perfecting, dreamer, over-doers.  Luckily, I’m not a  worrier or defier cuz I always defy myself to worry.


What did you learn from taking the quiz?  Let us know in the comments.


Part II, Procrastination – My Inner Conflicts

Part III, Procrastination – Solutions

Want to buy the book?  Click here: