What is Procrastination?

Procrastination can be defined as the act of delaying or postponing something until the last minute, or past its deadline.

 Some researchers however define procrastination as a “form of self-regulation failure characterized by the irrational delay of tasks despite potentially negative consequences.” (Steel, 2007; cf. Klingsieck, 2013).

It is estimated that 80 to 95 percent of college students engage in procrastination, approximately 75 percent consider themselves procrastinators, almost 50 percent procrastinate consistently and problematically, and about 1 in 5 adults suffer from procrastination.

The Science Behind Procrastination:

Many believe that procrastination is merely laziness or “bad habits”, however this is not always the case. Procrastination actually originates from our biology.

Procrastination comes from the part of our brains called the limbic System. The limbic system involves our fight or flight responses and is considered to be very old and automatic.

Very closely related to our limbic system is our prefrontal cortex, which is much younger and “weaker” than that of our limbic system. Our prefrontal cortex involves our executive functions. 

These include systems like planning, emotional regulation and decision making.

Our prefrontal cortex and our limbic systems are constantly arguing over what to do, but because the limbic system is older and stronger, it usually wins- leading to procrastination.

Why Do We Procrastinate?

There are a great number of reasons why a person might be prone to procrastination.

Students who procrastinate usually fall victim to cognitive distortions such as the overestimation of both the motivation to complete tasks in the future and the amount of time left to complete tasks, and the underestimation of the amount of time an assignment might take to complete.

Present bias also has a hand in why a person may procrastinate. Present bias is the tendency for people to be more motivated by immediate gratification rather than long-term rewards.

For example, watching TV or playing video games is way more appealing than completing an assignment.

People who suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may affect procrastination.

As ADHD involves executive function difficulties, the symptoms that come with the disorder may have an effect on the severity and the frequency of procrastination.

When a person is distracted by outside stimuli, as well as internal thoughts, it can be difficult to begin, and stay on a task- especially if that task is difficult or not interesting to them.

People who suffer from depression may experience feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and self-doubt leading to a lack of motivation to complete tasks. It can be easier for someone who lacks confidence to put a task off, or not complete it at all.

Similar to that of depression, people who suffer from OCD can experience maladaptive perfectionism.

Maladaptive perfectionism is defined as the unhealthy setting of unrealistic standards combined with harsh self-criticism and low self-esteem.

It is because of this that a person’s fear of making a mistake, doubt completing a task correctly, and/or worry about others’ expectations overpower you and affect one’s ability to complete a task.

Some Tips to Overcome Procrastination

Luckily for us, because of our brain’s neuroplasticity or ability to change our brain chemistry, practice can help with our procrastination tendencies.

Here are some tips to help change our neural pathways:

  1. Set realistic goals: It is easier to complete tasks when you set realistic goals rather than tackle a vague big plan.
  2. Set Deadlines: This is a good way to end the “I’ll do it tomorrow” cycle that many experience.
  3. Get Organized: Writing down all of your assignments or investing in a planner to keep track of due dates is a good way to establish structure.
  4. Eliminate Distractions: It is important to have all of your attention on one thing to ensure task completion. Turn off your phone, go to a quiet place, or listen to music to drown out any unwanted noises.
  5. Reward Yourself: Incentives are great motivators to complete tasks and help avoid procrastination.

Makalila Marten

Makalila Marten

A fourth-year Psychology major at Farmingdale State College. While working toward becoming a clinical psychologist for children, I currently work as a behavior therapist for children with autism. Apart from academics, I love to spend time with my friends and family, dance, and listen to music!