Why Do We Procrastinate?

procrastionation ecard3


Have you ever procrastinated before?

I’m kidding. That’s a dumb question. I already know the answer. Of course you have – we ALL have. 

There isn’t a person on this planet who’s immune to the procrastination bug. Hell, I procrastinated and put off writing this post! (Ironic, I know.)

Before you’ll probably put off reading this post instead of reading it right now, so…yeah, I guess we’re even.


There isn’t a limit to the things we’d put off. Our procrastination comes in all shapes and sizes – no discrimination. It ranges from household chores to major projects. We know that we need to start these things right now, but some hidden force seems to keep us from taking action.

For some, procrastination is a minor nuisance. For others, it’s a debilitating.

Just like you, I’m a lifelong procrastinator at least until recently. (Loud, but no proud)

I’d put things off until the deadline rolled around because I knew I’d come through somehow, even if I waited until the last second. I always do. Well, okay, I guess that’s not 100% accurate.

It turns out procrastination caused me to miss deadlines (once or twice), and it really stressed me out. At some point, I started to realize that procrastination wasn’t doing me any favors. I got tired of feeling like I was defusing a bomb with seconds on the clock.


In fact, it was causing me a lot of grief, anxiety, guilty, and even shame. (Not the best of feelings)

Experiencing such negative feelings towards myself didn’t help matters. If anything, it made it worse. They made me feel self-conscious and zapped me of my confidence to complete the task. Which made me even less likely to begin the task, in the first place. Which made me feel even guiltier. (And around we go.)

By procrastinating, I created a procrastination habit loop for myself, and it’s a hard habit to break.

You have your own procrastination loop, right?

You set goals… but then you procrastinate.

You write a to-do list… but then you don’t follow through on any of it.

And this has happened, what? A gazillion times? (Yay, I’m not alone.)

Seriously, why do we procrastinate?

Why are we so good at thinking of what to do but so terrible at actually doing those things?

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The Emotion of Procrastination

If I were to ask you why you think you procrastinate, what would your response be?

Most people believe they procrastinate because they want to do it perfectly. Better perfect or nothing at all. However, studies show procrastination isn’t actually linked to perfectionism at all.

The first reason why we procrastinate is linked to impulsiveness, which is the tendency to act immediately on urges.


  1. We feel like we’re in the wrong mood to complete a task.
  2. We assume that our mood will change in the near future.

In other words, our mood towards the task and ourselves at the moment determines whether we procrastinate or not.

That’s right. You’ve got to set the mood. Oh yeah…baby…it’s business time.

set the mood

The reason for this is because we have little concern, understanding, or empathy for future us. We’re way more focused on how we feel right now. Talk about selfish, geez.

So if we don’t feel like we’re in the right mood to knock out a 10-page report or even book a hotel room for our business trip, we just let future self deal with the consequences. (Man, present us can be real a-holes.) Ironically enough, future us isn’t much better since they go through the same thought process, and let future-future us handle the fallout. (Man, future us is a real tool.)

Eventually, the deadline for the task comes up, we panic and scramble to complete the task. Worse, the task doesn’t have a deadline and nothing gets done at ALL!

I feel like this clip from “The Simpsons” pretty much sums up the idea. In the episode, Marge yells at Homer for not spending enough time with his kids.

“Some day, these kids will be out of the house, and you’ll regret not spending more time with them,” Marge says to him.

This is his response…

Let’s put this thought to the test. Look at the sentences below and see if you recognize any of them. Have you said any of these before?

  • If I take a nap now, I’ll have more focus later.
  • If I eat this cake now, I’ll count it as my cheat for the month, and I’ll make sure to not cheat again this week.
  • If I watch TV now, I’ll feel relaxed to work on the assignment later.

Even if you haven’t said any of those specifically, they somehow feel very familiar, don’t they? You’ll said something similar in the past that caused you to put off a task for future you to deal with. The reason for this is because we can boil the reasons why you put off tasks to one root cause. No matter the endless scenario in which you could procrastinate, the reason why you put off any attempt to take action is simply this:

You believe that taking action will cause more pain than not taking action.

Why is that?

Well, there are many reasons why you believe this either consciously or subconsciously. However there are three main culprits that tend to cause almost all procrastination. They are:

  1. Fear – you feel like taking action could be dangerous
  2. Stress – you feel like a different activity would be more enjoyable or less frustrating
  3. Fatigue – you feel like you don’t have enough energy to take on the task at hand

So, how can we stop procrastination in all its forms?

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How to Overcome Procrastination

The first step in conquering your procrastination is to understand what the root cause is and to own that emotion. (Which we know now, so we can cross that off our list.) The typical solution for procrastination — essentially, “stop procrastinating and start working,” is ridiculous. While we’re at it, why don’t we tell the sky to stop being so blue. Or tell sloths to move faster (lazy bums).

sloth eating slowly

But just because that solution is stupid, doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do to overcome your procrastination. Here is a simple tip that can help – forgive yourself for procrastinating.

hold it hold it

Okay, so that tip probably wasn’t as enlightening as you were hoping for, but studies show that students who reported forgiving themselves for procrastinating while studying for an exam ended up procrastinating less for the next one.

The reason for this (if you procrastinate and don’t click on the link to read the study) is because procrastination is linked to negative feelings, and the act of forgiving yourself reduces the guilt you feel about procrastinating. (The Procrastination Loop we talked about earlier.) If you can reduce the guilt, you take away a trigger that starts the procrastination loop in the first place.

Without taking responsibility for your emotion it’s going to be incredibly hard to overcome procrastination. By accepting them, and forgiving yourself, your mind can take action to stop the processes that are causing your fear, stress and/or fatigue that’s causing you to procrastinate.

Another thing you can do is treat your future self with some love, and get started, whether you’re in the mood or not. Start small. If we use my running example, a great small win is putting on my running shoes. Once I have them on, I’d feel like an idiot if I didn’t go run.

The truth is you’re rarely ever going to feel “in the mood”. No one has ever jumped with joy and screamed “I”M STUDYING FOR THE MCAT! EFF YEAH!”

michael keaton

Instead of focusing on feelings, think about what the next action is.

Just look at the task and break it down into smaller steps. Find the smallest, most insignificant way to get started. Don’t even think about the end result or the task. As Mark Twain famously put it, “If your job is to eat a frog, eat it first thing in the morning, and if your job is to eat two frogs, eat the big one first.

Sometimes the most impactful action is the smallest one. Click To Tweet
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Where To Go From Here

Procrastinate – we all do it.

There are things we know we need to do, but we just can’t bring ourselves to do them. We all have the best intentions in the world – go to the gym, start a new business, learn a new language … but then we procrastinate. We’re always living dangerously.

procrastination live dangerously

For some, procrastination is a minor annoyance that wastes time. For others, chronic procrastination prevents people from leading an extraordinary life they’d truly enjoy.

In a nutshell, you procrastinate when you put off things that you should be focusing on right now, usually in favor of doing something that is more enjoyable or that you’re more comfortable doing. It’s the feeling where you know you should do something but you don’t do it.

Procrastination is caused by the belief that taking action is more painful than doing nothing. Click To Tweet

home procrastination grief

People think that they have time-management problems, when they procrastinate. But they don’t. What they have is an emotion-management problem. They have to learn that you don’t feel good all the time, and you’ve got to get on with it.

Procrastination is an emotional problem, not a time-management one. Click To Tweet

Today, we just started to scratch the surface of procrastination and started to understand the cause of procrastination. Now that you have an understanding why you procrastinate, you’ll have more control in taking the steps to conquer it.

In the next article I’ll explain how you can take an understanding of the cause of your procrastination and break down the action into manageable chunks. In the final article I’ll go over methods that can allow you to start taking action immediately and banish that procrastination forever.

Although the same basic strategy of understanding, breaking down and starting immediately will work in almost all cases of procrastination, understanding your exact reasons for why you put off taking action allows you to customize the steps to improve their effectiveness.

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