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5 Main Causes Of Procrastination

Updated on October 2, 2012

What Causes Procrastination and How Do I Stop Procrastinating?

If I don't know the causes of my procrastination, how can I identify the root of the problem? I tried different ways to stop procrastinating for years to no avail. I have been suffering from procrastination for long, I mean very long years. I always believed I am smart enough to look into myself and easily figure out why in the world I can't do the things I am so passionate about.

I got caught up in the self help book madness, but thank goodness, that only lasted a short time. I soon realized most of the books were full of rubbish, and mostly written by so-called experts who didn't have the slightest clue about the problem.

I am not here to talk trash about books and people who wrote them, I am only talking about my personal experience and how I came to the conclusion that there are 5 main causes of procrastination, and guess what, most of the books don't even talk about them.

Before I go any further, if you are reading a self improvement book on procrastinating and its causes, and all you find in that book is someone telling you how terrible you are about time management, I am sorry but, donate that book to your local library.

5 TYPES OF PROCRASTINATION

WHY DO I KEEP PROCRASTINATING SO MUCH?

I have done a lot of research about this, mainly because I have been suffering from it. At first, I believed all the "lack of time management skills" nonsense. But truthfully, I have absolutely no problem when it comes to planning things and getting them done on time, if not early. I never miss my appointments, I never miss deadlines, if I have multiple tasks in one day, I am pretty good at accomplishing.

So why did I ever think I had poor time management skills? Someone who has a problem with that will definitely show signs. Like I said before I have read about this in those so called self help books that don't really know what they are talking about. It is one of the shallowest and lamest things to say "You procrastinate because you don't know how to manage your time!". Oh well, wow, how brilliant of you!

So forget this... the real causes of procrastination has nothing to do with it. This is something much deeper, and only someone who went through it can accurately pinpoint the reasons why. Now let's take a look at them.

Do the Work

"There is an enemy. There is an intelligent, active, malign force working against us. Step one is to recognize this. This recognition alone is enormously powerful. It saved my life, and it will save yours." Steven Pressfield the author of this book

To be honest, I am reading Pressfield's books about procrastination (and he has many fiction books) because I sort of agree with his description of resistance and how it stops us from getting from point A to point B. You can find my review about this book in my other article titled : I HATE MOTIVATIONAL QUOTES. Finally a book with a diagnosis and without all that time management crud.

WHAT CAUSES PROCRASTINATION?

After doing much reading and research and thinking, I have come to the conclusion that there are 5 main reasons why we procrastinate. There might be people thinking there is only 3 main causes or much more than 5, but to me, most of those are sub-categories of a much bigger type of procrastination. I am not arguing that what I found is definitely the most accurate explanation, because truthfully, anything is subject to discussion, and I am more than willing to hear others' inputs on this. So here is what I came up with:

LOW SELF ESTEEM

In many books, when it comes to a list of reasons why you are a procrastinator, you will find things like "fear of change", "fear of failure", "fear of success" etc. In other words FEAR. But why do we have this fear? It is not the fear itself that is the cause of procrastination, but it is the LOW SELF ESTEEM that is causing fear, and in some cases anxiety, panic attacks, depression.

I wanted to sing all my life. And I have done it for so many years, but I have always hated my voice. Even though I received a lot of praise, I always thought people were just being polite to me, they were not honest. My suspects of not having a good voice got even worse when I recorded and actually heard myself singing. And it did it for me. I have stopped for 17 years. But all this time I always wanted to go back to it, I really wanted to be in a band and play at a small coffee house or a bar every now and then, and have fun. But I was extremely self conscious about the color of my voice, I never had the courage to get it going again.

I can sing in pitch, I have a good enough vocal range, so technically, there is nothing stopping me. But what is stopping me is my low self esteem. Being embarrassed by the thought of someone else actually hearing my voice and saying: "EEEEWWWW".

I did the same with all my short stories. Right after winning an honorary prize at a magazine's contest, I threw away EVERYTHING I ever wrote. Not to go back for a very long time.

Looking at it from a non-creative point of view, let's say you want to start a new job, or you want to move to a different city but, you always come up with excuses to delay your plans because what you are really thinking is you don't have what it takes to take a big step like that. Call it fear of change or fear of watchamacallit, it all is the same thing. You do not have enough confidence in yourself to take the first step and continue your path without turning around and running back. This is it, plain and simple.

TOO MUCH SELF CONFIDENCE

And then there is this group of people who miraculously believe that they can do anything, so the deadlines are no big deal really, because it will only take them a few hours to get the task done. What's the big deal? Well there is only two possibilities here: They're either right, or they are terribly wrong.

You are in college and you have an assignment to finish in 3 weeks, about a topic you think is super easy. Why should you waste your time doing all the research for 3 weeks when you can take care of it in 3 hours? So during those 3 weeks you have a lot of time on your hands to do other fun things instead. Does it sound familiar? Well in the end, you might get it done in hours, but would it be the best assignment you could come up with? Maybe because of lack of time you could not do a detailed job, and what you created was just an average paper, even though you had the capacity to do better. Well you will have to accept and live with the consequences obviously. But you might say: "Well at least I got it done. There are some who never get ANYTHING done". Well then good for you! What an optimistic approach! But you still procrastinated for 3 straight weeks.

Of course worst-case scenario is that, while you thought you had what it takes to get the assignment done in a few hours, you realized at the very last minute that you actually have no clue, or it was so much harder than you thought. Well, time "WELL" wasted indeed.

If we can live with the consequences of giving an average paper work, or none, then we really either don't care much about the end result or we think what we did was much better than most people, even if they worked much harder and longer on it. In either case, this feeling comes from " too much self confidence".

SELF VICTIMISATION

For years I have tried to find the causes of my procrastination elsewhere, when it was lying right here, inside me. I found myself often saying things like "Because such and such things happened to me, I have lost my inspiration to do what I want to do", or there was always a stress factor, money factor... the list can go on and on. But the truth is, these are all excuses we give ourselves and the ones around us. There is always something, and there will always be. But if we see ourselves as victims, we will never be able to find the courage to start anything new. It is a very bad state of mind to be in. It is harmful in many ways.

But it is also the easy way out for a procrastinator who is doing nothing but coming up with excuses to not do what needs to be done, or what he/she wants to do. It is easy to blame other people or things, instead of looking deeper into ourselves.

When you are in this state of mind, the self improvement books you read tell you to learn how to meditate, or learn lucid dreaming, or take a relaxing vacation, start a yoga class etc. But these are all temporary solutions that will make you feel relieved for a short time, when in fact the real problem to deal with is still there. And that is you, self victimizing.

Have you ever asked yourself why you let other things or people rule your life and remotely control you? Believe me, most of them are not even aware how much power they have over you, well most probably because they don't and they don't care. It is you, who are torturing yourself by obsessing on unworthy things. Push them away, accept you mentally hurt yourself.

NOT WANTING TO DEAL WITH UNPLEASANT THINGS/TASKS

Have you ever found yourself not wanting to do something but you know you absolutely have to do it, there is no way around it? Yes, think of work, school etc. I remember when I was in college, if there was an assignment on a subject I did not care about, I delayed it to the very last day. Or you know at work you need to deal with a customer whom you know is a pain, you need to call them about a problem. But every time your hand reaches for the phone you suddenly have to go to the bathroom, or you want to grab a cup of coffee, or you have other paper work to take care of.

There is also another reason why this occurs in our lives. Sometimes, for some reason, we think we truly want to do something when it is actually not what we really want, but we don't know it yet. This is a little bit confusing. It is sort of a mask if you will. If you say " I want to go to the nursing school, I want to be a nurse" but if you keep delaying that for various reasons, you should ask yourself if you really want this or if you think you want to be a nurse because underneath it all you are procrastinating about something totally unrelated. This can be tricky. And it might take you years to figure out. When I did my MA and became a research assistant, I thought that was my main goal in life. But why wasn't I happy? When the time came to write my thesis, I hated every minute of it, although it was an interesting enough topic, I just delayed it for months and months. But then I realized being a research assistant and writing an MA thesis were not what I was after. What I really wanted to do was writing, and working on a thesis would enable me to do that. But I was interested in fiction, not non-fiction. And the thesis got delayed, delayed and delayed. And yes, as you can guess, I was left with an average thesis that I would never be proud of. My research assistant carrier lasted only for 4 years. As for writing fiction, I am working on it!

EXPECTING INSTANT GRATIFICATION

This is probably the most harmful form of procrastination. It is dangerous and self destructive. This type of procrastination usually comes with some form of addiction. And it's "addiction to instant gratification". Many people give up or don't ever start something because they are worried that they won't be recognized right away, mostly true for arts. I can't say all kinds of addiction is caused by procrastination but believe me, procrastination might be the underlying cause of many forms of addiction. Alcoholism, addiction to sex, drugs... these are all problems a procrastinator who is expecting instant gratification might very well be dealing with. Because he/she can't get gratification from what he/she really wants to do, he/she looks for a different way of achieving it.

I had never looked at it this way until I read the above mentioned book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. We know that people with addiction problems are always described as people who are NOT equipped with the strength of dealing with every day tasks or problems, therefore they hold on to a substance to help them get through the day and that also gives them instant gratification so they don't feel guilt about real life failures. But according to Pressfiled, the reason why people become addicted to something (anything) is because they are procrastinators who give in to the resistance within them.

THE CHICKEN AND EGG PROBLEM

I think Pressfield has a good point when he identifies "RESISTANCE" as a procrastinator's biggest enemy. But I find myself asking if resistance starts it all or resistance happens as a result of the 5 main causes I mentioned above? At first it seems like a simple answer. But when I think about it more, I see that I have not yet come up to a conclusion about this. This is like this age old chicken and egg question: "Which one came first?"

Maybe some of us were born not knowing how to beat the resistance, and others are equipped with the tools by birth. But luckily, learning to fight is possible, yes, it can be learned. Since we don't know how to defend ourselves against it, we develop one of these 5 types of procrastination.

Maybe some of us give in to resistance because we suffer from one of these 5 categories, or more than one at once, therefore, resistance takes over, and everything starts going downhill from there.

I would like to hear your input on this so please share your opinions with me.

WHICH COMES FIRST?

Are we the victims of resistance because we belong to one of those 5 categories or we give in to resistance as a result of these 5 causes?

See results

Let me hear your thoughts...

Resistance comes first.

Resistance comes first.

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    • Dilara 2 years ago

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    • dellgirl 5 years ago

      Resistance definitely comes first, whether we realize it or not.

    Resistance happens as a result.

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      • Rose Jones 5 years ago

        Oh, what a tangled web we weave - when we first try to deceive - ourselves.

      THANK YOU FOR TAKING THE TIME TO READ THIS ARTICLE - WOULD YOU LIKE TO ADD YOUR TWO CENTS?

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        • Gypzeerose profile image

          Rose Jones 5 years ago

          Procrastination is something I struggle with for sure, and I believe it is low self-esteem plus a lack of planning that causes most of it.

        • procrastinator lm profile image
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          procrastinator lm 5 years ago

          @Normyo Yonormyo: I agree with you on that one, and that's why I said in the beginning of that paragraph that not all addiction problems are caused by procrastination. Addiction itself is a whole other topic and it is way too complicated to just minimize to procrastination. But I do agree, like you do, that procrastination can lead to addiction in some cases, and it can very well be because that person already has the chemical imbalance in their brain that makes them a victim of addiction. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. Well said!

        • Normyo Yonormyo profile image

          Normyo Yonormyo 5 years ago

          It is a pity that Steven Pressfield says that addiction is caused by procrastination. It might be so for some people, who discover that using drugs gives them instant gratification. But to say it is caused by procrastination is to sell short the brain. If you look at how much effort addicts will put in getting drugs you can not say they are procrastinators.

          To really understand addiction you should look at how the brain is constructed and reacts to gratification. Then you would understand that procrastination has nothing to do with addiction. However addiction can create procrastination, because the brain will go and find its shot of happiness, rather then do the job at hand. You might say that the brain has found a new job: getting drugs.

          So how come the brain works that way. For some people it has to do with the fact that the drugs they take correct a certain level of another chemical in the brain, giving them the feeling that their whole. For others it is just the fact that the drugs create instant gratification. This gratification takes place in the brains reward system and so the brain seeks more gratification by the drug. That is for example why you can learn people to like pain, as they do with marines and special forces or long distance runners. Knowing that the pain will change into euforia, which is a strong reaction of the reward system, creates the wish by many marines and long distance runners to go on and endure the pain. With marines and special forces the added benefit is the reaction of your companions and leaders which give an extra reward, due to the fact that their social orientation is strong (they are easily rewarded by what others think of them). For long distance runners who run races the extra reward can be winning or being able to run out the race.

          So drugs may create procrastination but addiction is not created because someone is a procrastinator. That would be strange because you would need to take action to become addicted and if your a procrastinator you do not like taking action.

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          dellgirl 5 years ago

          You covered the subject very thoroughly. Excellent insights.

        • Kumar P S profile image

          Kumar P S 5 years ago

          Nice lens ! Thanks for sharing.

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          anonymous 5 years ago

          great article, wow makes a lot of sense