The Tale of Procrastination: I should be getting on with it… but…

Procrastination is the voluntary delay of an important task despite foreseeable negative consequences. It can be a student postponing starting his homework until the last moment. A smart and dedicated team member might regularly begin to work on a project when the deadline approaches. It happens when one is thinking, “I should be doing it. I want to do it, but…..” The ending can take on many forms. A chronic procrastinator rationalizes. He may contend that he’s not procrastinating, but just postponing getting started, until he cannot postpone any more.

Many reasons to procrastinate

The chronic procrastinator resorts to a variety of justifications. He can put the blame on distractors (TV, the Internet, the many emails he receives in a day, another but less important task), or reframe the action as unimportant: “I am putting off paying the bill today, because it can wait a few more days.” He can claim that he needs more time to do a good job. “I will file the tax statements later once I have a clearer head”. Some people would even say that working under pressure makes them productive: “I love the adrenaline rush. I work better in the evening anyway.” He might make comparisons with a situation or person that make him look good: “Fine. I haven’t filed the paper yet but I know other people who are worse than me.”

In all the previous examples, people really want to get on with a task but there is always something better to do. They know that the long-term costs outweigh the short-term relief. These costs includes lower grades at school, reduced access to top-rated universities, higher cumulative stress and illnesses, reduced productivity which leads to reduced earning power. Procrastination can lead to marriage breakups or even job losses. The mental health effects range from higher rates of depression, anxiety to lower self-esteem and lead to physical ailments such as heart disease. In a nutshell, procrastinators suffer more and perform worse.

A Widespread and Common Nuisance

Procrastination is not a modern disease. In 44 BC, Cicero, the Roman Consul, deemed procrastination “hateful”. A few centuries before that, in 800 BC, Hesiod, the Greek poet advised not to “put work off till tomorrow and the day after.” There certainly are more distractors nowadays: phone calls, emails, YouTube, and social media consumes more and more of our time. But procrastination is a recurring and widespread nuisance. We all procrastinate at one point in time, but a large proportion of the population do so chronically. Research shows that about as many as 20% of people may be chronic procrastinators.

Why do people delay completing a task when they know that they will suffer negative consequences? Procrastinators choose short-term pleasure despite the negative long-term costs. They prefer a benign distraction instead of feeling anxious about getting started. That anxiety can stem from excessive perfectionism.

Hypnosis as a Cure for procrastination?

How can one solve this issue? First, you can try to block access to distractors by isolating yourself in a place where you will not be tempted. This solution is unpractical: can you really seal yourself off the team at work, or from your family at home? Even though you find such a place, and switch off the phone, you could still find a reason or a way to delay a bit more. Second, you could find more motivation by reframing the action into more pleasurable terms. There must be something good about this task. The third solution is to go to the root of the problem, and find the cause of the anxiety. Hypnosis can help. Contact us for more information on hypnotherapy in Hong Kong.