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Procrastination is rarely just about laziness – that would be too easy to fix.
Instead, it tends to result from deeper psychological issues – think a fraught relationship with your parents or a skewed perception of time.
We dug into the growing body of research on procrastination and highlighted some of the least obvious explanations for why you push things off … and off and off.
So don’t, well, delay. Read on and see which of those theories most resonate with you.
1. Your dad was really strict when you were a kid
Research led by procrastion expert Timothy Pychl found that women who grew up with authoritarian fathers (those who place a high value on obedience and aren’t particularly warm) are more likely to procrastinate as adults.
Writing in Psychology Today, Pychl says that’s possibly because procrastination is a passive aggressive way to rebel against external agents of control – something they weren’t able to do when they were young.
2. You need to adjust your perception of time
In other words, if it’s July 2017 and you find out a project is due in January 2018, you’ll be more likely to procrastinate than if it’s June 2017 and you find out the project is due in December 2017. That’s because we categorize time in terms of years, and a same-year deadline seems sooner than a next-year deadline, even if they’re both six months away.
The next time you find out an assignment is due the following week, try reframing the deadline as “like the present.” In the study, participants achieved this by looking at a calendar in which the current date and the due date were the same color.
3. You have an ‘all-or-nothing’ mindset
Losing 20 pounds might seem like a tremendous undertaking, so it’s tempting to put it off endlessly.
People with this mentality”think of the 20 pounds rather than the day-to-day struggle of chipping off the weight and gradually reaching a goal,” Judith Belmont, Ph.D., told Today Health.
One way to combat this type of thinking is to break things up into smaller tasks. As Belmont suggests, think about cutting out a few hundred calories every day (or whatever your doctor suggests) to make the goal seem more manageable.
4. You don’t practice self-compassion
Procrastinators tend to be more stressed than other people – even before they start procrastinating.
On the other hand, people who are kind to themselves during difficult times are better at self-regulating, which involves the capacity to control your impulses.
5. You don’t feel that connected to your future self
Other research by Pychyl found that undergrads who felt less similar to their future self – whether 10 years or two months down the road – were more likely to procrastinate on their school work. And an earlier review of studies suggests that procrastinators are less likely to think about and plan for the future.
Fortunately, as The Washington Post reports, it might be possible to cultivate a greater sense of connection with your future self. In one study led by Hal E. Hershfeld, people who looked at digitally aged photos of their faces were more likely to say they’d invest money in a retirement account.
The Post also reported that some insurance companies are applying this research and starting to offer digital tools that show you what you’ll look like when you’re older.