Untangling Procrastination – What Is It and Why Do We Do It?

JT - One of the best escapes from the prison of procrastination is to take even the smallest step toward your goal. Denis Waitley

Is there something you are putting off in your life right now? Are you overwhelmed by more work than you have time for? Not getting as much accomplished as you would like?

If so, you may like to keep reading as today I am starting to take my procrastination to coaching. And yes, I say start as I already know procrastination is a big subject…

In this post I am going to explore –

  • What is Procrastination?
  • Why Do People Procrastinate?
  • Factors Linked to Procrastination
  • The Procrastinator’s Code
  • Questions for Reflection


So, What is Procrastination?

If you have been a procrastinator for a while, you may already be familiar with the following definitions of procrastination –

  • “the action of delaying or postponing something” ~ Google
  • “the act of habit of procrastinating, or putting off or delaying, especially something requiring immediate attention” ~ Dictionary.com
  • “the act of procrastinating; putting off or delaying or deferring an action to a later time”  ~ The Free Dictionary
  • “to put off intentionally the doing of something that should be done” ~ Merriam-Webster
  •  “the action of delaying or postponing something” ~ Oxford Dictionaries

In the above definitions of procrastination, you probably noticed the words –

  • act or action, and
  • putting off, deferring or delaying.

Why Do People Procrastinate?

There are many reasons why people procrastinate and some of them include –

  • protection mechanism (a way of coping),
  • fear (of failure, success, losing control and separation or attachment),
  • perfectionism,
  • self-judgment,
  • low self-esteem,
  • lack of motivation,
  • learned helplessness,
  • poor study and work habits,
  • uncertainty of what is expected,
  • an unwillingness to do hard tasks,
  • not knowing how to do something,
  • forgetting to do something,
  • physical challenges (i.e. being sick),
  • waiting for the best time to do a task, and
  • hostility towards another person.

Factors Linked to Procrastination

Following are some of the links or root causes of procrastination –

  • Biological –
    • your body,
    • brain, and
    • genetic inheritance.
  • Emotional –
    • inner feelings (i.e. shame, not good enough)
    • hopes,
    • pressures,
    • dreams,
    • doubts,
    • lack of self-acceptance, and
    • fears (i.e. of failure, intimacy or separation, success, being controlled)
  • Interpersonal –
    • family dynamics and history,
    • social relationships, and
    • culture.
  • Cognitive (thoughts and thought patterns) –
    • All or nothing thinking – for example “asking for help is a sign of a weakness”, “I’m never good enough” and “if I can’t do it perfectly then what is the point?”
    • Overgeneralising – for example “if it happens once, it will happen all of the time”
    • Disqualifying the positive – dismissing or ignoring any positive comment / achievement / compliment – see above in behaviours
    • Using ‘Should’ statements – thinking in terms of should, must, ought imposes a view about the way the world in which may not tie with reality, and which induces emotional unhappiness, resentment and guilt – for example “I should never make mistakes” or “I should have been able to pick that up before it happened”
    • Emotional reasoning – thinking that emotional states legitimately reflect reality. For example – “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”

The above forms or patterns of cognitive distortions (faulty thinking) are based on the work of Aaron Beck. Psychiatrist David Burns discusses the 10 forms of cognitive distortions in his book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy (referenced below). Over time, the cognitive distortions can be broken down or untangled through awareness and ongoing practice. If you would like to read more about them.

After reading the above, you may have started to identify some of the links or causes to your procrastination. If not, you may resonate with the Procrastinator’s Code. The Procrastinator’s Code is from the book Procrastination: Why You Do It, What to Do About It Now by Burke and Yuen (2007). The code reflects deeply held beliefs about life and ideas about why people procrastinate.


The Procrastinator’s Code

“I must be perfect.
Everything I do should go easily and without effort.
It’s safer to do nothing than to take a risk and fail.
I should have no limitations.
If it’s not done right, it’s not worth doing at all.
I must avoid being challenged.
If I succeed, someone will get hurt.
If I do well this time, I must always do well.
Following someone else’s rules means I’m giving in and I’m not in control. I can’t afford to let go of anything or anyone.
If I expose my real self, people won’t like me.
There is a right answer, and I’ll wait until I find it.”

(p.16 – Procrastination: Why You Do It, What to Do About It Now

Questions for Reflection –

  • How do you define procrastination?
  • Do you procrastinate? If so, do you know why? Can you relate to any of the above factors linked to procrastination?
  • If you are a procrastinator – do you remember the first time your procrastinated? Was it in relation to school, family, parents, sport or something else? What age were you? How did the situation turn out? How did you feel about how the situation turned out?

Over to You…

I hope the above information has started to give you some insight in to procrastination. If you have any questions, please contact us or write a comment below.

If you are ready to take yourself on the adventure of getting to know yourself (your true self), why not join the Toolkit? A place where I share tools, inspiration and ideas to live a courageous and openhearted life.

References –

Burka, J., & Yuen, L. (2007). Procrastination: Why You Do It, What to Do About It Now. MA, USA: Da Capo Press.

Burns, D. (1980). Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. New York: New American Library.

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