Everybody at some point in their life has experienced procrastination. I am intimately connected with it at this point in my life as I try to finish writing my dissertation. I am nearing the home stretch of finishing my degree but instead of sitting down to write I will find anything to do in order to avoid it.
A prime example: yesterday I started systematically organizing my music in iTunes according to mood. Really? Or earlier in the week when I made a bread recipe in the middle of the day instead of writing. I'm aware that I'm procrastinating but when the energy of procrastination gets ya, you'd rather do anything than what needs to be done (like write a blog post instead of a dissertation ;-)
We all procrastinate for different reasons. Most of those reasons relate to our personalities orientation to effort, success and failure. As a lover of all things personality centered I could easily break out the motivations for procrastination utilizing the 9 types of the Enneagram. However, when I started to map it out there really aren't 9 ways but a few major themes that all types share.
I should note that there are other reasons for procrastination that are less psychologically focused than those listed below. For example, if those who have ADD or ADHD this is a mental processing issue and as such may cause procrastination due to the brain's difficulty in filtering out stimuli (I struggle with a bit of this myself). People that have to manage ADD or ADHD often have to learn effective working skills that circumvent procrastination tendencies.
Additionally, things like clinical anxiety or depression may exacerbate procrastination tendencies in a person that may not be as prevalent without the depression or anxiety symptoms.
Below are 6 psychological motivations for procrastination. You may do one or all of these, or they may be some that I didn't catch so I'd love to hear from you as to why you procrastinate and how you overcome it.
This seems strange but many people procrastinate due to a fear of not measuring up to their own or someone else's standards. As a part time professional organizer has shared with that many of her clients will procrastinate cleaning or organizing a space due to a need for things to be perfect. The thought is if it can't be ideal then why bother doing it all. Well perfection is a tall order, and most people know this. So rather than strive for something that is knowingly unattainable some people tend to postpone whatever the thing is because the task of creating perfection is too daunting. In this way the need for perfection intersects with a fear of failure, but there is always a should behind the perfectionists procrastination.
Fear of Failure
One of the more obvious reasons people procrastinate is due to a fear of failure. Many people unconsciously feel that if they put-off what needs to be done than there is no chance of them losing. It's the old "if you don't play you can't lose" tactic. Most people don't like to be criticized or evaluated so when you simply don't do what needs to be done (or what you want to do) there's nothing for others to evaluate and no way to fail. The desire to be triumphant is something most human beings harbor. Even those who are not self proclaimed "competitive" people have a desire to win. Tasks are looked at by some as opportunities to win or lose. Unfortunately viewing a situation in these terms creates a high-tension environment that can cause some people to rise to the challenge, and others to opt out of the race.
Fear of the Unknown
Some people avoid completing things (or avoid starting them all together) due to a fear of the unknown. Some people unconsciously believe that if they complete one thing there will not be something to take its place. This is particularly true of creative people who fear that once they complete a particular endeavor than the energy or creativity for the next thing will not come, and they will be "tapped out" creatively. Other people fear completing things because they are worried about what will take its place ("if I finish this project at work, what will I have to do next? It could be worse!").
Other people avoid completion due to a deeper more unconscious fear of self-actualization; Type Nine on the Enneagram for example may avoid completing large goals due to a fear of actually showing up to their lives and developing into someone that is engaged with the world. Type Seven my avoid completing something due to a focus on the next thing thing because of a need for stimulation in order to avoid negative emotion. When we avoid completing something we need to look at whether there is a fear of the unknown behind that avoidance, and if it could possibly be a fear of what might come next (if anything).
Fear of Depletion
Some people procrastinate because of a desire to conserve their own mental, physical or emotional resources. People who fear depletion will avoid completing tasks because they are unsure of how much effort they will have to put forth and whether they have the energy to put forth the effort. "I can't clean my closet, I just don't have it in me", or "There's not enough time to do _____". These are statements that reveals a fear of energy depletion, and while for some who have very real health and time concerns this can seem like a realistic fear.
Unconsciously we may feel that we only have so much energy/time/resources and so may over-regulate causing projects or goals to be postponed. Typically inherent in this belief is an "all or nothing" fallacy, much like perfectionism. Either I put 400% into this or I don't do it at all. The trick is in pacing, planning and being realistic about the output necessary without over-focusing on the possibility of depletion. By giving believing the thought, "I don't have the energy" your energy will follow suit, and you won't have enough energy. Remember energy follows thought.
Fear of Success
Many people are afraid of success. This happens for various reasons but one of the most common is the fear of being happy. It sounds strange but a great number of people are afraid that if they become happy then something bad will happen. The ego tells us not to enjoy the happiness for long because it will not last. Some personalities are more prone to this than others, but on some level all human beings are aware of the transience of happiness (yet forget about the transience of sadness). Nonetheless procrastination due to a fear of success keeps you where you are. People like to be comfortable.
Success in an endeavor means change. When we procrastinate due to a fear of success we could be afraid that it will be taken away from us in some way, as though succeeding in completion will automatically make us victims of other people's, life or God's wrath. The other shoe will drop. This is a more unconscious motivation for most people because on the surface everyone says they want to succeed and be happy, but very few people actually position themselves in a way that allows success into their lives. We block success through all kinds of fun defense mechanisms that are designed to keep us safe from pain. Ironically the more we guard ourselves from pain and success the more unhappy we become, how's that for self-sabotage.