Mindful Moments: Stories and Lessons of Procrastination

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1 of 5 adults delay starting everything.

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Behavioral Psychology is still as much art as science. Before a treatment can begin an appropriate diagnosis is critical. So it’s no surprise that psychologists have come up with classifications for different types of procrastination patterns.

Someone who starts most things on time, but puts off writing emails, might be referred to as a ”situational procrastinator”. That covers most of us. But a sizable chunk of the normal adult population are instead described as ”chronic” or ”dispositional” procrastinators.

According to Joseph R Ferrari, who wrote chapter two of Coping With Stress: Effective People and Processes, chronic procrastinators put off almost everything they can get away with. And 20% of the normal adult population are chronic procrastinators!

“Although chronic procrastinators engage in situational delays, situational procrastinators do not necessarily delay chronically across all different types of tasks. (13). Besides situational forms of procrastination, there are some procrastinators for whom frequent delays have become their way of life. Harriott and Ferrari (14)… found that approximately 20% of the normal adult population engages in frequent, chronic procrastination. This figure is equally applicable to both men and women. People also have self-identified themselves as tending to delay the start and completion of numerous daily tasks. For example, procrastinators report delays responding to phone messages, buying gifts and sport/concert tickets, doing the dishes, and the laundry… they don’t make decision on where to eat out, what movies to see, or how to dress for a social event; instead, they let others make those decision for them. They also miss doctor’s appointment and fail to pay bills on time. These people would be labeled as dispositional or chronic procrastinators.” (p. 31, 32)


Written by clayward

January 18, 2010 at 5:08 am

Posted in research, theory

Do monkeys procrastinate?

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So why do we procrastinate?  I mean, as a species.  Well, we’re pretty complicated.  We’ve got all these virtues and vices and it’s not clear which are innate and which come from kindergarden.  Pride, perfectionism, and fear fall more on the vice side of things typically (certainly not always).  And they definitely play into the story of procrastination.  People use procrastination as an oddball way to amp their sense of self-worth, according to Burka and Yuen, authors of Procrastination: Why You Do It, What To Do About It.  The thinking goes like this: by procrastinating, we avoid feeling like a failure even when we do fail.   “‘Well, I could have done better if I’d started sooner and given myself more time to do it.'”  And even extremely successful people can be afraid of failure.

Why such an elaborate ruse to keep ourself prideful?  Because when we’re too focused on being judged or even judging our own results then it is easy to become afraid of those results.  Or so perfectionist that getting started seems daunting.  It can be easier to put something off than start something that could result in failure.

When we think through the consequences of our actions, us humans are what economists call “risk averse.”  We’re more afraid of doing badly than we are excited about doing well.  This can make starting new things very emotional.

Heck, monkeys feel the same way.

So is that it?  Is it inevitable to be paralyzed with fear and never get anything done?  Of course not!  We can value the work that we do in and of itself.  Failure and success are really beside the point.  It’s the effort that we put into the work that we do that gets put on the scale at the end of our lives.

And does being risk averse mean that monkeys procrastinate?  I really want to know!

So, procrastinating to protect our sense of pride?  That’s just fear (the mind killer) wearing a fancy dress.  I wonder if using a feel-good incentive for time management like ProcrasDonate can activate a different set of neurons than the more typical guilty procrastination…

Written by clayward

October 10, 2009 at 4:10 pm

Posted in questions, research, theory

Need more research on clinical procrastination treatments.

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I’m very encouraged by the Psychiatric community’s fairly recent emphasis on testing of therapeutic techniques designed to produce results in a limited number of sessions.  There’s plenty of literature out there about procrastination.  And many therapies have been shown to be successful.  However there hasn’t been enough studies that compare their effectiveness.  So therapists are still winging it, to some extent.

Dr Joseph R Ferrari writes in chapter 2 of Coping with Stress: Effective Peoples and Processes:

“Regardless of the type of procrastination, I believe that a multifocused intervention package is needed… Clinical outcome research is needed to determine which components of the intervention package are more or less effective.  Until such research is done and published, using a set of interventions is the best strategy.” (p. 43)

Written by clayward

October 2, 2009 at 4:08 pm

Posted in research, therapy