What’s the Delay? 5 Reasons You Procrastinate

mature woman looking at phone while at her home desk
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There’s a big red mark on your calendar: Project due. You’ve devised a plan, composed a checklist and resolved that — this time — you’ll stay on schedule. But you don’t. Is it a character flaw? Old-fashioned laziness? Were you just born this way?

Learn more about the science and psychology of procrastination with 5 Reasons We Procrastinate

Probably not, says Joseph Ferrari, professor of psychology at DePaul University and author of Still Procrastinating: The No-Regrets Guide to Getting It Done. Instead, your tendency to procrastinate might be due to a condition like attention deficit disorder or anxiety — and you can get help for that.

But there’s a more likely explanation: Your procrastination is a learned behavior that you might have picked up for lots of reasons. Five of the most common underlying causes include:

1. Delusions about deadline pressure. You might think you do your best work under pressure, but studies show chronic procrastinators actually make more errors under time pressure than others do.
2. Fear of failure. Whether you’re afraid of letting down yourself or others, this kind of fear can be paralyzing.
3. Fear of success. The added responsibility that comes with success scares some procrastinators into delayed action.
4. Perfectionism. Wanting to do a great job leads some people to avoid acting on a task until the last minute.
5. Poor time perception. Procrastinators often have a hard time estimating how much time a task will take.

Is there a cure? Yep. But it doesn’t involve calendars, lists and logs. If you’re a procrastinator, time management tools alone won’t do the trick. Instead, cognitive behavioral therapy — working with a therapist to change the way you think and behave — is the most promising approach.

After all, since procrastination is a learned behavior, says Ferrari, “it can be unlearned.”

To learn more, check out these videos on Staying Sharp:

Your Brain on Procrastination

Everyday Brain: Memory

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