Hidden Reasons Why You Procrastinate

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 16, 2021
4 min read

Procrastination has long been stigmatized as a personality trait of lazy people. However, that’s far from reality. Procrastination is defined as the voluntary delay of intended and necessary or important activity. Even though there are negative consequences to procrastination, many people’s negative consequences are outweighed by the positive feeling of the delay. 

There are some hidden reasons why you might procrastinate. 

A main characteristic of procrastination is the intention-action gap. This means that procrastinators mean well, but they don’t implement their goals. Procrastination is characterized by self-regulation and time management problems. 

Procrastination goes further than just being lazy. It’s actually affected by cognitive and emotional elements. Procrastination is heavily influenced by psychological factors like low confidence and one’s ability to perform. If you feel like you’re not capable of doing the task at hand, you’re more likely to put it off. 

There’s not one type of procrastinator. You might be driven by many different factors to procrastinate. If you’re a chronic procrastinator, you’ll have the following problems: 

  • Finishing tasks
  • Situational delays on one task
  • High impulsivity 
  • Low self-discipline

Some people may have the best intentions, but they are delayed by fear of failure or perfectionism. These fears can lead to a breakdown of self-control. 

Studies have shown that procrastinators will not do as much work at the beginning of the semester, but will do more work towards the end of the course in order to complete it. However, even with the best intentions, they won’t be able to keep up with the work like they plan to. This pattern will repeat over the course of their academic semester or work career.

Procrastination has typically been seen as a self-regulation failure. However, it’s not a weakness in the will or inability to perform. The problem with self-regulation happens when stress and levels of anxiety are higher than average. Academic procrastination is often linked with self-regulation, self-efficacy, and self-esteem. 

Self-regulation is often seen as a common motivation for procrastination. If you procrastinate, you’re more likely to not be able to self-regulate. When you can’t self-regulate, you’re less likely to study for an exam or do tasks that you deem more difficult. You do this because there are other things that you’d rather do instead. 

A behavioral delay occurs when you’re focused on making yourself feel good now, so you put off tasks that don’t achieve that. You’re more likely to make impulsive decisions to distract yourself and do other activities that seem more fun. When you divert during the implementation of your plans, you’re creating a delay later on. 

Diverting from your productive tasks may give you immediate satisfaction, but it will bring you more stress and anxiety in later situations. While the satisfaction feels good in the moment, you’ll later be left with the responsibilities you put off. 

Even though you may realize that you’re putting off your responsibilities, it won’t always change your actions. There’s an emotional part of the behavioral delay. If you are a chronic procrastinator, you may feel stuck in a loop of understanding your problem and continuing it. Mood regulation is a large part of this delay. To work on overcoming this, you could try to make yourself do one hard project per day. Or choose one project to get done early, and then see how it makes you feel once it’s done. 

Another reason you may procrastinate is that your time estimates are off. You may think that you’re able to get things done faster than you actually can. You may make the mistake of underestimating the time it’ll take you to get through projects. 

What you can try to do is start earlier than you think is necessary. While this can be difficult to get the hang of, you should try to start tasks a few days or weeks earlier than you usually would. 

If you’re not interested in the task that you have to do, you’re more likely to put it off. Your discomfort tolerance might cause you to disengage from the task. Procrastination often comes from an attempt to avoid things you don’t like. 

If you’re feeling this, you may need to set time apart to take care of tasks you don’t want to do. Forcing yourself to get through the task could help you get through it. This feeling of accomplishment could help you tackle other tasks. 

Procrastination is also a part of control attribution. If you don’t believe your actions can control future desired outcomes, you will be less likely to do those actions. For example, if you think studying will get you a higher grade on your exam, you’re more likely to study ahead of time. If you don’t believe this, you may wait and cram for your exam in the hours before. 

If you find yourself procrastinating, it may be linked to a deeper cause than simply not wanting to do the task. If you feel overwhelmed by your procrastination, you should reach out to a mental health professional. They’ll be able to take a look at what’s going on in your life and get you the help you need.