- This self-induced pressure of procrastinating may well boost our previously low levels of motivation.
- The opposite of procrastination is concrastination, which means do the task now and don’t stop until the task is finished.
- Procrastinators tend to value spontaneity over planning.
- However, delaying can also be about self-doubt.
What motivates us to be unmotivated? Why does one put the ‘pro’ in procrastination? These questions have plagued all of us at one time or another. Procrastination is a multifaceted conundrum.
The problem with this particular conundrum is that there are some positive as well as some negative payoffs. That is, by buying time there are definitely some unrecognized advantages.
By putting something off we condense our time limits to complete the task. This shortening of time may increase one’s focus, especially if we commenced the task unfocused. This self-induced pressure of procrastinating may well boost our previously low levels of motivation. How does this work?
Because some people function better under pressure, they may see procrastination as a subversive situational strategy to increase their arousal levels and subsequently their motivation.
This is a learned response but it is not necessarily a response we are totally aware is happening. Therefore, even though it works, we may still self-admonish ourselves for procrastinating.
“Spontaneity is a meticulously prepared art.”- Oscar Wilde
Procrastinators tend to value spontaneity over planning (Zhang et al., 2019), or at least long-term planning. ”Specifically, it was revealed that individual differences in procrastination are correlated with structural abnormalities and altered spontaneous metabolism in the parahippocampal cortex and the prefrontal cortex, which might contribute to procrastination through episodic future thinking or memory and emotion regulation, respectively.”
Procrastinators see spontaneous responses as more challenging and creative, whereas planners are more concerned with avoiding the need for a challenge. These different internal drivers set the tone for some of us to seek security and plan far ahead, while others prefer the freedom and excitement of delaying for as long as they can. These delay tactics are especially apropos for the stress-seeker or the risk-taker. When success follows these challenges, self-confidence thrives.
However, lest we forget, delaying can also be about self-doubt. I don’t feel like I am ready so I put it off. Self-doubt can also lead to justifying. The opposite of procrastination is concrastination. It means: Start doing the task now and don’t stop until the task is finished. Why is this concept so hard to achieve? Does thinking or ruminating get in the way of action? Do we fear that we are inadequate? Are we lacking the courage to try? Does inaction sabotage the being in action? Are uncomfortable emotions in the way? Whatever the reasons, concrastinators are far outnumbered by procrastinators. How do we get more in the now when now is what we are avoiding?
When we ruminate, we are overthinking the past or our future. We are blocking ourselves from the present moment. These thoughts can become circular and self-sabotage our attempts to be in the moment. Usually, ruminating involves an inordinate amount of overanalysis and/or worrying. At some point these ruminations can become obsessive and block the ability to act. Ruminations may also promote negative thoughts and lower one’s self-confidence, which also shuts down personal agency.
“We are here and it is now. Further than that, all human knowledge is moonshine.” – H.L. Mencken
Because ruminations are not in the present, they are not actionable. They must be controlled in order to get back to the now. Anxiety, depression, and perfectionism are all potential contributors to being stuck in ruminating thoughts. Grounding yourself in the present will assist the ruminator in gaining back personal control.
Procrastination is believed to be more than putting off action. It may also be an avoidance strategy to repress uncomfortable emotions. When we ruminate, we are stuck in circular cognitions and may be repressing our feelings unknowingly. Dealing with our uncomfortable feelings of guilt or shame can free our ability to be more in the now. Most of our repressed feelings are past or future oriented and not in the present. Exercise can be a beneficial activity to change both mood and rumination. Through physical activity worry, anxiety, and emotional turmoil can achieve some respite.
The Inaction Effect
The psychology of regret has been identified more with inaction than action. This has been called the inaction effect (Zeelenberg, et al., 2002). This means that decisions that were not followed up promoted more regret than decisions that were followed through. Another example of the inaction effect and regret comes from hospice settings. Patients were asked what they regret. A majority said they regretted what they had not done in life, not what they had done in their life. Errors of omission appear to hold more regret than errors of commission. Taking action, concrastinating, appears to have more positive emotional outcomes than procrastinating. This outcome is salient to one’s confidence being enhanced. Unlike procrastination, concrastination appears to enhance self-confidence rather than inhibit it.
Becoming more of a concrastinator, rather than a procrastinator, may be a difficult transition for some in today’s world. Being a self-starter is challenging. Distraction cannot become an attraction. Social media and smartphones, which have led many down a pathway to distraction-addiction, are creating more and more avenues for procrastination. Purpose and meaning will most likely have to be present. Emotional intelligence will need to be engaged. And, the ability to stay with the task and not give-up must be mastered. The concrastinator is not impulsive. The actions taken are about a proactive responding, not reacting without forethought. All of these factors equate to increasing one’s self-discipline, which is usually absent when one is procrastinating.
Zeelenberg, M., Kees, van de Bos, Erik van Dijk, and Rik Pieters (2002). The Inaction Effect in the Psychology of Regret. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2002 Mar;82(3):314-27.
Zhang, S., Liu, P., and Feng, T. (2019). To do it now or later: The cognitive mechanisms and neural substrates underlying procrastination. WIREs Cognitive Science, Vol.10, July/August 2019.