Procrastination Is a Strong Emotional Coping Mechanism

At a foundational, psychological level, putting off your responsibilities for what seems like innocent short-term pleasure is a powerful emotional coping mechanism.

Procrastination is more than simply spending time on Facebook before starting your work duties. At a foundational, psychological level, putting off your responsibilities for what seems like innocent short-term pleasure is a powerful emotional coping mechanism, says Dr. Tim Pychyl, professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.

"Psychologists see procrastination as a misplaced coping mechanism, as an emotion-focused coping strategy. [People who procrastinate are] using avoidance to cope with emotions, and many of them are non-conscious emotions. So we see it as giving in to feel good. And it’s related to a lack of self-regulation skills. ... We all have a six-year-old running the ship. And the six-year-old is saying, 'I don't want to! I don't feel like it!'"

The same mental processes that keep us from smaller duties — washing dishes after we finish eating or saving emails when we could respond to them now — also delay long-term goals like saving for retirement or beginning to eat a healthier diet. It's estimated that 5 percent of Americans procrastinate in ways that seriously affect their quality of life.

We all want to beat procrastination, but feel we have a limited amount of willpower to do so. Big Think expert Dan Ariely recommends rewarding yourself after you complete specific tasks:

Procrastination happens when we put our present self ahead of our future self, prioritizing immediate pleasure over expected long-term gain. Ultimately, overcoming procrastination may require confronting yourself and specifying your future goals. (Do you really like your job? Could you push yourself to do something better?)

Pychyl also recommends breaking tasks down into smaller parts and then beginning work on one or two of those parts a little earlier than you normally would. Beating procrastination also requires intention, so formulate "if/then" statements in your mind like, "If the phone rings, I'm not going to answer." 

Read more at Vox.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Sound could replace lasers in surgery

Moving from HOT to HAT, a dazzling new acoustic technology.

(Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)
Technology & Innovation
  • Scientists announce the ability to simultaneously manipulate individual levitated objects.
  • Using high-frequency sound waves may provide a safer alternative to laser microsurgery.
  • Video of the research looks like a cartoon, but it's all real.
Keep reading Show less

11 Esther Perel quotes that set the record straight on love and sex

The Belgian psychotherapist has a lot to teach us.

AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 10: Esther Perel speaks onstage during Bumble Presents: Empowering Connections at Fair Market on March 10, 2018 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Bumble)
Sex & Relationships
  • The idea of the "one" sets us up for unrealistic expectations.
  • Communication relies on honest conversation and plenty of listening.
  • Change yourself, Perel writes, don't try to change your partner.
Keep reading Show less

A new study proves parachutes are useless

A new study flies in the face of anecdotal evidence and raises questions about how we read data.

Yeh et al.
Surprising Science
  • Scientists working at medical schools across the United States discovered that parachutes don't lower the death rate of people jumping out of airplanes.
  • The study flies in the face of decades of anecdotal evidence.
  • The findings should be carefully applied, due to "minor caveats" with the experimental structure.
Keep reading Show less