Procrastination: Preventing the Decay of Delay

Procrastination is the avoidance of doing a task which needs to be accomplished. It is the practice of doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones, or carrying out less urgent tasks instead of more urgent ones, thus putting off impending tasks to a later time. Everyone procrastinates sometimes, but 20 percent of us chronically avoid difficult tasks and deliberately look for distractions.

I recently read about “student syndrome,” which refers to the phenomenon where a student will begin to fully apply himself or herself to a task only immediately before a deadline. Results from a 2002 study indicate that many students are aware of procrastination. Procrastination is considerably more widespread in students than in the general population, with over 70 percent of students reporting procrastination for assignments at some point. A 2014 panel study from Germany among several thousand university students found that increasing academic procrastination increases the frequency of seven different forms of academic misconduct, such as using fraudulent excuses, plagiarism, copying from someone else in exams, using forbidden means in exams, carrying forbidden means into exams, copying parts of homework from others, fabrication or falsification of data and the variety of academic misconduct.

I have to share my own tendencies regarding procrastination. As a young boy, I put off doing my chores until they all piled up. As the afternoon sun baked me in the back yard, I could think of nothing but the community pool. The longer I put off trimming the hedges, the harder it became to complete the job. Every time I thought, “I’ll dust my room tomorrow,” the dirtier it got. Of course, invariably something else would take up my time the next day. Despite the many negative consequences, procrastination became one of my most troubling bad habits. It seeped in to many areas of my life. Putting off telling my wife I’d bounced a check. Deciding to wait on my laundry until I found myself rinsing out a pair of briefs and hanging them on the edge of the tub.

I was hit by “student syndrome” in college. Temporarily lulled by a false sense of the time required, I would look over the syllabus, then lope along with an unscheduled starting time and an undefined deadline. Suddenly, as the time to finish an assignment rapidly approached, my mind would start reeling. Oh no, I feel out of control! I’ve barely begun. How could I do this to myself again? So I would stay up half the night. Funny thing. I always nailed it. I kept  earning As “at the last minute,” which only served to reinforce my habit of procrastinating. I read a lot in college, but not usually what was assigned. I called it “collateral reading.” It helped me add scope to what I was learning in class. It also provided fuel for the procrastination fire I kept burning round the clock.

For me, procrastination became an automatic, negative, problem habit of needlessly postponing and delaying a timely and relevant activity until another day or time. I always end up doing some diversionary activity. I find myself saying, “I’ll fix the problem later.”  Because procrastination is a habit, when it exists along with conditions such as a negative mood, it’s likely you will frustratingly repeat procrastination patterns despite your heartfelt wishes to change for the better and avoid hassles associated with the habit. Procrastination typically has more to do with not wanting to address unpleasant feelings associated with a task.

I can suffer as much from the things I fail to do as the things I do. This is certainly true regarding my recovery from addiction. In order to maintain my sobriety and improve my life, I need to take regular action. Failure to do so can compromise my sobriety, which will put me at risk of relapse. I identify procrastination as  one of my primary character defects. I have gone as far as to liken it to dishonesty. Saying I am going to do something within a mutually-agreed time frame that I tend to put off for as long as I can is just like lying.

There are many reasons why people will procrastinate in recovery. In order to be successful, the alcoholic or addict will need to face his or her demons and overcome them. This type of work is not always comfortable, so there is a real tendency to put it off as long as possible. Recovering from addiction involves a great deal of change. Fear of the unknown can mean that the alcoholic or addict tries to delay making these needed changes. Some individuals are naturally “demand resistant,” and may fight the recovery process all the way. One way procrastination will manifest itself is putting off following a sponsor’s direction or moving forward with step work. Sometimes, alcoholics and addicts only take action after they’ve been backed into a corner, or hit bottom, where the cost of not taking action becomes too high. Some people just become accustomed to waiting for situations to escalate before they become willing to do something. This means that the person’s life will tend to be much more difficult than it needs to be.

Overcome the destructive power of procrastination in your life by tapping into encouraging affirmation and motivation. Then gain momentum as you move into action. You no longer have to live with discouragement or defeat, tied up with tension, riddled with remorse, and controlled by impossible ideals or feelings of fear or inadequacy. Liberation definitely is within your reach. To be set free requires taking a long look at your past in order to understand how you became a prisoner of procrastination and why you have remained a prisoner for so long.

Liberation also requires that you identify all of the “mind games” you play with yourself and others – the excuses or rationalizations that have enabled you to justify your procrastination. Once you take responsibility for these rationalizations and replace them with truth, you will have mastery over them. And once you are no longer a prisoner of the past, you will no longer be a perpetual procrastinator.


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