The Science Behind Procrastination (Procrastination Part 4)

Earlier posts in this series on procrastination looked at statistics showing that the greater a gap between when a person graduates and when they sit for the EPPP, the more likely it is they will get a bad score or fail altogether.

But if procrastinating on EPPP prep diminishes the likelihood of success, in addition to causing a delay in career plans, why do we do it? Why do so many people put off preparing for the EPPP, thus causing themselves more stress in the long run?

Until recently, the answer to this question was shrouded in mystery. At least as far back as the ancient Greeks, people knew that procrastination was a problem, but they didn’t know why some people seem prone to this weakness while others don’t. But after a long delay (no irony intended) scientists are finally beginning to understand the science behind procrastination.

In an article published at the Association for Psychology Science, Eric Jaffe synthesizes some of the main discoveries throughout the past 20 years that are finally enabling us to understand the scientific and psychological dynamics behind chronic procrastination. Among some of the findings are the following observations:

  • True procrastination is a complicated failure of self-regulation and a breakdown of self-control;
  • An inability to manage emotions often lies behind the tendency towards procrastination;
  • Procrastination is a type of self-defeating behavior that brings great harm to people;
  • Procrastination is often sustained by certain myths we tell ourselves. For example, “procrastinators comfort themselves in the present with the false belief that they’ll be more emotionally equipped to handle a task in the future.”
  • Procrastination arises from a gap between intention and action;
  • Procrastination is associated with lower short-term stress but leads to greater long-term stress;
  • Procrastinators often believe they are relieving stress by putting a task off until tomorrow. However, “the very quest to relieve stress in the moment might prevent procrastinators from figuring out how to relieve it in the long run.”

Guilt and Self-Forgiveness

Procrastination is often associated with feelings of guilt. Jaffe shares research showing that when chronic procrastinators are confronted with the unhelpful effects of delay, they tend to focus on how made this knowledge makes them feel bad at the expense of drawing insight from the knowledge. That is, instead of learning from their mistakes and doing better, procrastinators enter into a cycle of self-hatred and guilt. Learning the art of self-forgiveness is often central in helping procrastinators amend their ways.

“…the best personal remedy for procrastination might actually be self-forgiveness. A couple years ago, Pychyl joined two Carleton University colleagues and surveyed 119 students on procrastination before their midterm exams. The research team, led by Michael Wohl, reported in a 2010 issue of Personality and Individual Differences that students who forgave themselves after procrastinating on the first exam were less likely to delay studying for the second one.”

Chop Tasks into Pieces

Research suggests that another possible solution to procrastination is to subdivide tasks into smaller portions that are less overwhelming. “Procrastinators might chop up tasks into smaller pieces so they can work through a more manageable series of assignments.”

The mechanisms for dividing tasks into smaller portions are built into TSM’s learning platform. As we explained in our earlier post “Three Reasons You aren’t Successful at Studying for the EPPP”, it’s important to give yourself short-term goals that will lead you to your ultimate goal. We enable you to do this through customizing your daily study sessions in a way suited to your schedule, so that instead of procrastinating you can start making baby steps towards your goal.

Accentuate the Positive

Research also shows that procrastinators can be helped by finding something positive to focus on about the task they are putting off. In the context of preparing for the EPPP, that might mean visualizing your future career as a psychologist.

To read Jaffe’s entire article, click on the following link:

Why Wait? The Science Behind Procrastination


Further Reading:



Leave a comment