Research Suggests Procrastination Is A Psychological Defence Mechanism

A concern that many people consult an online therapist about is procrastination, the act of putting off tasks that can be done now until later, even if there are negative consequences for doing so.


A frustratingly common misconception by people outside of psychology circles is that this act is related to laziness when decades of research highlights that this is not the case.


The most recent confirmation of this comes from the journal Brain and Cognition, which highlights that procrastination is a psychological self-defence mechanism to handle anxiety, a fear of failure and other emotions, which certain people rely on more than others.

The research, an account of 200 people’s experiences, found a correlation between people who can practice expressive suppression and the level they delay tasks, highlighting a connection between negative emotions and procrastination.

People who can manage intense feelings and navigate unpleasant emotions are more likely to avoid procrastination, and people who are self-critical when they do so are more likely to procrastinate more.

This means that people who get upset at themselves and either call themselves or internalise other people calling them lazy can potentially get caught in a negative emotional feedback loop, accentuating the problem.

Instead, mindfulness and self-compassion are the primary tools used to not only avoid negative emotional loops in the moment but help improve people’s ability to practice expressive suppression and avoid procrastinating in the future.

One of the best pieces of advice, when faced with a task that causes anxious thoughts or a desire to put it off, is to treat oneself with kindness and acknowledge that you are feeling this way, taking a step back to understand why this may be.

This simple step back can be key, as there is almost always a reason, even if it may not be conscious, why you may not want to do a task immediately, and having this self-patience can not only help avoid stronger negative feelings but also help improve productivity.

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