Coming Soon: The Curse of Procrastination!

Aly Propes, Editor-in-Chief

It’s the last day of fall break and this paper was due weeks ago – tomorrow is the final, final, deadline. It’s a class I’m incredibly passionate about yet horrendously unmotivated (so it seems) to actually do. Initially, the logical thing would have been to break it into small chunks, tackle a manageable piece day by day that results in a well-put-together article that I am proud of. I am, after all, a capable writer, good interviewer, and this week in particular I have had nothing but time to write this paper. Yet here I am, 12 hours before school starts, cramming out what’s become just another assignment that will inevitably be a lackluster representation of my abilities. This is the face of academic procrastination.

Procrastination is explained by Webster dictionary as “to put off intentionally the doing of something that should be done”.  For many it is more than circumstantial but a habitual cycle that appears whenever we encounter an assignment that may not be as simple as knowing the answers. It is inherently and admittedly self-destructive, it decreases performance and brings us further from our goals and highest potential. Yet “many people describe procrastination as being stuck or against a wall, an obstacle they can’t get over. Does that sound right to you? The phenomenon of it: what does it feel like? We are often agitated, we can’t sleep but we can’t work. Until, some moment where we have this insight and we say ‘if I don’t start now, I wont get this done’” (Nic Vogue, 2019, Self Worth Theory: The Key to Understanding and Overcoming Procrastination). So we cram out a paper, a speech, a slideshow, that once had great potential and passion, now with no more satisfaction than knowing we got it done. There’s a wave of relief and a chance to breathe but it is short lived and filled with self-doubt as we scan over our work drenched in disappointment. Except, there is also an odd underlying comfort in this dissatisfaction. Now, if we fail, it is on our terms. It is at the fault of our own decisions and lack of preparation and not a flaw in our ability.  It was a bad decision, I am not a faulty human.

To understand how to amend this cycle, first, we must look at why it happens. Martin Covington, a professor of psychology at Berkeley university, poses a concept titled self-worth motivation theory. It details that to be seen as “capable, competent, and able individuals is our paramount human need.” (Nic Voge, 2019). Having evolved from hunter gatherer communities, contribution to the group was essential to life. Someone left on their own without their tribe on the unforgiving Savanna plains would surely not survive. This maintains prevalence even in an age where self-sufficiency is ever present. Now, instead of our capacity to hunt or protect keeping us alive, it’s our effort and action to our education and jobs.

Take school for example. Whether someone values the education they’re receiving or not, we are all invested in its ultimate (optimal) result, financial stability and job satisfaction. These concepts are deeply personal and important to us as individuals that are part of a greater social whole. We see others who don’t have these things and fear being in those situations. We intertwine immense importance to these ideals and dedicate our scholastic experience to attaining what in our modern capitalist society is seen as ultimate freedom. This creates two motivating factors.

A high success orientation motivates us to excel in achievement. This is a positive motivator, something that encourages action. It’s the knowing of fulfillment that we get from achieving highly and pushes us towards furthering personal goals. The second motivator is a high fear of failure. This is a negative motivator, meaning it restricts action. This is where the everdreded curse of procrastination arises. Because there is such a deep investment in what achievement means, failure has intense consequences. It’s not about the grade, it’s about self-worth. To fail in a step towards our goals is to let down or lower hope and potential for our sense of success that is so deeply personal and meaningful. It is a crack in self-image as a whole, and the idea of not being good enough, or who you believed yourself to be, is a terrifying concept to face.


Strategies for overcoming competing emotions:

  • Develop awareness
    • 1.Awareness of self-worth theory/root cause, learn to identify it
    • 2.”What do approach motives feel like vs. avoidance” (Nic Voge, 2019)

“The greater awareness [that we have] of our tendencies and motivations, we’re more likely to overcome them.” (Nic voge, 2019)

  • Tip the balance
    • “The first one is to learn how to tip the balance away from avoidant motivations and towards approach motivations. So a lot of people think ‘I’m not motivated to do this’. Often that’s not the case, it’s simply that their fear dominates or overwhelms their approach motives. There’s a reason you signed up for that class, there’s ideas you want to take away from, there’s skills you want to learn. There are benefits beyond school to doing well on this activity. But we’re not thinking of that. They’re not in our minds so they don’t affect us. Motivation can only operate on us if we’re thinking of it or feeling it. Because that’s the nature of motivation. So, how can we bring them back into our consciousness?” (Nic Voge, 2019)
    • Stack the motives – make a list of all the reasons why you do want to finish that assignment, read that book, or get a good grade on that test.
  • Challenge the belief that performance is indicative of worth
    • It is unrealistic to expect oneself to always achieve at their highest potential. Being highly intelligent and/or capable does not make someone superhuman. Instead, come up with a figure, say, 80%. And each time you work on an assignment, aim to do so at 80% of your potential capacity for greatness. This will make starting less daunting, and help avoid burnout.
    • Finally, understand that your ability is not equal to your worth.

There is intrinsic value in every experience, it is just a matter of finding it. Even when a class or assignment may seem completely void of purpose, I find it helpful to give it my own meaning. To take every action as an opportunity if not to enjoy myself, than to better myself. “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears” -Nelson Mandela