Understanding why we start procrastinating is relatively straightforward. It often begins with feelings of anxiety, even when faced with familiar tasks. Fear of failure and a relentless pursuit of perfectionism also lead to postponing tasks until the desired outcome seems attainable. This can eventually develop into resentment towards the task itself (you can’t even think about going to the gym or putting a resume together to apply for a new job). We may also blame external factors for their procrastination, shifting responsibility away from themselves.
Procrastination is fundamentally an emotional regulation issue, a complex failure of self-control. It has more to do with managing emotions than managing time. Those with anxiety tendencies are particularly prone to procrastination. Anxiety arises from how we perceive and process life events, often disguising itself as shame, resentment, or anger. It is not a flaw in time management or character but rather a coping mechanism. It is crucial to identify the root causes of anxiety rather than simply labeling it as procrastination or laziness.
Here are some common reasons for procrastination when you know what needs to be done but struggle to take action:
Fatigue and burnout
Physical exhaustion can be a straightforward physiological reason for procrastination. The solution lies in adequate rest, sleep, proper nutrition, adjusting schedules, and managing priorities.
New task anxiety
Our brains have a natural inclination towards routine and familiarity, so starting new tasks can trigger procrastination. Fear of the unknown or tackling a significant new task can be daunting. While I’ve personally experienced this, I’ve noticed that as tasks become more familiar, the resistance diminishes over time.
Overwhelm due to task size
Another reason for procrastination is the perception that a task is too large and overwhelming. Breaking it down into smaller, manageable pieces (like a training plan) or utilizing methods such as the “swiss cheese” technique (working on random parts of the task and allowing things to fall into place naturally as you are progressing with your work on that task) can help overcome this mental block.
If past experiences have resulted in failure multiple times, the brain may convince you that further attempts will also end in failure. A sense of apathy can then take hold. It’s important to challenge this belief and remind yourself that as humans, we are capable of continuous growth and change. Past performance is not indicative of future results.
Negative patterns from the past
Negative messages from parents or caregivers in childhood can create inhibitions and self-doubt. If you were constantly told you were a loser or that there was always someone smarter or more beautiful, these beliefs may still linger. It’s crucial to work through these past experiences, question them, and challenge the low self-esteem they may have created. The brain seeks a sense of completion, so achieving something positive can contradict those old beliefs, triggering self-devaluation and anxiety.
Believing that nothing depends on you and that you have no control over circumstances can lead to procrastination. This attitude may arise from family patterns, but it doesn’t have to define your worldview. Choose to take responsibility for your life and recognize that you are the creator of your own path.
Fear of failure and self-disappointment
Perfectionists often struggle with the fear of failure and the associated self-disappointment. When taking risks or trying something new, there is a fantasy image of ourselves where we are successful and comfortable. Procrastination can arise from the fear of encountering a version of ourselves that may not achieve the desired outcome, leading to disappointment. Asking for help may also be challenging due to the expectations ingrained in childhood. Accepting all aspects of yourself is essential, including the ability to fail. If continuous personal development is the goal, every loss can be seen as a win because it contributes to the growth of your abilities.
Inability to make choices
The abundance of possibilities in life can sometimes create a sense of uncertainty and make committing to a specific choice daunting. It is essential to realize that this feeling is normal. Keeping calm and understanding that decisions do not have to be perfect can help in making sound choices. Berating oneself repeatedly for needing to make decisions only reinforces shame. Remember, not choosing is also a choice, and there is no inherently good or bad decision. By being self-supportive and following your dreams and desires, you can navigate towards your North Star.
Not knowing the “Why”
When there is no clear purpose or point to a task, procrastination can set in. Understanding the underlying motivations and connecting with the purpose can help overcome this hurdle.
If in childhood you did not have enough “must” responsibilities assigned by you parents, you never learned to take action simply when you “have to”. The solution lies in training your brain through action and discipline.
Studies indicate that as people age, they tend to procrastinate less. This shift can be attributed to a growing sense of fulfillment in their careers and relationships. Also, they understand that time is limited.
To address procrastination, I personally rely on behavioral motivation—simply diving into action without overthinking. Initially, it may require pushing yourself to go to the gym for the first 30 days, but eventually, your body adjusts and begins to enjoy the process. Skipping the gym becomes a source of dissatisfaction, and you may even feel the effects of inactivity in your muscles.
Believing in yourself is crucial. If you have a dream in your mind, remember that it belongs to you, and it is entirely possible to achieve it. Break your dream down into small steps and celebrate every small achievement along the way. Rather than dwelling on how much time and effort it will take to turn your dreams into reality, take that initial step and then the next one.
So, what are you waiting for?
Life goes on, and it’s up to you to take action and pursue your aspirations.
Every first Saturday of the month at 9 am PT/noon ET I hold a 1.5 hrs ‘Reach Any Summit’ Masterclass – Building and Monetizing Your Mindset. Every month there is a new topic that we cover from 4 main categories: Purpose/Mindset/Personal Brand; Goal-setting and productivity hacks; Risk taking and dealing with fear; Monetizing your mindset. You can join for just one session and see if this is for you. Email me to find out the next month’s topic.
Join a small group weekly LIVE masterclass
Popular posts on similar topic:
- Why laziness is good for you
- Surviving is just a habit
- How to not give up
- Goal-setting 101
- Life in the “death-zone” and reader Q&A
- Simple tips on how to reach your hardest summits – UC Berkeley Haas lecture
- I spent 20 min on top of Mt Everest. Here is what I learned about the meaning of life
- Thrive Global: Olga’s interview with Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated
- Self-leadership lecture at UW Foster Executive MBA
- Mt K2 expedition notes
- Annapurna I expedition notes
- Mt Kenya expedition
- Building and Monetizing Your Mindset: monthly LIVE Masterclass
About the author:
Olga Koroleva is a founder and CEO of Capital Brain, a company that builds AI-powered products. She is also a high-altitude mountaineer who likes to climb mountains with double-digit death rates, University lecturer, and a public speaker on leadership and risk taking. Sign up to her self-leadership newsletter at https://capitalbrain.co/blog/