Is Procrastination a Defense Mechanism?

Procrastination is intentionally delaying tasks that need to be completed even though you know it will come at a cost. Non-procrastinators may assume that procrastinators are lazy and not interested in getting the task done, while others may think that procrastination is a character flaw and impossible to overcome; both are wrong. So, what is procrastination really?

Is Procrastination a Defense Mechanism?

The root of procrastination is far sneakier than laziness. It is not about avoiding work- it’s actually a defense mechanism to avoid negative feelings and emotions. The procrastinator’s subconscious mind uses a defense mechanism, aka “repression,” to delay the negative emotions.

Can you think of a time when procrastination actually helped you? No, well, me neither, and yet we all do it- procrastination is the go-to reaction many of us employ on a daily basis.

Why Do We Procrastinate?

Procrastination usually occurs when a task seems too difficult or the procrastinator thinks they won’t do a good job. Meaning, procrastination is really only a self-esteem issue where the procrastinator does not feel equipped to carry out the required task.

We say at the core that procrastination is a misplaced coping mechanism primarily focusing on mood regulation. So, a task may elicit shame, guilt, fear of failure, feelings of insecurity, incompetency, lack of confidence, and anxiety. Those who procrastinate use avoidance to cope with their emotions; many may not even be aware of these emotions!

With just enough self-doubt, the task seems near impossible to complete.

So, you’re experiencing all these negative emotions, right? So, what happens next?

Well, your subconscious mind kicks it to help with a mechanism called “repression.” Instead, you put that task aside- regulating your mood and making you feel better. You find yourself rather thinking of a million other tasks that need to be done, hoping the main reason for procrastinating will go away.

Another reason why we tend to procrastinate is that we view our future self as being disconnected from our present self. This is a phenomenon known as temporal self-discontinuity or temporal disjunction.

This disconnection allows procrastination to occur when we put our present self ahead of our future self; in other words, prioritizing immediate pleasure over expected long-term gain.

It can cause a procrastinator to think that their present self shouldn’t have to worry about the future; their future self will have to handle the postponed tasks and deal with the consequences for failing to complete those tasks.

For example, you delay eating healthy, even after your doctor told you that it’s important for your health. The problem is viewed as a problem for the future self (someone else’s problem).

To simplify it even more, we have two selves; namely, the “want self” and the “should self.”

Your “want self” primarily runs on emotions. It’s drawn to whatever brings pleasure or avoids pain in the short run—for example, watching an episode of Friends or Top Gear rather than completing your assignment. Whereas the “should self” is more concerned with doing the right thing in the long run.

Procrastination hiding as real work

At the spur of a moment, the “want self” is often stronger. No matter how badly you want the task completed or how hard you try to push yourself to get started with the assignment, you easily get pulled right back into binge-watching your favorite show.

We procrastinate because it allows us to experience temporary relief from the anxiety and stress of difficult situations lying ahead.

Everyone procrastinates on something at some point. You might be on top of your work and assignments, but there’s probably still something at the back of your head that you know you’re delaying, even though you know it comes at a cost.

Procrastination and Laziness aren’t the Same Things

If you still think you’re just lazy because you procrastinate, here’s some proof that this is not the case. First, take a look at what you keep busy with while you’re procrastinating. Many of those tasks actually take a lot of energy and effort.
For example, spending time to organize your closet instead of working on the big looming task you know you should be busy with.

If you’re active while doing something else, it’s pretty clear to note that you’re not lazy. Instead, you’re avoiding a task that stirs up negative emotions.

How Does Procrastination Affect Me?

The problem is, we are fixed upon the short-time fun and forget how procrastination actually affects us long-term.
We label procrastination as something good and enjoyable. So, when we’re forced to drag ourselves out of procrastination, we often connect this to a sense of deprivation. This is why it’s so damn hard to kick the procrastination habit.

Like many unhelpful avoidance behaviors we use, procrastination has a long-term cost to our mood and our productivity. Whichever your flavor of procrastination, be it procrastinating to avoid anxiety, confusion, or boredom, there are negative side effects, including the following:

  • Tasks are improperly completed.
  • You have higher stress levels.
  • Poor sleep quality.
  • You tend not to exercise as much.
  • You might eat more junk food, mainly because you’re stressed.
  • You’ve got difficulty regulating yourself.
  • Procrastination may lead to depression and anxiety.

Everyone puts off an occasional task, but the person who does it habitually has issues that need addressing each time with plausible excuses.

Strategies to Overcome Procrastination

Overcoming procrastination requires a lot of willpower; you’ll have to start valuing long-term gain over short-term enjoyment. While overcoming procrastination may seem like a near-impossible task, effective strategies make procrastination seem less daunting. Here’s how to tame the procrastination beast:

  1. Change your attitude. For one, start by being a little kinder to yourself about your past procrastination. Yep, this actually makes a difference. Our emotions change the way we view the task. So, instead of beating yourself up, show yourself a little compassion. You’re acknowledging and accepting responsibility for procrastinating instead of feeding back into the negative emotions that caused you to want to procrastinate in the first place.
    The right outlook can take you a long way if you choose to implement it. But with the wrong attitude, procrastination will continue to rule over you. The way you talk to yourself has a significant impact on your motivation and willpower- Decide “you can do it!”
  2. Set proper goals. Switch your focus to the solution rather than the problem at bay. However, tasks are harder to get started with when vague and uncertain; planning helps you attain your goals.
  3. Break tasks down into smaller tasks. Smaller, measurable tasks make getting started to seem a lot less daunting. Then, attack one milestone at a time; you’ll easily hit the next and the next.
  4. Put aside interruptions. Take the willpower of the equation; do not try to overcome your distractions and interruptions but instead remove them altogether. I guarantee you you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish. You don’t have to worry about resisting temptations if they’ve been removed.
  5. Visualize success. Visualizing success will keep you positive and motivated.
  6. Reward yourself. Give yourself a small treat once you have successfully completed a task; this can provide tremendous motivation. So, watch that Friends or Top Gear episode once your assignment has been completed.
    It’s important to note that if we are going to make this behavior change stick, we need to take the time to self-reflect and identify the real reasons behind our unhelpful habits and procrastination. We should also take note of the real benefits of overcoming this challenge.

Conclusion: Is Procrastination a Defense Mechanism?

“Sticking your head in the sand” won’t solve any of your problems- Procrastination is intentionally delaying a task that needs to be completed even though you know it will come with a cost. We often mask our delays with work-like behaviors I call Fixin’ To Get Ready.

As we mentioned earlier, the root of procrastination is not about avoiding work; instead, it’s a defense mechanism to avoid negative feelings and emotions.

While overcoming procrastination is a difficult task, luckily, there are effective strategies that we can apply to beat procrastination.


The 4 main types of procrastinators and how to not be one of them, according to 2 accountability coaches

Procrastination; when a defence mechanism turns into a habit.

Procrastination: Why We Do It and What It Says About Our Psyche

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