David Cain is tired of putting off simple tasks, so he is aggressively taking a look at the reason for his bad habit. One of his conclusions: how we grew up may affect how we view getting things done.

Particularly prone to serious procrastination problems are children who grew up with unusually high expectations placed on them. Their older siblings may have been high achievers, leaving big shoes to fill, or their parents may have had neurotic and inhuman expectations of their own, or else they exhibited exceptional talents early on, and thereafter “average” performances were met with concern and suspicion from parents and teachers.

A procrastinator becomes disproportionately motivated by the pain of failure. So when you consider taking anything on, the promise of praise or benefit from doing something right are overshadowed by the (disproportionately greater) threat of getting something wrong. Growing up under such high expectations, people learn to associate imperfection or criticism with outright failure, and failure with personal inadequacy.

  • Emi

    Interesting argument but I think the reason for procrastination is mostly because of an upbringing that didn’t encourage contributing to daily tasks. Kids who are neglected this important opportinity grow up expecting not so exciting parts of the projects to be somehow magically finished for them by other people.

  • Kirk

    I think this is right on. I’ve done a lot of thinking about my own procrastination. I’ve decided that it’s not that I’m lazy; I work 60+ hours a week. But I put off big decisions for fear of making the wrong one, I put off important projects waiting for a time when I know that I’m at the top of my game so that I can do the best I can, I put off small things because I’m hiding from the pressure I feel from all the unfinished tasks that make me feel like I’m failing as a human.

    So the question is, how do we fix it?

  • ssp

    Columbia University psychologist Tory Higgins has an influential theory
    of self-regulation called regulatory focus theory. He suggests two
    fundamental motivations that guide our regulatory decisions: a “promotion” focus on accomplishment and gain which views goals as working toward ideal future states, and a “prevention” focus on avoiding loss, maintaining security, and “doing what you’re supposed to.” These motivations are rooted in our upbringing and have a range of affective and behavioral implications depending on whether a person takes a predominantly promotion or prevention regulatory focus. This idea that procrastinators are “disproportionately motivated by the pain of failure” points to a prevention focus on always trying to avoid loss. Such an avoidance motivation seems somewhat at odds with goals that may threaten a person’s sense of security. Also, shame is more associated with a prevention focus failure, as opposed to depression in response to a promotion failure.

  • bob

    I think this applies to me too. So to all of you: How can someone stop this kind of procrastination, what can one do to prevent it?

  • Sammy

    There’s a great blog post about why we procrastinate by a counsellor/psychotherapist: http://www.paulthecounsellor.com.au/why-do-people-procrastinate/

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