Who does not procrastinate? 9 out of 10 clients who I end up working with, complain about procrastination. I would be lying if I say that, I have never procrastinated in my life. However, being a psychologist, I am able to call out myself more easily when I find myself procrastinating, and take actions to deal with it. That being said, procrastination is one of the most common concerns presented in therapy settings on a daily basis and afflicts people of all age groups.
What really is procrastination? Procrastination involves putting off doing something (usually something that requires sustained mental attention like work or academic task), habitually and intentionally. In my practice,I have come across clients who often say that they do not know why they procrastinate and they tend to procrastinate on a range of tasks, some of which may even be daily chores and leisure related activities. Anything which requires effort, physical or mental, is at risk of being put off to be done at a later date. This includes, office projects, academic assignments, physical exercise, and even activities aimed at improving emotional well-being like journal writing, meditation, etc.
Why do we procrastinate? Broadly speaking, as human beings we have the inherent tendency to avoid discomfort. Therefore, we have the need to push away anything which has even the slightest potential to make us uncomfortable. It’s about resisting that perceived discomfort that is going to come along with doing a certain task in the short term. We also tend to focus on the short-term advantages of not carrying on with a task and overlook the long-term disadvantages that will come when we don't carry out a task. So, when clients come into therapy to work on procrastination, it's often because the consequences of procrastination are leading to a whole set of emotional and behavioural issues. Most clients I work with, complain that procrastination has become a long standing habit and it’s difficult to break out of it.
Our environments contribute to our tendency to procrastinate. South Asian households are characteristically different from other cultures, and therefore, contribute uniquely to procrastination.
Here are the top 4 reasons for why people procrastinate in South Asian households:
1. Fear of failure or the need to be perfect: South Asian cultures place a strong emphasis on excellence, tend to glorify successes and attach a lot of negative judgment with setbacks or failures. This leads to a fear of failing, along with the need to be perfect can lead one to procrastinate over tasks, particularly the performance oriented tasks. For instance, I have clients who procrastinate over job applications, exam preparation, and office assignment completion and so on, because of this “log kya kahenge” phenomenon.
2. Fear of starting all over again: During the course of therapy, a client once mentioned how they are afraid of facing what’s next situation, which held them back from completing the project on hand. The discomfort that comes with starting all over again, often holds young people back from completing the tasks at hand. “What will I do once this project is over?” “I will have to look for another job, if I quit this one.” “If I break up now, I will have to start all over again.” These questions hold young people, especially in South Asian households back. Starting over or not having something “productive” to do right away, is not viewed positively.
3. Constantly being told to do something: “I am not going to do this, because my mother is after me to get this done”. Increasingly, young South Asian clients, are talking about wanting to put off commitments, simply because there is somebody who is expecting that they do certain things, in certain ways. The tendency to procrastinate over what is expected from them, as a way to express dissent is becoming commonplace in South Asian households.
4. Difficulty Prioritising: South Asian households glorify multitasking and young people are not really taught about the importance of delegating or prioritising, for that matter. Not to mention that from a very young age, children in our cultures are attending multiple activity classes, and therefore instilling in them the idea that, “the more you can do, the better you are”. This leads to many people taking on multiple commitments at once, which can be overwhelming to work through. In the absence of judgement free guidance regarding how to go about sorting through the tasks, it’s easy to procrastinate over everything and get nothing done.
Very often, procrastination is about discomfort intolerance in South Asian households. If only, we could facilitate more conversation about this within our homes and be accepting of what young people are able to do, instead of focusing on what they are not, it may help with eliminating some reasons for procrastination.