The Root Cause of Procrastination — or, one of them at least.

The world around us never stops. Globalization has made companies into nonstop machines and made us hungry for efficiency and effectiveness. We are taught whether it’s from our parents, our teachers, or anyone else that tells us about life that hard work pays off and that doing the things that we might not want to do right now will make it all better and make us more effective. Therefore we want to be effective, we want to be the people who can do everything on time every time. However, there will always exist an antithesis to the thing that you want. That antithesis to the go-get-it attitude, the efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity that we all want is procrastination. Google defines procrastination as “the action of delaying or postponing something”. It’s something that we’ve all had to fight but to effectively fight something we have to identify its root. But what is the root and how do we tackle it to get over this hump of procrastination? Is there a character trait that can be improved to stave it off? Let’s take a deeper dive into it.

In most of the instances that we procrastinate, there are two things in play: fear (which lends itself to anxiety) and pleasure. We tend to put something off because we have a fear of the task and develop anxiety around the process of doing it. The pleasure comes in when we exchange that thing for something else. The general idea here is that when we procrastinate, we view the whole process of doing the task as being unpleasant and therefore something we do not want to do. However our time still has to be spent doing something, so we actively choose something more pleasurable, at least comparatively. In the comparative case, we choose the task that will leave us content after doing it which can lead to pleasure later, possibly in the form of a reward. To give an example, you might have the choice to do your homework or not. It’s some nasty physics homework that you don’t want to do but the homework is due tomorrow and is a high priority because its deadline is close. However, something inside of you can’t sit there and do nothing because you have conditioned yourself to not be satisfied without accomplishing something. So then you decide to work on that personal project that you’ve set to work on over the weekend instead of the physics homework. This will leave you feeling content about the decision because you still did something, even though the important task is becoming more urgent as time goes on triggering more and more anxiety over it with each passing second. You tell someone near you — possibly your parents, a friend, or a significant other — that you made progress on the project and they give you a pat on the back. A “good job” in exchange for racking up some good ol’ anxiety by procrastinating. The homework is still due, but you chose to take the shortest route to get the reward of completing something. You will pay heavy taxes for it with the incoming bad grade because you didn’t do it or learn from it, or with the lack of academic dishonesty & risk of asking another student for the homework, or with the clutch-time stress race to the finish you’ll have to run to get it done before it’s due.

The seemingly paradoxical thing about procrastination is that it is a choice each and every time, but the outcome of that choice depends on a couple of variables: the difficulty of the process and or task, the capacity for the time and energy required to complete it, the opportunity cost of doing that thing, and lastly your own personal integrity when it comes to completing things. Of those variables, the only one that is completely within our sphere of influence at all times is our personal integrity and that is our character trait that procrastination roots from.

So what is integrity? Well, the dictionary definition of integrity is the “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or ethical values”. In a more colorful definition, it is our will to stick to do what we perceive as the right thing to do based on our inner values, morals, and knowledge of the world around us. The truth is that integrity is tested the most when there are no immediate consequences to our actions when there is still breathing room before the shit hits the fan.

If we have a strong sense of integrity we can make decisions to increase our available capacity for the time and energy needed to complete the task. We can also quickly analyze the opportunity cost of performing the task because we aren’t held back by fear and anxiety. Then, by choosing to perform the task we forgo the “drama of the overwhelm” which is the lifeblood of fear and anxiety around completing a task. We realize the actual difficulty is at least marginally lower than the perceived difficulty, barring any unknown or unforeseen impediments but by that time we’re already in the thick of it and we’re focused on finishing. To quote Jen Sincero’s You are a badass, “It’s so easy once you figure out it isn’t hard”.

That sets up the notion that procrastination is just the ugly result of a lapse in integrity, maybe even a lack of it. Of course, this argument is not meant to dull or cast aside the power of fear and anxiety in this whole ordeal, but to inform you all that our integrity has so much power, and it is a character trait that we can improve that will help us with many other issues other than procrastination in the future. The good thing is that you can learn to live with unwavering integrity. When you have a strong sense of integrity, procrastination will have a much less profound role in your life, if it is not already a thing of the past.

In the end, it’s really simple: develop a strong sense of integrity and….

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Hi! I’m Roderick. I’m a student, traveler, thinker, a novice finance guy and so much more. You can view these articles in video form on YouTube. Thanks!