One of my favorite TED Talks of all time was given by Tim Urban on the topic of procrastination. The talk is hilarious and painfully relatable, and I highly recommend watching it – especially if you feel stuck in your studies. The way Tim Urban talks about procrastination immediately makes you feel seen and acknowledged. Procrastination is common and familiar to most of us. Yet one thing is unclear – what stands behind this infamous phenomenon. Some would say laziness and lack of willpower. But I don’t think so. Here are my two cents – from a former procrastinator to you.
Visualize the last time you procrastinated on something. It could be anything, really, – an assignment, a hard conversation, a doctor’s appointment. Now, what exactly did you feel when you thought about the task? Were you anxious? Intimidated? Terrified? These feelings are natural, but we often tend to resist rather than process them. Instead of acknowledging fear, we fall into denial and binge-watch a Netflix show while our deadlines are literally on fire.
Fear is the major force that makes us procrastinate on things. We might be afraid of the tension that the process brings, or we might be afraid of the result. I remember not making routine medical appointments because I was too scared to go. Or pushing the assignment because I felt like a total loser and impostor doing it. The fear of the process and/or the result is often so intense that we can’t handle it. We choose not to do anything and go down the rabbit hole.
The other reason behind procrastination is less dramatic but still important – and that’s the lack of interest. Remember when you decided to declutter your closet when you had the paper due the next day? Good procrastination is still a sign of avoidance, and that’s actually great. Let me tell you why.
Procrastination is a brilliant mechanism of our psyche. Think of procrastination as an alarm that goes off when something isn’t right. Procrastination works exactly like that. Before we realize it, our mind senses a threat. This task is going to be so hard. That task is going to be so boring. Let’s just pretend it’s not happening and do nothing while we still can.
I used to be the greatest procrastinator; I still am, to be honest. But if in the past I would procrastinate until it was too late, lose opportunities, and then struggled with exhaustion, now I try to be one step ahead. I’m learning to notice the little moments of reluctance. The moments I want to fall into the old patterns. But I make a choice to be compassionate and start talking to myself (or writing).
Are you interested in this task?
How would you feel in the process?
What exactly do you fear or feel uncertain about?
The answers usually come quickly. Sometimes the truth is a hard pill to swallow. But it’s also a revelation when you realize you’re not stupid or powerless, you’re just dealing with something. Procrastination points to personal insecurities and weak boundaries better than anything. If you work with procrastination, rather than against it, you might find yourself procrastinating less.
Procrastination is particularly common in academia. It destroys students’ plans and damages mental health. In his talk, Tim Urban mentions that many people who write to him about procrastination are Ph.D. students. And I think it makes a lot of sense, considering the high demands and expectations of the field. So, if you’re a student and you procrastinate, stop the negative self-talk and start an honest conversation.