It’s all fun and games as you binge-watch the latest show on Netflix, until you remember what the date is and that your 2500-word assignment is due in two days. If at this point you panic because you haven’t started it yet (not because you’ve forgotten or you’re too busy to do it, but because you’ve blatantly tried to put it off), you can thank your great procrastination skills.
Procrastination can be something that you rarely experience, or a debilitating condition. As students, it is difficult to deal with when there are assignment deadlines around every corner.
So, what are some causes of procrastination? Researchers have demonstrated that one of the main driving factors of procrastinating tendencies is the fear of failure. What this is typically also linked to, is perfectionism.
It is important to note that whenever someone brings up perfectionism, there are usually some negative connotations. However, perfectionism isn’t all bad. Commonly, when employers ask you for your biggest flaw or what your forte is, being a perfectionist can be used interchangeably.
Perfectionism is a multifaceted concept, but in the context of procrastination, I’ll draw your attention only to two aspects, namely Perfectionistic Striving, and Conditional Acceptance. Perfectionistic Striving refers to the perception that you are personally driven and motivated to attain perfection, whereas Conditional Acceptance refers to the belief that your acceptance and worth is conditional on your performance and meeting the standards and expectations set by others.
Who’s the most likely to foster procrastinating tendencies out of these two? The individual who believes that their worth is contingent on how well they perform. It’s not surprising then, how many students experience procrastination, given the emphasis on our grades and GPAs. This would be especially true for students in degrees that are high demand and high pressure.
When Conditional Acceptance perfectionists are met with any evaluative task, they perceive the probability of achieving the task to be much lower than non-perfectionists. These individuals have a fear of failure because their worth depends on their success, and are therefore unwilling to be judged. Thus, they will delay achieving goals and doing the work to avoid possible failure.
On the other hand, Perfectionistic Striving perfectionists are less likely to procrastinate as they are motivated to actively achieve their goals. These individuals have high levels of aspirations and ambition and so will pursue more tasks which are more challenging. They have a strong ability to sustain goal-directed behaviour.
So, you might be thinking now: why do some people who are motivated and ambitious still procrastinate? And similarly, why don’t some people who are afraid of failure, procrastinate?
One of the answers to this is the level of self-efficacy people have. Self-efficacy is the self-belief in your own competence and capabilities to complete tasks, exercise control over events, and cope well when facing difficulties. How efficacious you feel can influence your thoughts in either a positive or negative way.
People who feel less efficacious tend to doubt their capabilities and abandon the task before completion, but more efficacious people will persevere and put in more effort to overcome the challenge. A way to overcome procrastination then, is to feel more efficacious, regardless of what kind of perfectionist you are.
Even if you’re not a perfectionist, being in an efficacious mindset will be beneficial. Have a more positive outlook regarding your capabilities and chances at success. This is easier said than done, but with more assignments around the corner and exams approaching, this is the best type of mindset to be in, to get yourself through the remaining few weeks.