Why do we procrastinate?

Many people procrastinate, some of us chronically, but why do we do that? Is there a way to counteract procrastination, and does this habit ever bring benefits?

It is sometimes easier to put off tasks we may not fully enjoy. While for most people the act of procrastination may only happen every so often, for others it becomes a constant occurrence. An estimated 20% of adults in the United States are chronic procrastinators.


Your limbic system is automatic and seeks out pleasure and/ or avoids things that cause distress.

Your prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that helps with planning, decision-making, and long-term goals. Procrastination might be due to these fighting structures in our brains. One researcher found that people who often procrastinate have a larger amygdala — the part of the brain responsible for emotions, particularly negative ones. They also found that procrastinators have a less functional connection with the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex — a part of the brain that assimilates information and is implicated in decision-making.


In the case of a wide range of anxiety disorders, a person may become paralyzed with much activity in the amygdala — fear, despair, perfectionism, or ‘paralysis by analysis’ and become unable to do the tasks needed. With depression, processing information may become too slow when patients feel helpless or indecisive. In the case of ADHD, there may be a neurological lack of cognitive focus due to a lack of helpful brain chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine, leading to distraction and the person could be innocently unaware of a looming deadline. Procrastination may also be due to seeking the adrenal high of finishing an important task just in time. Chronic procrastinating can lead to low self esteem, in which case it should be addressed.


While usually problematic, procrastination can help people prioritize engaging in aspects of life that bring joy. Sometimes it may be better for your mental health if you go play that game of tennis instead of getting that project done on your list. Furthermore, you might come back to that project with more energy and new insights because you stepped away to do something else for a while. Some people work better under pressure and perform best when they have a tight deadline, even if they didn’t intend to wait until the last minute.


If someone is procrastinating due to anxiety or depression, treating the underlying emotional issue that affects procrastination could help someone who is avoiding necessary tasks and may also improve other aspects of their life. In the case of concentration issues, certain supplements may help the brain function better. People who tend to procrastinate should set shorter deadlines rather than longer ones, to get themselves motivated.

If problem is that the activity may take too long, try the splitting the task up into manageable chunks to do over time and insert simple rewards for completion of a task.

You can also perhaps rope in someone else to help you. Doing tasks together can make them more enjoyable.

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