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Why You Procrastinate (It Has Nothing to Do with Self-Control)

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Why You Procrastinate (It Has Nothing to Do with Self-Control)

If procrastination isn’t about laziness, then what is it about?

The New York Times,

5 min read
3 take-aways
Audio & text

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Procrastination isn’t the fruit of idleness; it stems from a failure to regulate negative emotions.

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Procrastination is a self-reinforcing cycle. The more you stall important work, the more you’ll continue to do so. Yet procrastination doesn’t result from a dearth of motivation or productivity; it manifests from a failure to regulate negative emotions. If you are mired in a chronic procrastination cycle, journalist Charlotte Lieberman helps you dig your way out. She interviewed an array of psychologists, authors and professors to figure out how best to end the self-destructive cycle. Lieberman provides a range of tips to guide procrastinators into a more positive frame of mind.


Procrastination is a tactic the brain employs to avoid difficult emotions in the moment, even though it wreaks more damage in the long run.

When you defer your most important tasks to an undefined future date, you’re not being lazy. In fact, you’ll often engage in some menial work just to avoid addressing your top priorities. This is your brain’s coping mechanism to protect you from a perceived threat in the present. Maybe you’re feeling anxious, bored, frustrated, resentful or insecure about a pressing task, so you avoid confronting those negative emotions by, say, doing some housework instead.

Procrastination is a self-destructive tendency. Chronic sufferers engage in this irrational habit, fully aware of its harmful effects, even though postponing their to-do lists compounds the problem. Nevertheless, the mind latches onto the short-term relief that procrastination offers. That fleeting but addictive relief can feel rewarding, prompting the brain...

About the Author

Journalist Charlotte Lieberman writes about evolutionary and behavioral psychology, mental health and self-acceptance.

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