How Procrastination Can Reflect Childhood Experience

  • Everyone procrastinates from time to time, but persistent procrastination can keep people from achieving their full potential.
  • Procrastination might emerge as a result of a fear of failure and criticism as a child.
  • Working with a therapist or asking reflective questions might assist people in understanding and overcoming their procrastination habits.

Research reveals a lot about why people procrastinate—which almost everyone does at some point, if not on a regular basis. According to a meta-analytic assessment undertaken by Piers Steel, it is estimated that 80 to 95 percent of college students dally, with 50 percent engaging “consistently and problematically.”

It’s been suggested that procrastination is steady enough to be classified as a personality feature in some people. Do you know someone—perhaps you—who is constantly fighting to get things done, let alone done on time?

Procrastination’s Childhood Roots

We all procrastinate when confronted with a risky or unpleasant circumstance, a laborious activity, or a duty we don’t want to do, but some people stall on a regular basis. Some of this is linked to a fear of failure, and while no one enjoys failing, not everyone is afraid of it.

Children who had their emotional needs addressed as they grew up and were loved, supported, and encouraged to take risks do not fear failure. Because it’s impossible to expect anyone to succeed at everything, these firmly attached people perceive the landscape of life as littered with potential failures and setbacks. This isn’t to say that a blunder isn’t painful; it is, but those who are securely attached have the ability to recover. They’re not taken down because they’ve always considered failure a possibility. These folks are referred to be “approach-oriented” by some psychologists.

If, on the other hand, you were up in a home where affection had to be won and support was scarce, you’re more prone to believe that any failure reflects your imperfect human condition rather than a mistake or miscalculation. Your reaction to a failure is likely to mirror what you were taught as a child, such as the notion that the world is divided into winners and losers, and you never want to be one of the latter.

According to studies, the fear of failure is passed down from generation to generation. These people are referred to as “avoidant-oriented” because they believe that not reaching for the sky is safer than falling flat on your face; as a result, they hug the guard rails and avoid challenges, which has real-life implications.

It’s easy to see how fear of failure feeds procrastination; after all, you can’t fail at something you haven’t tried. This may sound illogical because you’re simply substituting one type of failure for another, but for girls and sons who have grown up in a world of impossible-to-meet expectations and hypercriticalness, avoiding the issue may be far simpler than risking embarrassment.

In a similar spirit, it’s been said that procrastination is a type of “self-handicapping”—putting hurdles in the way of a task to provide yourself an excuse or an out rather than having to deal with probable failure as a reflection of yourself or your abilities.

For a procrastinator, it’s always “later.”

A fascinating 2018 Swedish study investigated if ordinary activities could tell whether or not someone was a chronic procrastinator. They observed participants in a variety of situations before administering a procrastination questionnaire. The settings included whether someone stood or walked up an escalator in a shopping mall, whether they chose an early or late exercise class, whether students chose an early or late seminar, whether they brought lunch from home or bought it last minute, and a self-report on bringing lunch versus buying an expensive lunch.

The researchers discovered that a procrastinator’s lack of preparation and activity manifested themselves in both behavior and the questionnaire. Even if there are real benefits to not delaying, “later” is always preferable to “sooner” for the one who puts things off. (The procrastinators did, in fact, stand on the escalator.)

What Should You Do If You’re a Procrastinator?

If you find yourself delaying or avoiding issues by simply waiting until it’s too late to act, the greatest thing you can do is investigate the personal reasons behind your procrastination. Procrastination is probably standing in the way of you living your best life, therefore now is the time to deal with it. Working with a gifted therapist is ideal, but you can start by asking yourself the following questions and answering them honestly:

  • Is the fear of failure motivating you more than the desire to succeed?
  • Do you have a list of tasks that you put off, or does any task qualify?
  • When you postpone, do you become anxious? Is it possible to feel relieved by deferring a task?
  • Why do you think you’ve been putting it off?
  • How has procrastination impacted your daily life? In your professional life? What’s going on in your relationships?
  • Do you procrastinate more often at certain periods of the year than at others? Is there a pattern here?
  • What are your thoughts on procrastinators? Do you consider yourself to be in the same boat?


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