Behavioral Psychology


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“Procrastination is the thief of time.”
– Edward Young

People who have a problem with procrastination are well aware of the fact, they understand their lives would be better if they didn’t keep putting things off until the last moment, but they don’t know why they procrastinate. That’s because the forces impelling them are unconscious, and they’re powerful enough to supersede aversives like lost time, penalties, and emotional and psychological distress, aversives that should be potent enough to change their behavior.

From a psychoanalytic point of view, procrastination is an unconscious form of rebellion against authority. You don’t find yourself putting off doing the things you freely choose, the things you want and love to do, do you? These activities don’t even enter your mind as sources of procrastination. Demands placed upon you from some outside source – projects, assignments, appointments, bills – these are the activities where you find yourself pushing back without really knowing why.

The reason is that getting started represents surrender to this outside authority, a ceding of power. Especially if you have had a rocky relationship with authority figures in the past the prospect of surrendering your personal autonomy is odious to you. All those same feelings of fear and helplessness bubble up to the surface that existed when you were subject to the whims of authority figures who may not have had your best interests at heart.

The use of using psychoanalysis to raise your conscious awareness about how your past informs your present is that you can come to the realization that your present circumstances are different than your past circumstances, the environmental contingencies have changed, so a behavior that may have been appropriate then is not necessarily appropriate now. You retain your autonomy whether you choose to get started with a project right away or wait until the last moment. Actually you retain more autonomy if you choose to get things done promptly because that unpleasant feeling, that shadow of the authority figure looming over you, quickly goes away and you can devote your attention to other areas of your own choosing.

Even though it might feel like surrendering it’s not, it’s simply fulfilling an expectation that is probably reasonable. If you can just push through your resistance a couple times and get it done, the feeling of liberation that will come from not having that expectation constantly hanging over your head as the deadline approaches will probably be a powerful enough positive reinforcer to change your behavior.