Confessions of a Compulsive Procrastinator

I am told that as students we all procrastinate. For most of us this is a minor problem, however for some, its a major problem. I can attest first hand to the stress and anxiety that is caused by compulsive procrastination. It can be paralysing enough to seek professional help. This post is the first step in my recovery (fingers crossed).

I’ve recently learnt that there is a major difference between minor and compulsive procrastinators. While all of us procrastinate, mainly out of laziness, habit or just plain disinterest in the task we need to do, for compulsive procrastinators like me, this behaviour has very little to do with time management. Most of us know exactly what we should be doing, even if we cannot do it. The core of the problem lies in the inability to do it, which I am told is linked with confidence. All of us would agree that graduate school is a place where feelings of self-worth take a nose dive. No matter how confident we might seem on the surface, we all question our reasons for being in school as well as our competence. For compulsive procrastinators, procrastination is closely linked with feelings of incompetence. There are other reasons for procrastination in compulsive procrastinators but this is the one that I think my habits are most closely linked with. Other reasons include but are not limited to perfectionism, anger/hostility towards a professor, low frustration tolerance and present bias.

The reason I postpone doing tasks, even those that I am very excited and interested in, is because I feel unable to complete them competently. Realising that I am procrastinating because I am “afraid” of not being able to do a good job isn’t just about being a perfectionist. I don’t see myself as a perfectionist. Its more basic, it’s about doing even a moderately decent job. While I don’t usually engage in self-deprecating behaviour, I do find it hard to accept that I deserve to be here in grad school, pursuing a Ph.D. This all sounds pretty simple but can be quite debilitating. It traps you in a vicious circle which seems impossible to get out of one procrastinate because one feels incompetent and that further fuels the feelings of incompetence leaving one unable to do anything. The stress and anxiety that results from this can lead to panic attacks, insomnia and even ulcers.

All is not lost or so I believe, there is hope! The three A’s (adapted from the AA) of recovering from compulsive procrastination are – Awareness, Acceptance and Action. Awareness has helped me a lot, understanding that its my fear of failure that makes me procrastinate has helped me address the issue. I try to analyse the compulsive need to postpone a task more closely to understand why I am avoiding it. Even this small change has helped me counter this behaviour, though it’s a ongoing struggle.

p.s. to give you an idea of how bad my compulsive procrastination can be, it took me 4 months to write this blog post!

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