Don't Delay

Understanding procrastination and how to achieve our goals

Awareness: A Key Piece in the Procrastination Puzzle

What aspect of mindfulness is most related to procrastination?

Awareness puzzle piece
Copyright Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D.
It is well known that mindfulness is an important coping resource. Did you know that there are a number of sub-components to mindfulness? One of these is more highly related to reduced procrastination than the others.

One of my honours students, Mario Dosa, just completed his thesis. He conducted an interesting study in which he extended existing research on the relation of mindfulness and procrastination. Both previous work in our research group (see this previous blog post for details), as well as the research of Fuschia Sirois (Bishop's University), has demonstrated that higher levels of mindfulness predicts lower procrastination. This isn't that surprising given what we know about self-regulation. A first step in exercising self-control to self-regulate our behavior is to use our attention, and mindfulness is all about our attentional control.

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As Mario explained in his thesis, one way of enhancing self-regulatory success (and decreasing procrastination) is to increase self-awareness of any discrepancy between one's current state and a particular standard towards which the individual aspires or needs to reach. This discrepancy awareness can promote behaviors to move towards the goal. In other words, knowing where one stands in relation to a goal through self-awareness is the first step in controlling behavior for more effective goal pursuit.

This "knowing where one stands" has been investigated as "mindfulness," or the non-judgmental awareness of one's perceptions, sensations, thoughts and emotions. The purpose of Mario's thesis was to explore the possible relation between mindfulness, procrastination and self-regulation.

The Study & Results
Mario collected questionnaire data from 300 undergraduate students (just over half of whom were female). As in previous research, he found that procrastination was associated with low levels of mindfulness and low levels of conscientiousness. In terms of conscientiousness, and as I've discussed previously in this blog post, to the extent that we're dutiful, organized and planful (facets of conscientiousness), we procrastinate less. In fact, this is really just another way of saying that we're typically high self-regulators or that we have strong self-regulatory skills.

Mario's contribution to our understanding of procrastination was that he also examined the relations among 5 components of mindfulness and procrastination, even after taking into account how conscientiousness predicts procrastination. From this perspective, mindfulness is a capacity to: observe, describe, and act with awareness of present moment experience, while maintaining a nonjudgmental and nonreactive attitude. He used the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire that provides separate scores reflecting these components:

  1. Non-reactivity to inner experience
  2. Observing sensations, perceptions, thoughts and feelings
  3. Acting with awareness
  4. Describing/labeling with words, and
  5. Non-judging of experience.

Each of the five facets showed significant negative associations with procrastination. This finding supports that the non-judgmental acceptance of unpleasant thoughts may be beneficial for reducing procrastination. Even these basic correlations lead me to speculate that mindfulness helps us to avoid "giving in to feel good" which is central to the self-regulatory failure we call procrastination.

Most interestingly, in analyses in which he statistically controlled for the effects of conscientiousness, his results indicated that "acting with awareness" plays a significant role in those who reported lower levels of procrastination. This means that even for those people who may already be predisposed through their personality to be low procrastinators (they are high in conscientiousness), acting with awareness in a mindful fashion contributed to the prediction of lower procrastination.

Implications
Fostering mindfulness is often touted as a route to enhanced well-being and health. With a more mindful approach to living, we become "the captain of our own ship" in a more effective way. Of particular importance, according to Mario's research, is our ability to "act with awareness" in our daily lives. When we're aware, we maintain a focus on our goals, as well as on the discrepancy between where we are now and our ultimate goal achievement. This discrepancy can motivate us to act in a timely fashion, particularly when we're able to maintain an accepting stance towards the negative emotions we may be feeling in face of a difficult or otherwise aversive task. That non-judgmental awareness of our emotions and the acceptance of feelings like frustration or anxiety can keep us from "giving in to feel good" through procrastination.

Mindfulness, cultivate it. Nurture it. Reap the benefits of better self-control.

 

Carpe Diem Cartoon on Mindfulness

Copyright Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D.

References

Baer, R.A. et al. (2006). Using self-report assessment methods to explore facets of mindfulness. Assessment, 13(1), 27-45.

Brown, K., Warren, R. M., & Creswell, J. D. (2007). Mindfulness: Theoretical foundations and evidence for its salutary effects. Psychological Inquiry, 18(4), 211-237. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/621931861?accountid=9894


Dosa, M., (2011). Mindfully losing control: An examination of the relation between measures of mindfulness, self-control and procrastination. Unpublished honours thesis, Carleton University, Otttawa, Ontario.


Evans, D. R., Baer, R. A., & Segerstrom, S. C. (2009). The effects of mindfulness and self-consciousness on persistence. Personality and Individual Differences, 47, 379-382.


Forgas, J. P., Baumeister, R. F., & Tice, D. M. (2009). The psychology of self-regulation: An introductory review. In J. P. Forgas, R. F. Baumeister & D. M. Tice (Eds.), The Psychology of Self-regulation (pp. 1-17). New York: Psychology Press.


Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based interventions in context: Past, present, and future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10(2), 144-156. doi:10.1093/clipsy/bpg016


Sirois, F. M, & Tosti, N. (in press). Lost in the moment? An investigation of procrastination, mindfulness, and well-being. Journal of Rational-Emotive and Cognitive-Behavior Therapy.

 

Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D., is an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, where he specializes in the study of procrastination.

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