Procrastinating to “Get Even”?
Revenge, reactance, regret.
Posted Nov 12, 2020
There are perceptions that engaging in a lifestyle of procrastination is useful and adaptive. In the past 30 plus years of research in my lab on procrastination, we just do not find it adaptive—sorry.
In this post, I cover what we might call the “Three Rs.” But first, let me redefine procrastination. Most scholars do not see chronic procrastination as simple delay, waiting, or postponing. Chronic procrastination is an active avoidance strategy. If you were a manager, for example, it's wise and efficient to pause (wait, delay) to gather information before deciding what to do, or when or how to act. Absolutely. But some persons “over-wait” (such a word?!) holding yet another focus group, more data collection, additional task force meetings. There is a "tipping point" where it moves from pausing to procrastination (see Ferrari & Tibbett, 2017). So, if you delay doing something, you are not procrastinating unless your delay is extended (see Ferrari, 2010 for further explanation; researchers/scholars might obtain Ferrari, Johnson, & McCown, 1995).
Years ago, I explored whether people use procrastination as a form of revenge.
Someone does something against you and you are angry, wanting to get revenge. But you cannot respond. For some reason (maybe, social constraints tell you not to act with aggression; maybe, there is a power differential and the person you are angry with controls resources over you), there are obstacles to you seeking a way to “get even.”
However, you can procrastinate. You delay to the point that the other person now is frustrated and angry toward you. You believe you are “getting even” by using procrastination as a form of revenge.
Dr. Robert Emmons, professor of psychology, University of California, Davis, and I asked, is revenge a motive for expressing procrastination (Ferrari & Emmons, 1994)? Using a sample of college students, the answer (briefly) is: not too often, sometimes, infrequently. There is some relationship between procrastination and revenge, but the association is much smaller than expected. In short, we can say, "yeah, but not as often as you think."
Maybe it is not revenge one seeks. Maybe the procrastinator uses psychological reactance. Ok, you are angry and want to “get even.” You had all the intentions in the world to do that thing, but now someone told you that you had to do it, you must do it—you feel forced to do it. And you do not like that—you feel your freedom is being taken away. Someone or something is taking away your choices or limiting the range of alternative ways to respond—and you do not like it.
"Ok," you think, “I was going to do that… but now, because you are making me do it—I ain't going to do it!” Growing up in NYC, we called it the “oh yeah effect.” You think, I was going to do that but now, because you are forcing me to do it, oh yeah, no way. People, rules, or regulations (you believe) are taking away your behavioral freedoms—so you want to get even.
Procrastination, in this case, is a way to not act when you would have acted freely (Ferrari, 2010). You now want to strike back. Procrastination, in this scenario, is not directly self-regulation failure, a self-handicapping strategy; these may be the consequence for your inaction, but they are not the cause. I wish I could point to some published studies on the link between procrastination and reactance, but I do not believe any exist. It makes sense and it is likely still unexplored. Now you have an area of study to explore—let us collaborate!
We know there are relations between chronic procrastination and life regrets (Ferrari, 2010). We know that association is international.
So, if you live life as a chronic procrastinator—at home, at school, in relationships, at work—do you have regrets? Several studies suggest you would. Emerging adults reported procrastination tendencies and their life regrets across several domains: regrets in relationships lost, jobs "going south," opportunities missed. Kelly Barnes (then an undergrad at DePaul) and Dr. Piers Steel (professor in organizational behaviour and human resources at Hakayne School of Business) and I examined forms of procrastination and reported regret across varied life domains (Ferrari, Barnes, & Steel, 2009). Procrastinators reported more life regret in their education, parenting, family and friend situations, health concerns, and finances than non-procrastinating peers. Procrastinators reported more regrets. Non-procrastinators stated that they had minimal regrets — they "had a few, but then again, too few to mention" (thanks Frank Sinatra for the tag line).
Recently, Professors Meirav Hen and Marina Goroshit (both at Tel-Hai Academic College, Tel Hai, Israel) and I examined general/life domain regret. Community sample respondents stated high procrastination in maintaining health behaviors and spending leisure time. Respondents procrastinated and were regretting parenting opportunities, as well as procrastinating in finance, education, and career life-domains and weekly with other life-domains (Goroshit, Hen, & Ferrari, 2018). Across the USA, Dr. Thomas Tibbett (then, at Texas A & M University) and I found that decisional procrastination (aka, indecision) and regret were related (Tibbett, & Ferrari, 2018). We found with over 2250 women and men that indecision and life satisfaction were inversely related, and this relationship was mediated by regret. Consistently failing to decide on one’s life decisions may increase regret, and overall be detrimental to subjective well-being.
Summary: So What? Life is short. Build relationships, not revenge, reactance, experiencing regrets. Build skills around love, compassion, forgiveness. Build esteem by reaching outside of yourself to make a difference. These are not pollinic comments that “all the world is great, let’s just love each other.” No—that’s not real; I get it. Live is a journey; keep working on self-improving, and more importantly, on improving the lives of others. It’s not healthy or wise to seek revenge and harbor anger; to show reactance because someone asked you do to something; to regret in life all that could have been.
Ferrari, J.R. (2010). Still Procrastinating? The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Ferrari, J.R., Barnes, K.L., & Steel, P. (2009). Life regrets by avoidant and arousal procrastinators: Why put off today what you will regret tomorrow? Journal of Individual Differences, 30, 163 - 168.
Ferrari, J.R., & Emmons, R.A. (1994). Procrastination as revenge: Do people report using delays as strategy for vengeance? Personality and Individual Differences, 15, 539-544.
Ferrari, J.R., Johnson, J.L., & McCown, W.G. (1995). Procrastination and task avoidance: Theory, research, and treatment. New York: Plenum/Springer Science Publications.
Ferrari, J.R., & Tibbett, T. P. (2017). Procrastination. In V. Zeigler-Hill & T.K. Shackelford (Eds.) Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences, pp. 1 - 8. New York: Springer Meteor Press.
Goroshit, M., Hen, M., & Ferrari, J.R. (2018). Life-domain regret regarding procrastination (LDR-P): Scale validation in the United States and Israel. Current Psychology, 37, 1-13
Tibbett, T. P., & Ferrari, J. R. (2018). The U.S. as a ‘ProcrastiNATION’: Assessing indecision on life satisfaction and life regret. North American Journal of Psychology, 20, 111 - 120.