The Positive Side to the Personality of Procrastinators

Procrastinators believe in themselves and are intrinsically motivated

Posted Sep 02, 2015

Flickr/Julien Haler cc license
Source: Flickr/Julien Haler cc license

Do you do today what could be put of ’till tomorrow? Or do you check Buzzfeed and drink coffee and play just one more game of Candy Crush until the tipping point at which you can’t possibly procrastinate any longer without dire, real-world consequences?

The journal Psychological Bulletin calls procrastination “a prevalent and pernicious form of self-regulatory failure.” Darn, that seems kind of harsh! How bad is procras­tination, really? First, it’s bad enough that when you try to study it, you find things like this: “High scorers on the procrastina­tion scale were more likely to return their completed in­ventory late,” from an article in the Journal of Research in Personality. Who are these slackers whose inability to return a questionnaire on time makes them nearly impossible to study?

The JRP study shows the personalities of people who procrastinate are largely what you would expect: Disorga­nized, impulsive, distractible people who are likely to rate their enjoyment of projects higher when the time it takes to complete projects is lower. At least that’s the case when the project is assigned by some force beyond themselves. See, believe it or not, there’s a positive side to the personality of procrastinators: Procrastinators also believe in their own self-efficacy and are motivated by factors other than achievement.

More and more, research is showing that procras­tination isn’t a defect in ability or personality but rather a disconnect between the demands of a task and what motivates the procrastinator. Procrastinators are intrinsically and not ex­trinsically motivated, meaning that neither tempting them with rewards nor warning them the sky will fall is likely to up their motivation to the threshold of action. Instead, the procrastinator has to want to do something. Maybe you would hop on Craigslist right now to track down a French language conversation partner, but no fear of consequences or anticipation of rewards will get you to memorize that list of irregular verbs (instead...maybe you should quickly see what's trending on Twitter?).

Ninety-five percent of procrastinators claim to want to reduce their procrastination. Here’s the secret: Rather than focusing on a task’s rewards and punishments (or creating your own system of rewards and punishments) try to find aspects of a project that you can care about. Will memorizing that list of irregular French verbs help you navigate the most awesome vacation ever? 

If you're a procrastinator, one else’s reasons will make you get to work. But that's not because you're a slacker or unfocused or somehow defective. It's just that you dance to the beat of your own drum of motivation: As soon as you find a way to WANT to do something, you'll be as focused or more focused than those people who punish themselves out of fear of failure or desire for outside reinforcement. You just have to find that aspect of a project that rings true to your own scheme of awesomeness. There has to be something. And your creative, self-motivated personality is designed to find it.

According to the authors of the Psychological Bulletin article, one thing is one thing is for sure: “Further research on procrasti­nation should not be delayed.”


For more usable tips from the science of your self, check out: Your Daily Brain

About the Author

Garth Sundem is the author of Your Daily Brain; Brain Trust; Brain Candy; and The Geeks' Guide to World Domination.

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