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Why Procrastination and Laziness Aren’t the Same Thing

Art by Jillian Mae Machacon

For years, teenagers have been called “lazy” and “indolent” because of their lack of motivation to do work. Whether it be hesitance to get a job or simply waiting until the last minute to study for a test, there’s always been a suggestion that it’s simply due to lacking ambition. Sometimes we’re just not in the mood to do work, and that’s totally okay, as long as it doesn’t become a habit.

But, what if this stereotype is wrong?

Everyone is aware that procrastination isn’t rational behavior; why would you do something that would put your grade at stake? According to the New York Times, the psychology behind procrastination goes beyond laziness and the pushing of labels– if it was as easy as “breaking the task into pieces,” chronic procrastinators wouldn’t be chronic procrastinators anymore. That’s not to say procrastination isn’t ever laziness, or that it's always rooted in psychological issues, but there is a significant population of procrastinators that have underlying problems.

One of the most well-regarded books on procrastination, The Now Habit by Neil Fiore, acknowledges the vulnerability many people feel towards failure, criticism, and perfectionism, which inevitably leads to procrastination. Procrastination is actually a self-defense mechanism that helps to protect the procrastinator’s self-worth, which, for one reason or another, is unrealistically associated with performance.

This relation between performance and personal value leads to significant hesitation when doing everyday tasks, such as homework, or eventually things like taxes, work projects, or significant conversations. Therefore, procrastinators avoid everyday activities that could be vital to overall success.

Even a simple task, like completing an assignment for a class, becomes difficult. Getting a 0 for an assignment you didn’t turn in is controllable; getting a 55% when you tried your best isn’t. Rather than trying harder to correct the issue, the failing grade is taken to heart, and the student’s self-worth drops. The next time something is assigned, the student makes an association with the new work and the previous and wants to put off the reiterated feeling of self-deprecation, therefore leading to procrastination. One may think they aren’t smart enough to complete the assignment or be worried they would do a bad job again, which leads to a lack of completion.

But this behavior isn’t necessarily random; Raptitude suggests that kids who come from families with high expectations, or those who have high achieving older siblings, which often pushes kids to feel more pressure. Parents who also had overly high expectations placed on them are more likely to project expectations on their children. Finally, students who proved to be highly skilled in school early on are more likely to suffer from this later in life. Students in advanced programs while in primary school often “burn out,” and end up with grades that are subpar by their own standards.

Because of their conditioning to high marks and constant praise, kids who are less ambitious or high-achieving in high school have a significant drop in confidence, often because the material is less easily comprehended or just more time-consuming. This relates back to the idea of procrastination from the fear of failure.

It’s easy to say “make a list” or “just sit down and do it” in response to a blight of procrastination. But with a consciousness of an issue comes better treatment and more understandable mechanisms to help combat procrastination. Overall, our successes are directly related to what we do, but it doesn’t reflect our personal worth or wellbeing, and combatting procrastination is only the first step to a triumphant and productive life.

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