Procrastination is a Form of Emotion Regulation

17 Oct 2022
Fuschia Sirois, a psychology professor at Durham University, has been studying procrastination for over 20 years. She defines procrastination as an irrational and emotional act: “Procrastination is a form of emotion regulation where sufferers avoid a task that might spark negative emotions, by disengaging with it or putting it off."
In order to help people find the root cause of this symptom and overcome it, she has created a guide to promises to get your life back on track.
In this Slogging thread, our community discusses their experience with procrastination, coping mechanisms, and Sirois' take on procrastination.
This Slogging thread by Mónica Freitas, Sara Pinto, Sarah Famodun and Daniela Gerardo occurred in slogging's official #random channel, and has been edited for readability.
Mónica FreitasAug 4, 2022, 8:04 PM
Mónica FreitasAug 4, 2022, 8:04 PM
"Psychology professor draws on 20 years of studying often crippling issue that can affect sufferers’ careers and even health"
"Have you thought about tackling your procrastination but, you know … dog videos, shopping lists, catching up on Twitter, the last-ever episode of Neighbours with Mike and “plain Jane superbrain”, apparently.

A Durham University professor and world-leading authority on procrastination is bidding to help. Professor Fuschia Sirois has, over two decades of studying procrastination, heard so many heartbreaking stories that she is now publishing a research-based self-help guide offering insights and practical strategies to deal with it."
Mónica FreitasAug 4, 2022, 8:06 PM
"Sirois, a professor of psychology at Durham, said procrastination among students was worryingly high. “It’s estimated that anywhere between 80 and 95% of new students procrastinate at least once or more, but 50% of students procrastinate chronically and that is a real issue.”

In the wider adult population an estimated 15-25% of people frequently procrastinate.

Procrastination has never been a good thing despite some researchers arguing the benefits of “positive procrastination”. Sirois said: “Embedded in the definition of procrastination is that you unnecessarily and voluntarily delay an important intended task despite knowing that the consequences are harmful. How can that be positive?”
Mónica FreitasAug 4, 2022, 8:07 PM
"At its core is an irrational and emotional act, Sirois said. “Procrastination is a form of emotion regulation where sufferers avoid a task that might spark negative emotions, by disengaging with it or putting it off.”
Mónica FreitasAug 4, 2022, 8:08 PM
“Procrastination is not a trivial issue,” said Sirois. “It can have substantial negative impacts on a person’s life. But it doesn’t have to be that way, there are ways to address it and there is hope for those caught in a pattern of chronic procrastination.

“My hope is that through sharing my expertise via a practical self-help book, procrastinators the world over can start to overcome the problem and fulfill their dreams and goals.”
Mónica FreitasAug 4, 2022, 8:09 PM
Among many notorious procrastinators feature Victor Hugo, Margaret Atwood, Saint Augustine of Hippo and Douglas Adams.
Mónica FreitasAug 4, 2022, 8:11 PM
So, in short, procrastination is bad. We know that but we still do it. Why? Because it is a form of emotion regulation where sufferers avoid a task that sparks negative emotions, by disengaging with it or putting it off.
Mónica FreitasAug 4, 2022, 8:12 PM
Hence, no time management course or magic pill will solve it. Instead, we have to attack the root cause, and that's what this professor is trying to do.
Mónica FreitasAug 4, 2022, 8:13 PM
What are your thoughts on this? Are you a chronic procrastinator too? How do you cope with it? Let's share our secrets and help each other out 💚
Mónica FreitasAug 4, 2022, 8:15 PM
I'll start. I am a procrastinator and I haven't really found a magic trick to solve it. I just take a break and try to tackle a task at a time.
Sara PintoAug 5, 2022, 4:41 PM
I completely agree. Going for the source of the issue is the best way to deal with it. Plus, I would love to see some of the tips/info shared in the book, and see what works.
Sara PintoAug 5, 2022, 4:43 PM
Mónica Freitas, personally, I procrastinated too much too, but, in my case, time management helps me deal with it. It gives me a sense of control and helps motivate me to go through my to-do lists.
Mónica FreitasAug 15, 2022, 6:03 PM
That's great, Sara Pinto. Care to share a few tips of yours on time management?
Mónica FreitasAug 15, 2022, 6:04 PM
I'm curious about this book too. The psychology behind it is fascinating.
Sara PintoAug 16, 2022, 4:58 PM
Mónica Freitas, sure! I always start off by writing everything I have to do. The next step is to prioritize the tasks, so I can be productive but not to the point I end up exhausted. Sometimes I move the date for a specific task, if I see I still have plenty of time (I can run from procrastination, but I can't hide lol).
Sara PintoAug 16, 2022, 4:59 PM
I also try to do some simple, easy and fast tasks before I tackle the hard ones to give a little motivation. It's true when people say that the most difficult part is to start, Mónica Freitas.
Mónica FreitasAug 22, 2022, 3:25 PM
Sara Pinto, that's great advice. Same here! I always start with either the quickest task or the hardest one so I can get it over and done with.
Mónica FreitasAug 22, 2022, 3:27 PM
Just discovered that the reason why so many uni students procrastinate on their thesis is that they're scared of leaving that part of their life behind and going out into the "real world". I found this super interesting!
Sara PintoAug 23, 2022, 11:01 AM
Mónica Freitas, and not so surprising! There's a lot of expectation and pressure regarding students finishing their masters. I can understand why university students tend to procrastinate more, so they extend that phase of their lives.
Mónica FreitasAug 23, 2022, 1:06 PM
Sara Pinto, that and the pressure of finding a job that you're supposed to love, preferably in your area of studies, and earning a nice buck. I understand the struggle (as someone with a degree in something I don't see myself working now). I was lucky enough to have a little room to experiment, but others don't.
Mónica FreitasAug 23, 2022, 1:06 PM
But the way we procrastinate without realizing that this is why we're doing it... it's mind-blowing.
Sara PintoAug 26, 2022, 10:52 AM
Exactly. I think you are expected to know what you want because you had the opportunity to study, you know? If you went and chose this, there's no way back kind of mindset. Not everyone has the chance to trial and error and figure it out.
Mónica FreitasAug 26, 2022, 1:57 PM
Sara Pinto, I think this could spark a whole different discussion. But I think it's unrealistic to expect 17/18-year-olds to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives while they've barely lived. And some people, myself included, can't even see themselves only focusing on one area.
Sara PintoAug 29, 2022, 10:29 AM
Mónica Freitas, I agree! But how can we turn this around? Guidance in school maybe?
Mónica FreitasSep 7, 2022, 2:45 PM
Sara Pinto, my vision always inclines toward career days where students can have hands-on experience in a few areas of their interest. That'd help them figure things out a bit better.
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Sarah FamodunSep 30, 2022, 3:35 AM
Sara Pinto, yeah, you're right. not everyone has the chance to trial and error but, everyone has the option to get up and try again after what seems like failure happens. True failure to me would be giving up not failing at something, do you agree?
Daniela GerardoOct 3, 2022, 5:45 PM
Mónica Freitas, research and studies are always positive as they help bring relevant topics into the light. In this case, I think it is super important to talk about procrastination as it is a big problem that a lot of us struggle with.
However, tackling the source isn't as convenient as one might think as many neurodivergent people know. For example, ADHD is a very popular mental disorder that affects the production of the hormone dopamine which influences your mood and motivation. For people with ADHD tackling the source might mean taking "magic pills"- trying to solve procrastination without external help is next to impossible for most neurodivergent people.
Mónica FreitasOct 3, 2022, 5:48 PM
Daniela Gerardo, interesting take. Wouldn't you say that tackling the fear behind procrastination is always more helpful than not? Even for people with ADHD, I imagine knowing the reason why you're postponing something and giving it a name is better than not. Even if the reason is ADHD itself.
Daniela GerardoOct 3, 2022, 5:57 PM
Mónica Freitas, yes, self-awareness is always important and can produce positive change for their mental health, but I believe if you are procrastinating because of a hormone deficiency no amount of self-knowledge is likely to solve it.
Mónica FreitasOct 3, 2022, 6:03 PM
Daniela Gerardo that's true, however, for the largest population, this study comes off as groundbreaking.