Forgiving Yourself Can Help Defeat Procrastination

Put off doing the dishes again? Do you detest yourself for always putting off doing a task as important as that? Research has shown that you’d be less likely to delay doing something in the future if you forgive yourself for your past procrastinatory sins. Admit that you’ve failed horribly at regulating your own behaviour, feel guilty and regretful about it, and finally stop hating yourself and understand it’s actually no big deal. After all, the worst that can happen with dirty dishes is only a few uninvited guests.

Procrastination is usually associated with university students as they are often heard boasting about how they pull their ‘all-nighters’ before exams and assessment deadlines. However, this delaying of action is actually lurking in many different settings—from the triviality of doing the dishes and laundry to weighty issues like preparation of monthly financial reports.

The omnipresence of procrastination may make you wonder whether there is a genuine need to overcome it. Moreover, society and everyone seems to be functioning perfectly well no matter how much we procrastinate. However, procrastination is in reality harmful in many ways—it results in poor academic performance and reduced productivity, brings about negative emotions about oneself, causes depression, and even negative health behaviours like delaying seeking medical care for health issues.

Researchers from Carleton University investigated the relationship between self-forgiveness and procrastination in a group of university students. Students’ degrees of procrastination and self-forgiveness were measured before two exams. It was found that students who forgave themselves for delaying studying prior to the first exam procrastinated less when they prepared for the second exam.

A series of other measures also revealed that students who forgave themselves also experienced less negative emotions such as guilt and shame which were associated with their procrastinatory behaviour. The authors believed that self-forgiveness has helped these students let go of negative emotions and do away with the mental burden associated with their self-regulatory failure, which in turn allows them to focus on preparing for subsequent exams. In other words, self-forgiveness prevents your negative emotions from pulling you back and hence frees up your precious mental resources which are vital for tackling the next challenge.

The more you hate yourself for not doing the dishes yesterday, the less likely you are to do it today. Therefore, forgive yourself and give yourself a new lease on your behaviour. Stop being so harsh on yourself and see whether it works for you. Feel free to share whether you have other strategies to defeat procrastination.

Wohl, M. J. A., Pychyl, T. A., & Bennett, S. H. (2010). I forgive myself, now I can study: How self-forgiveness for procrastinating can reduce future procrastination. Personality and Individual Differences, 48(7), 803-808. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2010.01.029

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