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Procrastination

Dr. Laurie explains how procrastinating can affect our health.

OK. I’ve tidied my office, checked my email multiple times, surfed the web, and gone out for a glass of water. It must be time to write my CreakyJoints post – and I’m procrastinating.

It’s not just me – many of us are procrastinators. An article in Psychology Today, "Procrastination: Ten Things To Know"describes the types of procrastinators, some of the reasons why we become procrastinators, and the impact of that habit on our lives. The most unexpected cost was a negative effect on health. Something that we in the CJ community might want to pay attention to.

The article is an interview with two research psychologists, Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at De Paul University in Chicago, and Timothy Pychyl, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.

They outline the things that they have learned about procrastination. I want to highlight three of them.

First, procrastinators are made, not born. Putting things off becomes a habit that gets reinforced in a number of ways over time. This means these habits can get “unmade” but that takes time and effort. The effort, however, will be rewarded by less stress and more achievement. Presuming that’s what you want!

Procrastination often becomes a habit as a result of growing up in an authoritarian or over-controlling home or school environment. We procrastinate because we have not developed a way to “self –regulate.”  Our parents, or our teachers or other authority figures did that for us – so now we haven’t formed the ways to structure our time or our activities. Procrastination can also be a form of rebellion against this authority. “You can’t make me!” may be the inner cry of the procrastinator. Only in adulthood, this often becomes a rebellion against the self, and becomes profoundly self destructive, keeping us from what we truly want to accomplish.

The third thing they learned is that procrastination has a cost. We don’t need an academic study to tell us that. We know about missed deadlines, unpaid bills that have a charge, clutter around us that goes unmanaged. The surprising one to me was the cost on our health. The subjects they studies who were procrastinators had more colds, and flu, and more gastrointestinal problems. Their immune systems were more compromised. The report doesn’t speculate why this is so, but I can imagine that they didn’t get enough sleep, or exercise because they were busy trying to “catch up” or finish things. They also may put off that yoga class or swimming because they could “do it tomorrow.”

What can you do if you recognize yourself in these descriptions?

Remember, procrastination is a habit, not a sentence. Begin to put your health commitments back on the front burner – not putting them off until you “have time.”

Start with whatever feels easiest and most enjoyable – we don’t always put off difficult things. We also procrastinate about things we enjoy. Start there. Work on a small change of allowing yourself to do something you want to in a regular and timely way. Then build from there.

Let me know how it goes!

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