Procrastination is best understood as an emotion-focused coping strategy. We use task avoidance to escape negative emotions associated with a task (e.g., frustration, boredom, stress, anxiety). As colleagues have explained so well before, “we give in to feel good,” prioritizing the management of aversive mood states over our goal pursuit.
When we feel bad in relation to a task at hand, we’re more likely to procrastinate in an effort to feel better. Of course, this short-term mood repair comes at a cost to future self.
Interestingly, the authors draw on a study conducted by one of my past thesis students to suggest how we might get beyond this ruminative brooding that is related to procrastination. Alison Flett argued that increasing our self-compassion may be key to increasing our resilience by reducing this ruminative brooding. Why? Self-compassion, where we accept our humanity and develop a non-judgmental stance towards our thoughts and feelings, helps foster acceptance of our past failures, particularly our procrastination, and may help alleviate the distress that feeds the downward spiral of procrastination.
Our past research on self-forgiveness revealed the same thing. Self-forgiveness and self-compassion are both related to less procrastination, not more. The study I’ve summarized today suggests that one of the effects of self-compassion may well be to reduce ruminative brooding—those repetitive negative thoughts about the past—and allow us to let go and move forward with our lives.