Why do we procrastinate? The 3 reasons and how to stop! – Step 1

What sort of things do you say to yourself when you are putting things of? Lots of my clients call themselves lazy or stupid when they are not doing the things they think they should, but is that the real reason people put things off?

When we start to look into it, one of three reasons usually appears, none of which are that they are lazy or stupid – so it is much easier to fix!

1. The thing you are putting off isn’t really on your priority list, it’s either on someone else’s priority list, something that used to be important to you, or something you feel ought to be important to you!

2. You are worried about doing a bad job, or failing at what you are putting off, so it is easier not to do it because then you won’t fail.

3. You are self-handicapping, i.e. you are putting off preparation for something because if you don’t prepare then lack of preparation can be the reason you don’t do well, rather than it being you that is no good (which is what you fear is the truth).

These reasons are likely to be subconscious, because when we are putting things off, we generally try not to think about it too much! Even so, it is possible to combat each one so that you end up doing all the things that you want and feel are important for you to do to achieve the success you want.

In this vlog, I explore why we procrastinate and what we can do to change this.

(When you’ve watched/read this step you can go to step 2 here: Step 2 – Breaking the Cycle)


Hello, I’m Hattie Voelcker, and today’s blog is going to be on: Why do we procrastinate? The 3 reasons and how to stop!

Now some of you may remember I did a vlog on procrastination quite recently, but it’s something that comes up, whether that’s because I notice it, because it’s been one of my big issues, or it’s because it is just an issue for a lot of people, I don’t know. But it came up again in a workshop I did for Performing Arts students, so I thought it might be worth looking into it in a little bit more depth.

So I’m going to do a 3 vlog series on procrastination, to cover what I believe are the three main steps to understanding why we do it, and stopping. I can’t tell you how many of my clients, and how many people in workshops, will say they procrastinate because they are lazy, and they believe this. It may be that they are lazy, I don’t know, but personally I believe most people aren’t lazy, and it’s much more likely to be one of the three basic reasons I’m going to go over in what I’m calling step number one.

The first reason we may be procrastinating, is that the task that we’re procrastinating over isn’t top of our priority list, or maybe isn’t even on our priority list! For example last time I did the vlog I talked about the fact that I asked my kids to tidy their rooms and funnily enough they don’t do it, because tidying their rooms, I don’t think it’s even on their priority list! They don’t want to do it. They have no desire to do it. They don’t mind living in a mess most of the time (except when they say, “Mum where’s my?!”)

So that’s reason one, and if something isn’t very high on your priority list you’re unlikely to do it first, and by priority I’m talking about the subconscious priority list, not necessarily the list of most important things for you to do.

The second reason that I believe most people procrastinate is because they worry that they will fail at the tasks they’re procrastinating, or that they’re not capable of doing it properly, or it’ll highlight some inadequacy in them if they try it. So they put it off, because putting it off means they don’t have to acknowledge, and the world won’t see, how crap they really are.

The third reason is about self-handicapping. Now I touched on this little also in my last vlog about procrastination. It’s obviously related to the second reason but it’s slightly different. For example if the procrastination is about preparing for something then the fear is that if you do prepare properly and are still terrible then this means that you are what you feared – intrinsically no good – and that people are going to get to see how crap you are. So not preparing properly means you always have an excuse, and be able say well it was the preparation it wasn’t actually me that was bad.

So what are the solutions, how do we get over these three reasons? Let’s look at number one. Firstly the solution is it to either find a way of getting the task to top of your subconscious priority list.

Let me give you an example, I was lying in bed one morning and I really wanted to have more sleep, I did not want to get up at all! So at that moment my want, top of my subconscious priority list, was to stay in bed. I then thought to myself, “Okay but what do I really want? Because if I stay in bed all hell is going to break loose downstairs! I have no idea what my kids will have for breakfast, whether they’ll get ready for school, and whether their practice their instruments – if that’s what is important they do. Oh my god I don’t want chaos in my household.” Actually now that goes to the top of my priority list, getting it sorted, and getting out of bed. So I then got out of bed because it had gone to the top of my priority list without even thinking about it, because it was what I wanted to do.

If you can re-perspective what is going, to find out what you really want, so the task goes on the top of your priority list, then you’ll find you’ll stop procrastinating.

You might in fact realise, if you take a look at it, that it isn’t top of your priority list because it’s a hangover of a previous priority list. Perhaps from childhood, maybe a priority list that was put on you by your mother (like practicing your instruments!) and you can then go “Hold on do I still want it to be on my priority list? What do I really want?” and that way you might say yes it still is, or no actually I’m going to let that go.

It might be that it’s still on somebody else’s priority list, and how high it is on your priority list depends on what you want their opinion to be of you, and how much you value their opinion of you. That may vary too, for example what my kids want me to think about them, or whether they care what I think about them, will vary depending on whether I’m considering taking them out to the movies or giving them a treat or not, and they might want to for me to have a better opinion of them if there’s a treat on the table potentially! It changes, and thinking about whether it is actually someone else’s priority might affect how you view your priority, and your priority list, and where your task is on your priority list, and it may go up or down.

If it’s reason number two, fear of failure, then that’s somewhat harder and we’ll cover it a bit more in steps two and three. If fear of failure is the reason you’re procrastinating then I found one of the biggest steps to curing this is the step of acknowledging that that fear exists. For example me acknowledging that I find my tax return a little bit frightening because I’m worried that I’ve done something wrong, and it might highlight that I’ve messed things up, it’s there, but if I acknowledge it I somehow cut it down to size. It’s a reasonable fear, you know there are consequences to messing up your tax return, but it’s not as big as it might feel whilst I’m trying to ignore it and putting off the task. When I actually face my tax return it is always simpler and less scary than I think it’s going to be, and it’s the putting off and not thinking about it then the fear grows and it sort of gets out of proportion.

So acknowledging what is making you feel vulnerable about this task, or what your fear is around this task, can somehow sometimes help you cut the fear down to size.

Reason number three, self handicapping, now this is a doozy, because whilst self-handicapping may give the impression that we’re protecting our self-esteem and we’re saving our self-esteem it’s not the best way obviously of achieving what we want, achieving our goal, and actually it undermines our self-confident and allows us to maintain that fear that fundamentally we are no good.

The fact is you can do all the preparation in the world, you can prepare to your heart’s content and still mess up, this doesn’t mean that you are no good because everyone’s capable of mistakes. Even the finest artists in the world make mistakes, the best business people in the world make mistakes, but the truth is, the better your preparation, the more likely it is you will succeed and you won’t make mistakes.

This fear is related to impostor syndrome, the fear that fundamentally you’re not as good as you portray, or others believe you are, and that’s hard to let go of, but once you can let go of it you’re so much more likely to succeed simply because you’ve let go of it, because you can allow yourself to fly. You can allow yourself to try.

Fundamentally the only sure-fire way of not succeeding is to not try in the first place!

Next time I’m going to take a look at how we get into, and why we perpetuate, the cycle of procrastination, and then what we can do to break that cycle.

Enjoy the rest of your day.