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Kevin Dalby, Austin-based Professor, Highlights Underlying Causes of Chronic Procrastination (And How to Treat Them)

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If you find yourself putting off multiple tasks or solutions that need your attention, you might suffer from chronic procrastination.

Chronic procrastination can cripple your life. From avoiding daily to-do lists to necessary medical tests, it is crucial to recognize constant procrastination’s adverse effects.

Dr. Kevin Dalby, professor of chemical biology and medicinal chemistry in the College of Pharmacy, Department of Oncology at The University of Texas in Austin, says procrastinating from medical tests can be fatal, especially with catching cancer too late.

Treating chronic procrastination starts with getting to the root cause. Mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, or OCD can trigger compulsively dithering with essential tasks. Dalby further discusses the underlying causes of chronic procrastination and what unconventional solutions to consider.

Why do we procrastinate?

Poor time management commonly receives the blame for procrastinators’ ways. However, a study from Stockholm University revealed that in most cases, the underlying issue of procrastinating stems from emotional reasons such as stress or anxiety. Negative thoughts cause negative emotions, and it is our human nature to avoid these downward feelings. What do these emotionally challenging situations look like, and what is the best way to approach the hurdle?

Root Cause #1: Seeking perfectionism.

If you approach a project with a mentality to seek perfection, you might be scared of failure.

Perfectionism gets in the way and holds you back from truly engaging with your task. No human is perfect, so when you try and set unachievable goals with the hope of generating the best quality of work in a short amount of time, you are setting yourself up for a mental tumble. The extra stress caused by the overwhelming will to make no mistakes grows from fear of failure.

Treatment: Change your thoughts.

Accept that you are human, and progress forward with tasks in a positive and uplifting mindset. Instead of preventing yourself from making any mistakes, embrace your mistakes, and seek what you can learn from each one.

Root Cause #2: Lending the load to the future.

How many times have you said, “Oh, I’ll just do it tomorrow.”

Procrastinating from tasks by passing them on to your future self stems from anxiety. We choose to avoid stress and additional anxiety during the day by pushing assignments out to tomorrow’s plate.

Treatment: Instead of avoiding, choose rewarding.

Next time you want to prevent working on a project, or push it off just a little longer, try setting a worthwhile goal. For example, if you figure out the first three steps to your annual presentation, you reward yourself with a movie and popcorn night.

Root Cause #3: Only looking up.

When some people approach a mountain, they can only look up.

Task complexity can often spark low self-esteem through thoughts that are focused on the impossibility of a difficult assignment or one’s incapability. Such a mindset can metaphorically compare to the mental process of approaching a mountain. Some people take one look at a huge mountain and only see all the effort it takes to get to the top. People with this view most likely will put off climbing a mountain for their entire life. Instead of focusing on the big picture, look down and figure out what you need to do to take the first tiny step.

Treatment: Reframe the picture.

Stop looking at the big mountain, or job, and concentrate on what tiny step you can tackle first that would exercise one of your strengths. Starting a task on a confident and robust note can keep the motivation going throughout the journey.

About Kevin Dalby:

Dr. Kevin Dalby is a professor of chemical biology and medicinal chemistry in the College of Pharmacy, Department of Oncology at The University of Texas in Austin. He is studying the mechanisms of cancer cell signaling to develop targeted therapeutics. Dr. Dalby’s efforts were recognized by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) and the National Institutes of Health, granting him nearly $5 million to support his research.