Columbia University Medical Center
NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital The University Hospital of Columbia and Cornell
Dr. Philip Muskin discusses some of the reasons we put things off in The Week
April 16, 2014

Dr. Philip R. Muskin, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, explained to The Week that there is no official diagnosis of procrastination. Furthermore, scientists have yet to find any definitive biological reason as to why we so enjoy putting things off.

There are other reasons why we procrastinate, Muskin pointed out. People tend to delay important tasks because they fear negative feedback from others, which means dallying is a way to protect their self-esteem. He added that our culture is also at fault, since it makes failure such a taboo.

"If you think about not doing a term paper, or putting off sending in your taxes to the last minute, it makes sense that the fear of getting a low grade on the paper, the realization that one has to pay money to the government are experienced as negative," he said. "Thus putting off those tasks is protective, but the procrastination itself then leads to adverse consequences. Rather than actively trying to solve a problem, people who procrastinate avoid the problem all together."

On the other hand, some people enjoy procrastinating because they like the rush of sweaty palms and heart palpitations when they are running late. "Some people 'enjoy' the thrill of waiting until the last minute and accomplishing the task," Muskin said. "

This type of brinksmanship looks like procrastination, but the person is not avoiding the task, just making it more of a challenge for herself." If you want to kick the habit, Muskin suggested building up your self-esteem.

"What are you afraid of? Avoiding things does not help the fear, it enhances the fear," he said. "The more attention you pay to the task the better it will be and the probability of your fear coming true will be lessened."

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