Saturday 9 September 2023

Procrastination: Why do we do it? My experience.

Alice shares her experience of how she reframed her mindset to see procrastination in a different way and how this has helped her to get things done.

- Alice

Procrastination: it is more than just being lazy, despite what some people may keep telling you. It’s not ignorance or blatantly not caring. It’s rooted a lot deeper. 

Now what exactly is procrastination? Think of something you really don’t want to do. You know you need to get it done but you unnecessarily and voluntarily put it off even if you know there will be negative consequences. This is what we call procrastinating, the act of delaying a task until the last minute.

I have sat at my desk many times wondering why I can’t just “get on with it”, why I’m a “failure” or simply how I’m too “dumb” to finish an assignment. But, getting so frustrated doesn’t help to move forwards, and it certainly doesn’t make me feel any better! Putting this into perspective, I look at the bigger picture and I know none of this is true. None of this is supported by any physical evidence, it’s just thoughts. That’s all it ever is. 

Procrastination is at the heart of everything I don’t do. It prevents me from completing anything I set out to do. This results in me doing assignments the night before they’re due, having a clothes pile in my room stacked up to the ceiling and buying a birthday gift an hour before the party. It’s stressful and overwhelming. It makes me feel useless at times, like I’m incapable of finishing the simplest of tasks.

I needed to retrain my brain to give myself a break and instil empathy for myself into my natural reaction to my ‘not getting things done’.  

I started to question my actions: why do I shy away from tasks? Why do I not start them until the last minute sometimes? The recurring theme here, for me, is avoidance. So, what do I avoid and why?

In my case, I would always put off my university work. I began to ask myself “how come?” and I would sit down at my laptop, looking at the screen, feeling worthless. You see, university work for me wasn’t just a degree, it was my whole self-worth. Grades, marks, certificates: they were all my validation. Without them? I was just nothing. I tied my self-worth with my educational progress. 

I began to realise… my procrastination was never about being lazy, it was a fear of failure, of not being good enough. Hence, to me, not trying and failing was a lot better than putting in all my effort and still failing. In my head, every piece of work reflected how worthy I was. 

There was a lot more on the line when my ego was also at risk. That was a lot of pressure to put on my shoulders. They always tell you that grades don’t define you and honestly, they don’t. However, when you’ve spent your whole life relying on grades to seemingly prove how ‘good’ you are, it becomes a habit that’s hard to escape. 

But, by questioning my reasons and thinking more about the deeper-rooted issue,  I began to have more compassion for myself. It allowed me to see which patterns I needed to break and allowed me to reflect on how I can work towards having a more positive relationship with university work.

For me, I decided to tackle this by addressing my self-esteem outside of university: to water the grass in all areas of life, not just the educational part. For so many years I had failed to realise how worthy I am as a whole. Whilst my academic success still means a great deal to me, I realised how I get to determine those things; they don’t get to determine me.  

So, have more kindness and empathy for yourself! Don’t jump to those initial negative opinions. It can take a lot more to be positive about ourselves but make sure you give yourself credit for who you already are, what you already do and how much you already give. 

You are so much more than a grade on a paper, a job you desire, or that shiny new thing you’re saving up to buy. Think of all the amazing things that exist because you do - like a bag you made, or a plant you water - and, more importantly, all the amazing things that are still to come! Reframe your thinking around the tasks that ultimately lead you to procrastination to make it suit you. Being positive about these challenges can help you to achieve your goals in a motivated and enjoyable way that means you can further appreciate your worth for it. For example, you could even try “I get to write an essay about a really interesting topic that I will get help and feedback on”. 

Sometimes it might feel like you’re lying to yourself but I feel reframing thoughts is a great tool. Hopefully it could help some of you too. Think about something you are putting off doing, now. What part is making you dread starting the task? Now flip it - what good is coming of the task being complete? Hold onto this thought… now go and do it!

Whether you are looking for support for your own mental health at university or supporting a friend, help is available.

Hi, I'm Alice :). I am a third-year maths undergraduate at the University of Reading. Next year I'm hoping to advance onto an MSc psychology conversion course, as my ambition is to have a career in psychotherapy. I wanted to share this story because I feel procrastination haunts us all. I know it haunts me. I wanted to be able to offer other people an insight into the reasons I procrastinate and what has helped me to slowly overcome it.


  1. Good evening Yes the words are true indeed and we all go in the same process however many people cannot overcome the difficulties. There are many solution provided but changing the characteristics of any one is challenging so I think I am struggling with this challenge.

  2. Aww this is such a lovely way of thinking about our studies and life in general! I’m gonna start doing this :)