Procrastination: the battle between the present and future self.

This is the second blog of the series of blog posts on procrastination. This post will investigate the relationship between our two selves: the present and future. In doing so, the aim is to re-evaluate how we think of procrastinators and those who we so easily negatively label as ‘lazy’. It’s not their fault: procrastination is natural.

Procrastination, and anxiety for that matter, has come from the change in society from being an Immediate Returns Environment to a Delayed-Return Environment. Leary and Cottrell (1999) set out that our brains, such as our fight or flight system, has evolved to deal with immediate concerns. For example, we are predisposed to react to the present moment – yet society now dictates that we are constantly thinking in the future. In modern society most fears or concerns deal with future plans. It is very difficult for us as humans to control and separate these two selves, and it is perhaps because of this that ‘trends’ such as mindfulness becoming a mainstream due to high levels of stress.

However, we don’t think in this way when we procrastinate. Our brains have evolved to think in the present, meaning that we can easily pass on the burden of the present onto the future without really appreciating the negatives.  We believe that tomorrow will be different, preferring to do something that brings perceived joy rather than work. We believe that we will be different tomorrow; but in doing so, we prioritise our current mood over the consequences of our inaction for our future self. Sirios and Pychyl (2013) propose that procrastination is that very failure to self-regulate the present and future self in terms of goals pursuit. This breakdown occurs most often when we are faced with a task that is viewed as aversive (I.e. boring, frustrating, lacking meaning and/or structure), and therefore leads to unpleasant feelings or even a negative mood. However, Tice and Bratslavsky (2001) write that procrastination stems from the break down in self-regulation of short term mood and emotion. Meaning that procrastination is a relationship between:

a) delayed benefits but immediate discomfort/distress from working or

b) postponing the delayed benefits by increasing the immediate benefits.

This blog hasn’t tried to change your view on how the students of a school should work. There is no doubt that the ‘do it now’ method is the best. This blog, and this series for that matter, is aimed to suggest that sometimes labelling a someone lazy for not getting their work done in time perhaps unfair at time for it may not be their fault. The next blog will discuss the relationship between procrastination and distress, suggesting that procrastination, this natural phenomenon, may be a reason for the full Stevenson centre.


by Archie Hammond


 Leary, M. R., & Cottrell, C. A. (1999). Evolution of the Self, the Need to Belong, and Life in a Delayed-Return Environment. Psychological Inquiry, 10(3), 229–232.

Sirois, F., & Pychyl, T. (2013). Procrastination and the Priority of Short-Term Mood Regulation: Consequences for Future Self: Procrastination, Mood Regulation and Future Self. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 7(2), 115–127.

Tice, D. M., Bratslavsky, E., & Baumeister, R. F. (2001). Emotional distress regulation takes precedence over impulse control: If you feel bad, do it! Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 53–67.


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