Why We Do It to Ourselves



In order to stop putting off your writing assignments, it is important to understand why you tend to do so in the first place. Some of the reasons that people procrastinate include the following:

Because we are afraid.

  • Fear of failure: If you are scared that a particular piece of writing isn’t going to turn out well, then you may avoid working on it in order to avoid feeling the fear.
  • Fear of success: Some procrastinators (the author of this handout included) fear that if they start working at their full capacity, they will turn into workaholics. Since we procrastinate compulsively, we assume that we will also write compulsively; we envision ourselves locked in a library carrel, hunched over the computer, barely eating and sleeping and never seeing friends or going out. The procrastinator who fears success may also assume that if they work too hard, they will become mean and cold to the people around them, thus losing their capacity to be friendly and to have fun. Finally, this type of procrastinator may think that if they stop procrastinating, then they will start writing better, which will increase other people’s expectations, thus ultimately increasing the amount of pressure they experience.
  • Fear of losing autonomy: Some people delay writing projects as a way of maintaining their independence. When they receive a writing assignment, they procrastinate as a way of saying, “You can’t make me do this. I am my own person.” Procrastinating helps them feel more in control of situations (such as college) in which they believe that other people have authority.
  • Fear of being alone: Other writers procrastinate because they want to feel constantly connected to other people. For instance, you may procrastinate until you are in such a bind that someone has to come and rescue you. Procrastination therefore ensures that other people will be involved in your life. You may also put off writing because you don’t want to be alone, and writing is oftentimes a solitary activity. In its worst form, procrastination itself can become a companion, constantly reminding you of all that you have to do.
  • Fear of attachment: Rather than fearing separation, some people procrastinate in order to create a barrier between themselves and others. They may delay in order to create chaos in their lives, believing that the chaos will keep other people away.

Whether these fears appear in our conscious or subconscious minds, they paralyze us and keep us from taking action, until discomfort and anxiety overwhelms us and forces us to either a) get the piece of writing done or b) give up.


(The preceding is a summary of Chapters 2-4 of Jane B. Burka and Lenora M. Yuen’s Procrastination: Why You Do It, What to Do About It. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1983.)

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