Chronic procrastination, like many of the more obscure disorders, usually never gets diagnosed as one at all. Instead, it is often blown off as excessive laziness, lack of concentration, etc. Even our educational professionals are rarely trained to handle kids with this disorder, or to even understand their problem. Much as was the case with dyslexia and other learning disorders even a few years ago, chronic procrastination is often seen as a shortcoming on the part of the sufferer himself, rather than a treatable psychological illness. However, those suffering from the symptoms of this disorder, despite immense social pressure to ‘get over themselves and get the job done’ might find it incredibly difficult to do so, often blaming themselves for this inability because of lack of information about the disorder from which they are suffering. This might lead to further feelings of depression, inadequacy, self loathing and might sometimes even become the cause for self harm, when the patient is overwhelmed by social pressures on the one hand and their own psychological disabilities on the other. Therefore, it is important for us to know the symptoms of this corrosive disorder, both to help ourselves and others – if we ever meet someone suffering from any of these symptoms.
- Self Doubt and Indecisiveness – One of the main signs of Chronic Procrastination is feelings of self doubt and indecisiveness. Before beginning a task, you might feel overwhelmed by a lack of confidence in your ability to finish the task. You might suffer from indecisiveness about the nature of the task, whether you really want to do the job, etc. This leads you to procrastinate performing the task, telling yourself that you will reach a decision tomorrow, that you will definitely feel more confident after a good night’s rest, etc. But the thing is, the more you postpone the task, the more these feelings of failure and inadequacy will keep increasing, until they become so pervasive that you find yourself completely incapable of completing the task that you had originally set out to do. This is a vicious circle. The only way to break it is to grit your teeth, close your eyes, take a deep breath and take that plunge into the unknown. You might still fail, but at least you’d fail knowing that you had tried!
- Making Lists – People suffering from Chronic Procrastination Disorder often do this, to keep reminding themselves of their to-do list and pushing themselves to complete the things that they had started. It is a good tactic, and one with a good chance of success. Seeing a list of everything you need to accomplish by the end of the day constantly in front of you might actually spur you into accomplishing at least some of those tasks in reality. Also, it is a good way to motivate yourself while keeping track of your chores at the same time. List making might be useful to anyone, regardless of their psychological state. However, this can sometimes backfire. If the tasks on the list become overwhelming or pile up over a period of time into something that the patient finds suffocating or excessive, this will only cause them to shut down completely. Because they know they cannot accomplish everything on the list, they will simply refuse to do anything! This might become counterproductive and result in the exact opposite of its intended effect. So one must always be careful to manage the list carefully and delete tasks that have either been already completed or prove too burdensome to bother with.
- Optional Laziness – Many people with procrastination disorders do not deal too well with options. If you give them multiple tasks to complete, they will become so paralyzed with indecisiveness over which of them to tackle first, that they will finally end up doing nothing at all! This might also happen if, while moving through a list of tasks, they suddenly come across one that they, for some reason, cannot complete. Because they had been unable to finish that one task, they might abruptly shut down and waste time futilely trying to finish it, while all the other jobs remain unattended to. That one failure might completely rob them of the confidence to even try any of the other tasks. They might even stay up nights, without food or sleep, trying vainly but desperately to finish the unfinished job. This might rob them of the energy to do anything productive, while also making them utterly useless in all practical spheres.
- Dreading Deadlines – Procrastinators dread few things as much as they dread deadlines! In a study titled ‘Procrastination, Deadlines and Performance’ conducted by an institute in Massachusetts, it was found that, when a group of people diagnosed with chronic procrastination were given a set of math problems to solve, under the illusion that this was just a practice session of no real consequence, most of them finished the problems in time. However, when they were told that they had to finish the problems within a given period to prepare for a quiz to be held later on, most of them did not finish the set tasks. This proves that their inability to finish the same task the second time round had nothing to do with a lack of talent; but rather everything to do with an innate inability to abide by deadlines – maybe even an innate fear of them.
Nearly 20% of the human population suffers from procrastinating tendencies to one extent or the other. In some, the symptoms are more severe than in others – to the extent that it might even become debilitating and interfere with their ability to live a healthy and fruitful life. Without proper help, guidance and compassion, such people might slowly waste away, stuck in their own personal hell: a self-perpetuating circle of inaction, failure, self-loathing and further inaction. This might give rise to many other mental disorders which had not previously existed in the patient. It is therefore essential that we treat such people, not as social pariahs, but with the same compassion and understanding that we would extend to anyone suffering from a similar incapacitating physical illness that rendered them incapable of performing tasks with the same efficiency and speed as their peers. A little bit of love and compassion can solve most of the problems of the world!