Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Why the guilt of procrastination doesn’t lead to action

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Interesting post by Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, where he specializes in the study of procrastination:

People seldom do what they believe in. They do what is convenient, then repent. (Bob Dylan). I certainly agree with the first part of this Dylan quote, but I’m quite sure that there’s more to it than repentance, including: distraction, forgetting, trivialization, self-affirmation and denial of responsibility to name a few.

Since the 1950’s with Leon Festinger’s (and his students’) initial work oncognitive dissonance, psychologists have spent countless hours studying how acting counter-attitudinally leads to a negative emotional state. Why? Well, most people try to maintain a consistent and positive sense of self. Most people want to act competently, morally, and to be able to predict their behavior. When our actions and beliefs or even two beliefs are in conflict, they are dissonant. Dissonance is uncomfortable. We want to relieve ourselves from this negative state.

Traditionally, researchers have studied this relief in the form of attitude change. If my behavior conflicts with my attitude, change my attitude. That’s easy, and it’s common. It’s the road most traveled, as they say. I could also change my behavior. But, even Festinger has argued that this isn’t simple or easy (and it’s seldom the preferred route; it’s the road less traveled). As Dylan has noted above, it’s easier to do what’s convenient, not necessarily what we believe in, then repent.

I just finished reading a doctoral student’s proposal for her research on cognitive dissonance. It was a very good read, and she has proposed some interesting studies. Of course, I read her work through my "filter" of procrastination research, and this took me to different places.

That’s what I want to blog about today – cognitive dissonance and procrastination.

Not only do "people seldom do what they believe in" but all too often people don’t do what they intend to do. They do what is convenient (what they feel like). Then what?

When we intend to act, when we have a goal to which we’ve made an intention to act, and we don’t act (voluntarily and quite irrationally choosing to delay action despite knowing this may affect us negatively),we experience dissonance. This is one of the costs of procrastination.

Dylan says we "repent" afterwards. We could. I’ve even conducted some research on this repentance in the form of self-forgiveness. It happens, and it seems to help.

More often, I think we engage in alternative strategies to reduce the dissonance created by procrastination. This dissonance is commonly experienced emotionally as guilt, and we do whatever we can to get rid of this negative emotion.

Here are a few typical reactions that researchers have catalogued as responses to dissonance (and ways that we reduce this dissonance): …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 November 2009 at 11:44 am

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