Putting Procrastination in its Place

Recent studies indicate that our current North American population contains one in four procrastinators (23%-26%), compared to 4%-6% in 1978. Steven Kotler, author of West of Jesus: Surfing, Science, and the Origins of Belief, suggests that “procrastination reflects our brain’s hunger to feel good now rather than reap future rewards.” Psychologist Piers Steel of the University of Calgary, pursuing findings in over 70 studies on the dynamic that correlated it to perfectionism, beginning in 1996, identified four interlinked variables at the root of procrastination: (1) A person’s expectancy at succeeding at a given task, (2) the value of the task, (3) a person’s need for immediate gratification & awareness of its delay, and (4) impulsiveness. Steel further noted that we tend to discount future rewards as less important than the task at hand, and correlated the issue with the potential addictive attraction in overeating, overspending, gambling, and other searches for immediate gratification.

How does procrastination relate to faith and discipleship? In regard to choices we make, we can use “mental perspective” to spend energy and time on matters that require investment of self and long range commitments. It means resisting the pleasant task of the moment in favor of the greater issue that requires hard work. In regard to spiritual development, a believer can learn the importance of ongoing spiritual exercises in the purpose of converting “an old self” to a “better self” as a Christian. And for leaders in congregations, it can mean employing a long term outlook and initiative—as opposed to a “quick fix” mentality in concerns that affect the betterment of the Body of Christ.

On the personal side of life, students of human behavior gently warn us against the irrationality of “putting things off,” where short term gain (the comfort of postponing) means long term pain. May God give us wisdom to know what needs to be postponed, and what needs primary attention in our life.

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