Understanding and Treating Procrastination: A Review of a Common Self-Regulatory Failure


Procrastination is a pervasive self-regulatory failure affecting approximately one-fifth of the adult population and half of the student population. It is defined as one’s voluntarily delay of an intended course of action despite being worse off as a result of that delay. Procrastination has a negative impact on performance and is associated with poorer mental health. Stress, worry, and feelings of guilt are common among those who procrastinate recurrently. In addition, procrastination is associated with fewer mental health-seeking behaviors and increased treatment delay, leading to greater distress and the exacerbation of illness. The current paper seeks to provide a theoretical and clinical understanding of procrastination by reviewing prior research. Procrastination can be understood using different motivational theories, learning theory, self-efficacy theory, as well as biases and heuristics. Temporal motivational theory is proposed as an integrated explanation for procrastination, consisting of the interaction of four different variables: expectancy, value, impulsiveness, and time, each of which affects the tendency to procrastinate. A general implication is that procrastination should be regarded as an idiosyncratic behavioral problem that requires a cognitive case conceptualization or a functional analysis in order to guide therapists in their work. A number of treatment interventions might be used in relation to procrastination—for example, efficacy performance spirals, automaticity, stimulus control, stimulus cues, learned industriousness, and cognitive restructuring. Furthermore, the current paper explores the evidence on using cognitive behavior therapy for procrastination, discussing the scarcity of randomized controlled trials and the lack of validated outcome measures, and highlighting the need for further research.

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Rozental, A. & Carlbring, P. (2014). Understanding and Treating Procrastination: A Review of a Common Self-Regulatory Failure. Psychology, 5, 1488-1502. doi: 10.4236/psych.2014.513160.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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