Prof offers insight into beating procrastination

Undergraduate and graduate students are especially likely to procrastinate when they feel that others expect them to be perfect, according to research from York University.

“Perfectionism does not necessarily result in higher levels of performance and may even backfire,” says Gordon Flett, a psychology professor in York University’s Faculty of Health and Canada Research Chair in Personality & Health. “Students can be vulnerable to negative automatic thought patterns, which can lead to psychological distress and performance avoidance.”

Gordon Flett

Flett, lead author of “Procrastination Automatic Thoughts as a Personality Construct: An Analysis of the Procrastinatory Cognitions Inventory”, a new article soon to be published in the Journal of Rational-Emotive and Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, found related patterns of negative ruminations among procrastinators focused on perfectionism, fear of failure and guilt. These negative thought patterns  contributed to an increased stress level in students and delay in accomplishing tasks, findings that are similar to a previous study by the same research team showing that perfectionistic professors produce fewer published articles.

Recent surveys show that between 50 and 60 percent of responding students rated themselves as perfectionists, and 45 per cent indicated a problem with chronic procrastination.

So how can students move past the negativity and become high achievers? Flett offers tips for starting the school year off right:

Aim for excellence, not perfection
“The goals should be striving for excellence rather than striving for perfectionism,” says Flett.  “This means that students should work strenuously – but not obsessively – in order to achieve their goals. The goals should focus on excellence and doing well rather than being flawless. The focus should be on learning effective and adaptive ways to learn new material and developing good study skills.” 

Don’t get bogged down with external expectations
“Some students suffer jointly from procrastination and perfectionism. Fear of failure is one personality style that links these. It is important here to be not too concerned with what other people think.”

Learn to muzzle that negative inner voice
“Students are especially prone to stress if they ruminate and think continuously about the need to be perfect. Our work shows that students ruminate about their procrastination and have such thoughts as ‘Why didn’t I start earlier?’ and ‘Next time will be different.’  Students can learn to control these thoughts and should do so since these thoughts are linked with depression, anxiety, lack of conscientiousness and avoidance.”

Get help if you need it
“Perhaps the biggest problem is that perfectionistic procrastinators do not seek help, whether it is for assistance with their learning style or for their psychological issues. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness and is not something to be ashamed of. In fact, it is the smart thing to do.”

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