Procrastination and How to Stop it with Science

Do you procrastinate?

In my life coaching experience, the #1 top reason why people cannot perform is not about capability. You can easily improve your skills and knowledge by studying. The #1 top reason why people cannot perform is that people procrastinate! Procrastination is endemic in the human population. So, if you procrastinate, then don’t beat yourself up too hard. It’s normal.

If it’s normal and commonly seen among people, then why should I care? Well, if you don’t impose self-control on this issue or seek external help to improve this situation, then you will not achieve your full potential; at work or in your life. Hence, the issue of procrastination is actually a big issue that prevents people from success. Let me share some behaviour science studies with you.

A study by Prof. D. Ariely at MIT did some experiments on MIT students. Some students were given a traditional syllabus that tells them about the deadlines of three assignments. The second group of students were given a choice to set their own deadlines whenever they see suitable, as long as all assignments were submitted by the end of the class. The third group of students were given more freedom. These students didn’t need to specify their own deadlines (so, no deadlines at all), as long as they submit all assignments by the end of the class. So, which class performed better? Take a guess. ^_^

As a university professor, my guess was the first group. Then, how about those top MIT students? Well, the same result! The first group performed the best, then the second group. The group without imposed or self-imposed deadlines? They performed the worst. In other words, when there was time to procrastinate, those MIT students did procrastinate. So, if you also procrastinate, then don’t beat yourself too hard. It’s human nature!

I saw this in my career as a university professor and also as a coach in my life coaching consultancy. The solution is to set up a goal plan and pre-commit to this goal plan. In other words, you need to give yourself a goal with an action plan and stick to that plan until you achieve your goal. If you have done this for yourself but you still cannot achieve your goal (or achieve your goal a lot later than your plan), then you belong to the majority of people in the population.

For example, you wanted to lose 10kgs in 6 months, but you only managed to lose 3 kgs in 12 months. You wanted to get a professional certificate by studying two courses in 3 months, but you only managed to do one course in 4 months (then you told yourself that you were too busy and it was an absolutely legitimate excuse!). Or even worse, you found it too hard to lose weight and abandoned your goal. If this sounds familiar to you, then what can you learn from the MIT experiment on procrastination?

Without a goal plan, we fall for temptation because there is always ‘tomorrow’! With a goal plan, if you cannot execute it, then you still cannot achieve your goal. The best solution to this human weakness is to impose strong self-control and stick to your goal plan. If you can do this without a problem, then you are on the way to success. The basketball superstar, Kobe Bryant said in a documentary that he used to wake up at 5am and did his morning routine including his gym exercise, meditation and breakfast. This was even the case after he retired from the NBA!

white paper with note
Photo by Bich Tran on

What if you cannot impose such strong self-control on yourself? Dr. Ariely’s suggestion is: “… when an authoritative “external voice” gives the orders, most of us will jump to attention…“. The authoritative voice can be your professor (who sets up your assignment plan), your parents (who keep minding your assignment schedule), and your life coach who sets up your goal plan with you and monitors your performance regularly.

None of us is perfect and humans are meant to be humans. To succeed, we need to recognise our weaknesses and then we will be in a better position to seek assistance and achieve success. Procrastination is not your fault, but if you keep procrastinating, then it will prevent you from achieving your potential. If you’d like assistance, then contact us @ REEACoaching. We can help.

Dr. C. Richard Wu @

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