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Procrastination : what keeps us at it? - a search for positive aspects Askwith, Howard F.

Abstract

The study of procrastination has historically been approached from a negative bias. Often purported to be connected with other pejoratively valued behaviours such as perfectionism, avoidance, aversiveness, learned helplessness, and depression, procrastination is today seen as a problem that begs resolution. Existing research has been unable to determine a sufficiently comprehensive understanding of the phenomenon to prevent, reduce, or minimize the negative aspects of the experience. This fact, combined with the volume of previous research suggests that the procrastination is indeed a complicated phenomenon, composed of more aspects than have heretofore been subject to scrutiny. The research described in the following pages attempted to explore the complex nature of procrastination in greater detail, from an entirely new perspective. It sought to answer the question, "What are the positive and therefore reinforcing elements of the experience, what keeps us at it?" A Critical Incident methodology was used to interview 15 self-identified procrastinators who volunteered in response to notices posted on campus at the University of British Columbia. Eight women and seven men, who ranged in age from 19 to 49, were interviewed about their experience of procrastination. Transcriptions of audiotaped interviews were analyzed to identify themes from three aspects of the experience: (a) positive themes apparent in what happened during the experience, (b) positive themes of the reported outcomes of the experience, and (c) positive themes of what participants reported they would miss if they were no longer able to procrastinate. The results identified 20 themes that are discussed in terms of their relevance to existing literature about procrastination and to counselling psychology in general. The presence of clearly identified positive themes indicates that procrastination contains strong elements of reinforcement for its perpetuation. This description may further enhance our understanding of why procrastination has so far proven difficult to extinguish. The presence of positive themes suggests that the behaviour may be viewed as partially beneficial to the individual procrastinator and may call into question some demands for extinction of the behaviour. Recommendations for further research are made and implications for counselling are also discussed.

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