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Will Winter, MD, FAAP

The phenomenon of procrastination is so common in children, teens and adults that it is seemingly ubiquitous. Certainly, it is more the norm than "abnormal".

So why do so many people procrastinate? We can say that procrastination is an escape from responsibility. But how and why procrastination happens is more nuanced than that.

Behaviors are motivated principally by either desire or fear. Often, when it comes to procrastination, fear and its resulting paralysis is the main issue.

Some people procrastinate when it comes to something that they enjoy doing. For example, there are writers who enjoy writing but procrastinate nonetheless. In this case, procrastination is fear based. Thoughts, like the following, kill creativity:

What if it isn't good?
What if people don't like it and think I'm not a good writer?

(Of course, the problem here isn't one's writing ability but that he is so invested in what others think of him. This would have to be addressed. )

Perhaps a student is afraid that he won't do the assignment correctly, or perfectly. In fact, perfectionism is a big cause of procrastination. Perfectionism is also a common problem that has far reaching ramifications, procrastination being only one.

Another cause of procrastination can be escapism, not from the idea of work in general, but from a specific exercise that one does not understand or cannot do. For example, if a child in elementary school is procrastinating or not doing homework when it comes to doing word puzzle assignments, he or she may have a deficiency in that particular area, i.e. dyslexia. So, procrastination may be the first sign of a learning disorder. It may also be the first sign of ADHD, inattentive type.

Procrastination is not an actual diagnosis, and it is quite common. It is up to you to recognize if it is causing dysfunction or not. If it is impairing one's ability to function, learn, or enjoy life, then an evaluation would be indicated to clarify why it is happening and what to do about it.