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Procrastination or Caution?

Psychological Perspective


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Ken Silvestro, PhD

Many people experience frequent excessive delays in life or the inability to make a decision, as well as to complete or begin projects. There can be many different psychological reasons for these delays and inabilities but procrastination is high on the list. The following can be considered examples of procrastination: a person prolongs making a decision by considering the many different possibilities, by simply ignoring the decision or by failing to follow schedules.

Procrastination can be understood as a natural personality characteristic or a learned trait, such as caution. Personalities include a characteristic known as temperament, which is labeled in two ways: judgment and perceiving. At the moment, the reasons for these specific labels are not important. What each temperament means, however, is important to understanding procrastination.

The judgment temperament helps people to organize, structure, schedule and be timely in their lives. On the other hand, the perceiving temperament helps people to hesitate and avoid hasty decisions and to be more relaxed in their organizational and scheduling tasks. Given these descriptions, it easy to see why the perceiving temperament is often related to procrastination but this is not always the case. Nor does it mean that everyone who procrastinates has a perceiving temperament.

In addition to temperament, procrastination can be described in terms of caution. A person might have made several rash decisions or moved forward in a life endeavor without much thought or consideration of the consequences. When this happens, even once, many people learn that their approach to life needs to become more cautious and considerate. When these situations occur several times, most people are willing to change and side with caution.

Although caution is an admirable approach, becoming overly cautious can interfere with a person's excitement for life and with spontaneity. This can lead to procrastination but also to a dull existence. Like most human experiences, balance is the goal -- in this case, a balance between caution and spontaneity.

So, we see that there are differences between temperament and caution. Yet to an outsider, both result in procrastination. Either can be complicated and overshadowed by other psychological conditions. One example is an obsessive-compulsive condition described in a previous article.

If you've been called a procrastinator by friends or family members, it is worthy of self-review. You might be living out a natural side of your personality or you might be expressing a cautionary side which developed during the course of your life. In either case, self-reviews always help us to better understand ourselves.


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