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Procrastination: Pathological deferral behavior jeopardizes life's happiness

Postponing unpleasant activities is a widespread phenomenon, which may take pathological features and cost your own career. The sufferers suffer from a real "defermentitis", in which important tasks regularly go unfinished.

According to the motto "What you can do today, better postpone it until tomorrow", unpleasant activities are delayed again and again in the case of deferment and are often left unfinished at the end. The phenomenon has been known primarily from the field of students for decades, although in the past there was little talk of so-called strolling students or the student syndrome. In the meantime, experts speak of pathological deferral behavior that can lead to considerable problems. In the worst case, the behavior described under the psychological technical term "procrastination" costs happiness and career, warn the experts.

Procrastination patients helplessly put on hold It is not only students who often postpone unpleasant tasks such as homework, papers or theses for a long time. Postponement behavior is also widespread in other social circles. However, this does not necessarily have to indicate pathological procrastination, but is quite normal to a certain extent. For example, some people tend to initiate actions later on or can only idly overcome unpleasant activities, although they are well aware of the disadvantages of a delay. In the case of procrastination, however, the reluctance or even fear of the tasks is exacerbated by their necessity. The time pressure and the regular exceeding of certain deadlines (external or self-imposed) often make those affected feel a sense of shame that they are additionally blocked in their actions. In the end, those affected feel helpless to be postponed and fall short of their performance level, psychologist Eva Frings from the University of Münster told the news agency dpa.

Students receive help in the procrastination outpatient clinic The psychologist at the “Procrastination Outpatient Clinic” at the University of Münster, together with her colleagues, provided therapeutic treatment for around 500 students over a period of six years who showed clear signs of procrastination. With its outpatient services for the students concerned, the University of Münster is a unique example in Germany. Here the students are to be helped to overcome their chronic postponement behavior, not least to enable them to successfully complete their studies. A typical statement from students who were cared for in the "procrastination outpatient clinic" was, according to Eva Frings, for example: "I am absolutely ready to start working and my body does not move." Instead of doing the necessary work on the PC, the "index finger" would simply click on the left mouse button "and push the person concerned" to the next WWW page ". Quickly check back on Facebook before tackling the serious tasks, many procrastination patients think and then spend the rest of the day on the Internet instead of trying to do their jobs. Often, just at the moment when they actually want to start, they remember that the laundry still has to be washed or the shopping has to be done.

Students, self-employed and freelancers are particularly often affected by procrastination. Students are particularly often affected by the phenomenon of procrastination because they have to structure their everyday university life to a high degree. At school, they were often not adequately taught how to structure work and study, explained Eva Frings. The organization of those affected is therefore poor. However, according to the expert, not only students suffer from the problem, but also self-employed and freelancers, who also have to structure their everyday life to a high degree, are increasingly affected by procrastination. According to Eva Frings, no typical risk group can be identified within the students, although those affected tend to come more often from courses such as history or philosophy, in which everyday life at the university has to be structured particularly strongly. However, the introduction of tighter bachelor's and master's programs did not reduce the number of people affected.

Sufferers should seek therapeutic help Regarding the causes of the chronic postponement behavior, the expert explained that "often fear of failure and high demands on oneself play a major role", although postponing the unpleasant activities is understandable from a behavioral psychological point of view. Because in the short term the unpleasant feelings would be suppressed, stress and aversion avoided. "In the long term, however, there are many disadvantageous consequences such as the longer duration of the study, lower grades or dropping out of studies," explained the Münster psychologist Lena Beck to the "dpa". For the students, the conflict between recognizing the need for action and their own inability to act means that they are more aggravated and stressed, develop more sleep disorders, suffer from general dissatisfaction and are at increased risk of depression. At the latest when the deferral behavior manifests itself in the first signs of such serious symptoms, those affected are urgently recommended therapeutic help, which they receive at the University of Münster in the procrastination outpatient clinic, according to the experts.

Realistic goal as the goal of treatment Psychologist Eva Frings and her colleagues help those affected with group and individual treatments to better organize and structure their tasks in order to avoid postponement behavior in the future. The procrastination patients also learn to set realistic sub-goals, Frings explained. "As a rule of thumb, it can help to subtract 50 percent from what you would intuitively do," emphasized the psychologist. In addition, it makes sense to keep an eye on the tasks that have already been completed, for example by putting “a marble in a glass for each successful unit”. "The sight motivates" and after 20 marbles, those affected can easily take a break to meet friends or go to the cinema, according to the expert. (fp)

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