The cure for procrastination? Forgive yourself!

There are so many things you’d rather be doing than what you ought to be doing and what happens is that you delay doing what you ought. All the evidence shows that this procrastination is bad for you, for your productivity, your school grades, for your health. But still we keep putting things off. Until. Tomorrow. Now Michael Wohl and colleagues have proposed a rather surprising cure – self-forgiveness. That’s right, forgive yourself for you have procrastinated, move on, get over it and you’ll be more likely to get going without delay next time around.

Wohl’s team followed 134 first year undergrads through their first mid-term exams to just after their second lot of mid-terms. Before the initial exams, the students reported how much they’d procrastinated with their revision and how much they’d forgiven themselves. Next, midway between these exams and the second lot, the students reported how positive or negative they were feeling. Finally, just before the second round of mid-terms, the students once more reported how much they had procrastinated in their exam preparations.

The key finding was that students who’d forgiven themselves for their initial bout of procrastination subsequently showed less negative affect in the intermediate period between exams and were less likely to procrastinate before the second round of exams. Crucially, self-forgiveness wasn’t related to performance in the first set of exams but it did predict better performance in the second set.

‘Forgiveness allows the individual to move past maladaptive behaviour and focus on the upcoming examination without the burden of past acts to hinder studying,’ the researchers said. ‘By realising that procrastination was a transgression against the self and letting go of negative affect associated with the transgression via self-forgiveness, the student is able to constructively approach studying for the next exam.’

Wohl, M., Pychyl, T., & Bennett, S. (2010). I forgive myself, now I can study: How self-forgiveness for procrastinating can reduce future procrastination. Personality and Individual Differences, 48 (7), 803-808 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2010.01.029

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

31 thoughts on “The cure for procrastination? Forgive yourself!”

  1. That's right, forgive yourself for you have procrastinated, move on, get over it and you'll be more likely to get stuck in next time around.

    A typo?
    Looks like the word 'not” is missing: not to get stuck

  2. I got stuck in that sentence too, but I think the author is using the phrase “to get stuck in”, meaning to get on with things. It's not bad typing, it's bad writing.

  3. To the two Anonymous': forgive yourselves for wasting time writing those responses and just move on. You'll find more productive ways of spending your time in the long run.

  4. I wonder where the first two Anonymouses are from, because… What that sounds like to me is a Britishism. It sounds weird to my American brain, sure, but I suspect it makes more sense if you're more used to the way the language is used in Britain.

  5. @1:24PM – That's right. To 'get stuck-in' is very common in Britain. You get stuck in to your dinner, get stuck in to your homework, whatever.

  6. “…showed less negative affect in the intermediate period between exams…”


    Jesus wept

  7. Sadly this study tells us nothing about the effect of forgiving yourself, as there is no independent variable manipulation. Whilst naturalistic forgiveness may be predictive of results in the second set of exams, this could be for all kinds of reasons – and it does not say that if you make an effort to forgive yourself then things will improve. Surely a manipulation of forgiveness wouldn't be that hard to come up with?

  8. I can attest to the findings in this study. For me, it is true for studying or even simple things like keeping up with my todo list. There are days where I don't bat an eyelash at it, and I get so down on myself for not keeping up with it that I procrastinate doing it even more because of the shame associated with not following through.

    Yet, when I tell myself, “Okay…I put it off and missed a day. So what? Let it go and start again”….then I can easily return to my routine and I normally have a better chance at staying with it.

  9. Well, its most definitely true. As a student myself, I got very far behind this quarter and was quite stressed about it. Now I'm learning to forgive my own mistakes and just continue on, and everything seems to be working out. (:

  10. I completely agree with anonymous that this study only shows correlation between self-forgiveness and not procrastinating and not causation. It can be explained by 1) a lack of procrastination causing self-forgiveness and more likely 2) a third factor which causes both.

  11. You have to be kidding me. “self-forgiveness” is just a word nothing more. Why you just clarify actually how i can do it. Okey i am forgiving myself but it doesn't work out!!! Just a waste!!

  12. this sounds like a good cure. I think I'll try it tomorrow, or maybe the next day… Oh !@#$ its happening again, i'll never forgive myself.

    Crude… maybe, Corney… yes

  13. Forgive myself. Thank God! Because He can forgive me and my sinful ways. Remember to always seek Him. Nothing beats positive self-talk.

  14. That is not a typo.
    That is to “get stuck in” to something.

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