While it is not a clinical syndrome; that is, a diagnosis found in a mental health manual, procrastination is still pernicious, psychologically. It can create mild symptoms or some that are chronic, even paralyzing. Regardless, procrastination is something that can be cured.
Procrastination is really a form of ambivalence. This is not widely recognized. Ambivalence is when part of you wants something and part of your doesn’t want that something. It doesn’t have to be two things that directly conflict. One of the "somethings" can be related to the other, just not the same, requiring a choice that is, at least partially, mutually exclusive. Ambivalence can be in awareness, partially in awareness or totally out of awareness. This doesn’t matter, because the subjective experience of it is uneasiness. It actually creates anxiety, but it is of the kind that is not usually associated with anxiety disorders, proper.
Procrastination happens when these conflicts occur in our lives and we don’t want to deal with them. For example, I’m supposed to clean my room but I want to go out to play. I’ll think about the former but want to do the later. The choices are about two things that are relatively mutually exclusive and sooner or later, I have to negotiate the choices. I have to pick one. Either one I pick will have consequences, and I know one of them will have unpleasant consequences.
I usually pick the more pleasant, self-serving behavior, which automatically means I’m putting off choosing the “other.” This appears to be procrastinating, because I’m not doing something, but in reality I’m avoiding a conflict. I am ambivalent, experiencing some level of anxiety and trying to get around the whole thing.
Like I said before, the things we procrastinate about can be big or little, in or out of awareness, and be short or longer term. Those are just the particulars, but the dynamic is the same in each case. We usually choose the more self-serving behavior in the service of either avoiding the conflict; that is, making it disappear from our awareness, or to just avoid the less pleasant of the two choices.
This latter dynamic is often a function of our impulsiveness. As can be seen, this quality has many manifestations, some of which are adaptive, like when we procrastinate in order to glean more information before acting on something. Some dynamics are maladaptive, like when we put off finishing a project for the boss, knowing the impact on our job security.
In order to solve procrastination, we have to penetrate the ambivalence. We have to “pull up” into awareness, the full import of our choices. But for most of us, to do that means we also have to do a little soul searching. You see, ambivalence doesn’t just occur in a vacuum. There are reasons we avoid certain things, other than they may or may not be more difficult to do than something else. Sometimes it’s about not wanting to express a feeling, such as anger. If someone asks you to do something and you feel slighted, it is unlikely you will comply with their request. So, you don’t, on the surface, which is about not dealing with your internal state, expressing yourself and later resolving ambivalence. The superficial behavior then looks like procrastinating, when in fact, its just about avoiding conflict (which is probably at the heart of ambivalence in most cases).
Questions can be directed to author, who is a clinical psychologist.