Mindfulness training can reduce intention to procrastinate on a task one would normally avoid, according to a recent study published in the International Journal of Applied Positive Psychology.
Procrastination is characterized by the delaying of a task for a dysfunctional amount of time. Research has shown that the practice is relatively common in adults and can be especially harmful for university students. It’s a habit that can lead to unfavorable outcomes like stress, poor performance, anxiety, and depression.
Previous studies have suggested that greater mindfulness is linked to less procrastination. One explanation may be that mindfulness leads to certain cognitive benefits like heightened awareness and ability to sustain attention. These abilities decrease a person’s chance of exhibiting low self-control, possibly protecting against procrastination.
The new study is the first to look at mindfulness as an intervention strategy for helping people who tend to procrastinate. Researchers aimed to see whether practicing a mindfulness exercise would be associated with greater intention to follow through on a task one would usually procrastinate. They also wanted to see whether the ability to sustain attention would explain at least some of the link between mindfulness and procrastination.
Researchers asked 170 university students to think of a task they hoped to complete in the next month, for example, paint their house. They were specifically asked to choose a task they thought they might put off completing. Each participant completed measures of trait mindfulness (using Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory), attention (using the Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale-V1.1 Symptoms Checklist) and procrastination (using Lay’s General Procrastination Scale).
Students were then separated into two groups and assigned either a 3-minute mindfulness exercise or a control exercise where they were asked to reflect on what they did the previous day. Immediately after the assigned exercise, participants were asked to rate their level of engagement with the exercise and then rate their intention to work on the task they had said they wanted to complete (ex: paint house). They rated their agreement with statements like, ‘I will wait to start working towards this task’ and ‘I will start working towards this task today’.
Results showed that the students who took part in the mindfulness exercise displayed more intention to work on their desired task than did those who completed the control exercise. Interestingly, these results were only significant when engagement with the exercise was held constant. It seems that the degree to which participants were engaged with the training affected whether or not it would lower procrastination.
An analysis of the data showed, unsurprisingly, that trait mindfulness was associated with less tendency to procrastinate. What was new, mediation analysis showed that attention skills might explain this relationship between mindfulness and procrastination. A possible conclusion might be that mindfulness promotes sustained attention which then leads to less procrastination.
Since the study looked at brief, 3-minute mindfulness exercises, it would be of interest for future research to study the effects of more in-depth mindfulness training. The authors explain, “Such research might help determine the optimal length and format of mindfulness interventions intended to assist those who procrastinate and might explore approaches to increasing engagement with mindfulness exercises, possibly through innovative technologies, such as use of virtual reality.”
The study, “Greater Mindfulness is Linked to Less Procrastination”, was authored by Nicola S. Schutte & Andrea del Pozo de Bolger.