Educación, Psicología & Ciencia

Theory of Psychological Reactance: When Procrastination wins.

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That moment, when we have delayed something that is good for us and also we want to do, but for some reason we did not find the moment to do it. So, we can do it, we desire to do it, we actually want to do it but we haven´t finished the task yet. We can´t forget the uncompleted task, actually to think about it causes annoyance, so we start to wonder why is not already done? disturbing the performance of other tasks with which we are certainly committed. And it is a loop with no end. – Does this sound familiar to you?


A few days ago I had a very interesting conversation with a good friend and also professional. J.J is a young researcher who is writing his first paper in HR. He is working now in new techniques related with communication flows and motivation, learning how to help people  to «get things done».

We recorded our brainstorming and here´s the result:

J.J: Why do we choose to sabotage ourselves?

L.A: Almost everybody knows this feeling. In short, humans love behavior freedom. Psychological reactance occurs in response to threats to perceived behavioral freedom. Reactance can occur when someone is heavily pressured to accept a certain view or attitude. When psychologists make reference to behavior, they include also emotions, actions and attitudes.

J.J: Is such important the “Free Will”?

L.A: Yes, it is. – Humans! We believe that we have the privilege to choose freely what feels right to ourselves. We don´t know if it’s a matter related with pride or dignity, we use to call it self-determination. When a person with more authority ask us to accomplish immediately a task, we have something inside that push is to resist.

J.J: Can this “resistance” occur because we don´t like the task?

L.A: Of course, it can be, but it is other phenomenon which is not related with resistance. Resistance don´t implies necessarily that we dislike the task or we feel scared, it is more linked with a perceived attack to our sense to ourselves.

J.J: Sorry, but it doesn´t make any sense…

L.A: There is further research on this topic. For example, Seltzer (1983) wrote a very interesting article “Influencing the shape of resistance”. His starting point in psychotherapy is the acceptance and utility of the client resistance to change. When a client comes, he/she thinks (silently).

– Why should I pay attention to her? She is just a psychologist with any trouble and she tries to tell me what I should to do.

And I must to accept first, as human, that they are right in some extent. Clients, people in general need autonomy with the consequent tendency to resist to the another´s directives. I see these processes as something natural not as a battle.

J.J: Does it work?

L.A: Let´s say I applied this understanding of resistance to young people with different backgrounds and it is working…

J.J: But, how is related with procrastination?


L.A: An example: NEETs. “Ni-Nis” in Spanish, young people with a label in their foreheads which says – Not in Education, Employment, or Training person. They come and say:  – Yeah, I have not a job, neither studies… waiting for my verbal “punishment” or attitude, because they are used to. Actually it easier to them, because “they are used to”, and when they face a person who doesn´t follow the rules, they have to think more and solve the situation with a new strategy.

– She is not attacking me and now I can´t run away. Wait, what is she doing?

If I demand them the first day to get a task perfectly done, the task itself will be less desirable to them, even they don´t know how to explain why they act how they do. But they do.

J.J: Are you talking about a kind of “reactance procrastination”?

L.A: For example, a child who has been over-controlled by his parents, he can feel a pressure inside to proclaim his freedom doing the opposite and sometimes choosing the worse options in a decision-making process. Even abandon the school in an early age.

J.J: What do you mean with over-controlling?

L.A: Not let them the option to make any kind of choice and of course lack of communication.

J.J: How can we react against procrastination?

L.A: I think the first step is foster self-awareness and also be conscious of why we are denying the accomplishment of a task. We have to remind ourselves why we have chosen to commit ourselves with a task or work – Does it fit with your interests and capabilities? During the adulthood we must to feel confidence with our personality, and detach ourselves of no productive “self-confirmation” behaviors. And, of course to know that reactance is natural and human, and we can improve it.

J.J: Can psychologists implement such techniques to work with organizations?

L.A: Yes. But as humans, organizations need also a previous assessment which indicates us what is going wrong, point weakness and also strengths. In the end, organizations are groups of humans working together in order to get the same aim or goal. But also artists while writing a play or researchers while writing a paper or any type of complex activity.

J.J: Did you finish all your tasks today?

L.A: Well [laugh], I try to accomplish everyday´s goals but I always have a red cross in my agenda (groceries, laundry, gym, that paper, reviews…). After all, we are humans – isn´t it? We need an agenda full of colors.

… and you, have you finished yet?


«Feel free to comment or suggest«

Thank you J.J for your insight.

Hope see you soon in a new/challenging «battle».

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Autor: Lorena Álvarez

Psicóloga, activista, trotamundos y una apasionada por la ciencia y las letras.

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