Academic journal article WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship

Emotional Management over Time Management: Using Mindfulness to Address Student Procrastination

Academic journal article WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship

Emotional Management over Time Management: Using Mindfulness to Address Student Procrastination

Article excerpt

When Claire started tracking which students were heavy users of writing assistance at the Educational Resource Center (ERC) at Boston University, an intriguing pattern appeared: based on tutor notes, repeat visits by the same student often correlated with procrastination behaviors by that student. In other words, a subset of students who came in for repeated brainstorming and planning sessions continued to delay the actual task of writing. Curious about this behavior, Claire reached out to Heather, who works at BU's College of Arts & Sciences (CAS) Center for Writing. (1) Although the CAS Center for Writing does not keep notes on students in the same way as the ERC, Heather had anecdotally noticed a similar pattern. A review of research on procrastination sheds light on why students might continue to struggle to complete assignments even with repeated tutoring sessions. Despite the stubbornly entrenched cultural belief that procrastination is a failure of time management (Burka and Yuen), recent psychology research suggests that procrastination might actually be a way that some individuals cope with negative emotions. This research indicates that procrastination is generally understood to be related to self-regulation, the ability to exert control over one's behavior, thoughts, and emotions (Steel and Klingsieck). One strand of self-regulation research emphasizes the emotional component of procrastination, proposing that it is "a dysfunctional response to undesired affective states" (Eckert et al. 10). ("Dysfunctional response" refers to behavior that detracts from optimal functioning, rather than behavior that is abnormal.) In other words, procrastination occurs when people contemplate what they perceive to be stressful or unpleasant tasks. Seeking to avoid negative emotions, a person might delay their work despite the long-term consequences (Tice et al.), hoping that their future self will be more capable of handling the task. Procrastination can thus be understood as a form of "short-term mood regulation" that undermines long-term efficacy (Sirois and Pychyl 115).

We believe that these psychological insights are valuable for those working with procrastinating students. In our experience, writing tutors working with procrastinators often emphasize time management and offer logistical advice, such as outlining, organizing sources, or compiling to-do lists, but these strategies unwittingly mirror the stereotype that procrastination is about laziness or disorganization, rather than emotion. It might be more productive, we suggest, to teach tutors about the affective roots of procrastination and design tutoring techniques with the affective causes of procrastination in mind.

More specifically, we propose that mindfulness shows promise as an approach to tutoring chronic procrastinators, particularly those with whom tutors have built relationships through the procrastinators' repeated visits. In its simplest form, mindfulness means awareness: paying attention to the present moment without judgment (Kabat-Zinn). Defining mindfulness as "present-centered, non-reactive self-awareness and nonjudgmental acceptance of thoughts and feelings as they occur," Fuschia Sirois and Natalia Tosti found links between procrastination and low mindfulness (239). It seems to work this way: procrastinators are more likely to be judgmental of themselves and their experiences. Such judgment sparks negative feelings; as a result, procrastinators may temporarily mitigate their discomfort by delaying the work that gave rise to these feelings. Yet procrastinating then makes them feel increasingly stressed and self-critical, necessitating further mood repair and perpetuating a cycle of procrastination (Sirois and Tosti). On the other hand, as Rimma Teper et al. have suggested, practicing mindfulness can improve emotional self-regulation: as we learn to simply pay attention to our emotions and thoughts--rather than jumping straight to judging those thoughts and feelings--we become more sensitive to subtle affective changes and can better control our responses. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.