Nic Voge, Senior Associate Director of Princeton University’s McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning in NJ, describes procrastination in a different way than what is common. According to Voge, it’s not the familiar character flaw we know and loathe.

Procrastination is usually discussed as ‘self-sabotage’, a weakness, and shameful. In his Tedx talk, Voge invites his audience to see a different understanding of the question “Why Do We Procrastinate?”. The answer he provided was rooted in the need to feel worthy and competent. It’s something we can expect and predict given we understand human motivation and self-worth theory. When we fear our efforts will not render perfection, high achievement, or the standard we set for ourselves, we choose avoidance instead to protect ourselves from feeling incompetent and unworthy.

Self-Worth Theory of Achievement Motivation

The self-worth theory assumes a simplistic view that ability signifies self-worth (performance=ability=self-worth). If I am able, I am worthy. Thus, if you are afraid of performing poorly, you must protect your self-worth by employing certain strategies. One of those strategies is procrastination.

It’s not just a grade that’s on the line, its our self concept

Here’s a familiar scenario: You are a college student and a paper is due. After a long day of mild productivity, you start to do the paper. All of a sudden, you think “I’ll check my email”. 45 minutes later you say, “I’m tired, I should sleep and do the paper tomorrow. I will wake up extra early.” When the alarm goes off the next morning, you are not refreshed, so you turn the alarm off and sleep more. When you wake up again, you start doing other things that are easier than the paper, such as taking a long lunch with friends, cleaning, etc. The cycle continues until the fear of not getting it done exceeds the fear of failure .

Procrastination is a feeling of stuckness. You can’t sleep but you can’t work, Voge says. Procrastination is a self-protective strategy to deal with competing motivations-the drive for success and the powerful motivation to avoid failure. With procrastination, you can rationalize that it was poor sleep, being busy with other things that left you no choice but to do less at the last minute, not your ability to perform at a high level.

DTC-a helpful acronym to remember some tips for combatting procrastination

  • Developing awareness
    • Gaining knowledge of self worth theory will help you combat procrastination because you understand the root
    • Gaining awareness of what you are feeling and notice when you might be avoiding through other activities, such as cleaning, checking emails, etc.
    • Getting to know your thoughts and feelings surrounding procrastination without judgment will help you to overcome it


  • Tip the balance
    • It is not that you aren’t doing the task because you “don’t want to” or “don’t feel like it”; rather, it is fear and feeling overwhelmed that dominates the motivation to approach certain tasks, especially if they are particularly meaningful to you.
    • Balance that fear with thinking about the reasons why you want to do something, how doing so fits into your larger goals and mission. For instance, Voge said that he was anxious while preparing his Tedx talk about procrastination. He balanced that anxiety with his goal and mission to “reduce suffering and help people.”


  • Challenge your beliefs
    • Acknowledge and challenge the belief that your self-worth comes from your ability to perform.
    • Voge offers these words:
      “Your ability is not equivalent to your worth.”
      “Worth comes from your human qualities of kindness, thoughtfulness, and vulnerabilities.”

If you need help with combatting procrastination and improving your self-worth, please call Specialized Therapy Associates at 201-448-6678 or visit our website at