Procrastination: what it signals about farm people and others

Few people are not guilty of procrastination. I'm among the guilty -- just ask my wife -- but please don't tell her I admitted this. Marilyn knows I put off such tasks as preparing taxes, mowing the lawn and performing jobs around our home and fa...


Few people are not guilty of procrastination. I'm among the guilty - just ask my wife - but please don't tell her I admitted this.

Marilyn knows I put off such tasks as preparing taxes, mowing the lawn and performing jobs around our home and farm that I view of lesser importance than what I prefer to be doing. To her, the jobs I avoid often are paramount in her mind.

I have my priorities, and they are mostly carefully chosen. My procrastination is not a flaw, but rather the concentration of my efforts toward what I think is more important, like writing, meditating and tying fishing flies.

Marilyn gives me a lot of slack, which is one of the reasons why we get along well. Plus, we share some of the same procrastination behaviors.

Defined in Webster's Dictionary as a habit of putting off important-and sometimes expected-activities to a future time, the psychological definition of procrastination is the practice of engaging in a more pleasurable set of activities in place of less pleasurable activities.


To healthcare providers, significant procrastination has important underlying causes that should be evaluated.

For example, a patient with gradually worsening abdominal pain who avoids visiting a doctor might be fearful of the diagnosis of cancer or another disease, or may lack the funds to pay for medical treatment, or have still other reasons for putting off necessary care.

Ongoing procrastination that interferes with family, social or occupational functioning can also signal such behavioral maladjustments as serious worries, anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive personality tendencies and sometimes something else. Understanding psychologically what contributes to maladaptive procrastination is important.

Over my many years of assisting the agricultural population with behavioral health issues, I have learned that procrastination often signals troubling matters that need to be addressed but which they don't want to face. One farmer I knew was so emotionally paralyzed by fears of losing his farm that he couldn't bring himself to harvest his crops.

Procrastination also has a neurological explanation. The pleasure center of the brain, called the amygdala, regulates emotions such as fear, pleasure, satisfaction, and influences the decisions we make to select what produces gratification.

When we are happy, our brain secretes chemicals, especially dopamine, but serotonin, oxytocin, and other endorphins as well, that make us feel a sense of well-being.

Understanding the functions of the amygdala explains how people become addicted to opioids and/or heroin. The chemical structures of these artificial substances flood the brain, causing false euphoria.

The pleasure experienced after consumption of opioids or heroin is so significant it wafts the consumer into not eating, working and often other necessary daily activities. But when deprived of the addictive substance, the craving can become so pervasive it motivates misusers to engage in activities that are usually considered off limits such as theft, gambling and risks one wouldn't take when thinking rationally.


Most farmers who procrastinate are not addicted to unnatural substances even though they may have a proclivity in some instances to consume alcohol, street drugs or prescribed and OTC medications to not have to think about troubles or to deal with physical or psychological pain. Fear of failure looms large for farmers.

It's not coincidental that most farmers' serious behavioral health issues occur during spring planting and fall harvesting seasons. These are the times of the year that mostly determine their farm profits or losses.

Everyone has times when we feel pressured to comply with deadlines and become anxious when we can't comply with requirements. We all know how awful these times feel.

What to do. It helps to ask other people we trust to engage in the solution-seeking. Bringing outside input into the mix broadens options and it gives consternated people an opportunity to express themselves.

Being able to talk about worries with trusted people helps us to gain perspective, which usually leads to increasing choices for solutions, a team of supporters, and - perhaps most importantly - a chance to let go of troubled feelings in a supportive environment.

The people asked to help must have skills needed to resolve the dilemmas that are blocking our actions. They can include experienced family members, friends and other trusted associates. Our consultants can include veterinarians, animal nutritionists, farm business accountants, crop specialists, professionals in farm coaching and legal matters and anyone who can bring in viewpoints which enlarge the options and help farmers select the optimal choices to implement.

When we renege in seeking solutions, our procrastination can increase to the point we require professional healthcare and sometimes legal proceedings that force outcome choices, whether we like them or not. Our options diminish when we reach that point, so it makes sense to have a proactive plan in place when we feel like procrastinating.

Okay, it's time for me to finish this article and to not procrastinate.


Mike Rosmann is a Harlan, Iowa, psychologist and farmer. To contact Rosmann go online to: .

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