Professor Fuschia Sirois is a globally-renowned expert on self-regulation and well-being, and has recently published a game-changing book to help procrastinators understand and tackle the issue. We caught up with her to chat about her research interests, her commitment to sharing her expertise and whether she too procrastinates!
Q. What is your particular area of research interest focus
A. My research is broadly focused on understanding the factors that create risk and resilience for health and well-being. I’m particularly interested in factors that promote effective self-regulation, that is the way people direct and mange their thoughts, emotions, and behaviours, to reach their goals.
When people succeed at self-regulation, they experience better outcomes across a number of important life domains including personal relationships, work life, and health. Effective self-regulation is essential for reaching goals, which in turn can contribute to a sense of purpose and well-being.
Within this area I have been specialising on risk factors such as perfectionism, procrastination, and more recently loneliness, and examining their links to health and well-being outcomes, as well as their causes. But I’m also very interested in solutions and ways to mitigate the risks linked to these qualities and traits. To that end my research has focused on how self-compassion, gratitude and future time perspective can improve health and well-being and help people reach their goals.
Q. How did you come to specialise in this area?
A. My original interests were in health and the harmful and helpful ways that people cope with health challenges. But this has broadened to understanding health and well-being more generally.
My interest in procrastination and health was first sparked when I was doing my postgraduate studies in Canada. There was a leading expert on the topic in the department who presented me with an intriguing study suggesting that student procrastinators might have poorer health. This study raised some unanswered questions, and so I set off to design better studies to help address them and delve further into the reasons why procrastination may affect health. This then evolved into a curiosity about why people procrastinate in the first place, especially if it’s so harmful to health.
Q. What is it that interests you in this area?
A. I think finding ways to help improve people’s health and well-being is really important, as there are so many factors that can affect it for better or worse. Many of these factors are within the individuals’ control, although realistically many are not. But regardless of whether we want to fault society, or the government, or other forces beyond our control, ultimately we all have to live with the circumstances that we have and try to make the most of them, even if we are motivated to try and change things to be better.
So, until that time when life is fairer, society is more equitable, and people are kinder to one another, empowering people to find health and well-being within their limited circumstances can at least help improve the quality of their life. And when people are even a little bit happier and healthier, there will be knock on effects that could benefit everyone. They’ll reach their goals, some of which may have important implications for improving society, and they’ll treat the people they encounter in their life in kinder, more accepting, and inspiring ways.
Q. Why do you think it is so important to share your research with the public?
A. The research I do is fairly accessible in terms of what it means for people’s day to day lives. Given this I think I have a responsibility to share my research so that it might benefit their lives and improve their health and well-being. To me, research is not just about publishing papers in academic journals. It’s about making sure that the results are communicated to the public and other stakeholders who can use this knowledge. Communicating research with the public is just a natural part of the research cycle for me, and one that can be extremely rewarding when you see that the research has impact for individuals and society.
I think it’s very important to share my research on procrastination because it is such a problem for so many people. For others it can have a huge impact on their lives. If my research can provide even a small amount of insight into why they procrastinate and how they can address it, then it’s worthwhile. But I think it’s also important to share the research because of the misperceptions about procrastination that abound, and which can potentially result in ineffective or even harmful strategies being used to reduce procrastination.
Q. What have been your biggest challenges in this area of research?
A. Speaking about procrastination research in particular, it is a very hard topic to study, especially if you are looking for a lab-controlled study. You can’t easily induce true procrastination in a lab, only delay. This is because the task that people might delay in a lab setting isn’t necessarily one that they would have strong intentions of doing, or that would be important to them. So, any delay wouldn’t really qualify as procrastination. Instead, I’ve focused my research mainly on studying people who chronically procrastinate to get a better understanding of the causes and consequences of procrastination. I then make inferences from their tendency to procrastinate to what happens when people procrastinate occasionally.
Q. What are you most proud of in your work so far?
A. I think the research I am most proud of is the theoretical review we wrote back in 2013 that first laid out an argument for why procrastination is about poor mood regulation and the implications that it has for one’s future self. This new perspective helped to shift the direction of research in the field towards giving closer consideration to the role of emotion regulation and temporal thinking in procrastination.
Behavioural Neuroscience studies started examining brain regions involved in both future thinking and emotion regulation. Other research started testing interventions based on mood management, rather than time management, for reducing procrastination, with very positive results. And engaging the public with the insights from this research I hope has changed the way people think about their procrastination and how to address it.
By getting the message out that taking a compassionate rather than a harsh or critical response will help reduce procrastination, I hope a lot of people who struggle with procrastination will finally find some hope that they can get back on track and reach their goals.
Q. What are you working on currently/next?
A. I always have a lot of ideas and projects on the go – this whole area is so fascinating to me and there is so much we don’t know or fully understand yet. But currently I am finishing up some work on the barriers that keep people from being self-compassionate, as I think this is important to understand especially when recommending that people who procrastinate be more compassionate to themselves. For some, especially those who also are perfectionists, this might be easier said than done. In fact, that is what our research has been finding.
Up next, I plan to further investigate how emotions and people’s time orientation are dynamically linked and may lead to short-sighted decisions with negative consequences. The time-affect link is a central dynamic in procrastination, and other issues as well such as political mistakes, health behaviour failures, and financial planning. By better understanding this link, then we could potentially find ways to reduce poor decision making and its consequences.
Q. Do you procrastinate?
A. Of course, I’m human. I’m probably harder on myself though when I do because I should know better. So then I remind myself to be compassionate about it so that I can just get on with what needs to be done.
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