Self-handicapping, learned helplessness, and some types of procrastination stem from an underlying perception of low competence as well as the feeling that they don't have much control over their circumstances. Teachers can minimize these challenges in students by encouraging their sense of self-efficacy as well as their sense of control over factors that can influence their success.
Here are some best practices to support students' needs for autonomy and competence, and help encourage students' positive sense of self-worth:
- Have students keep a journal, noting their procrastination and other self-handicapping behaviors and reflecting on their reasons. The goal is to help students better recognize when they are sabotaging themselves, so that they are more likely to stop.
- Model effective “procrastination busters.” When assigning larger tasks, break them into smaller ones, and eventually teach students how to do this themselves. Dividing a research project into several stages, with deadlines along the way, encourages students to focus on each stage, rather than the whole project (Schubert Walker, 2000). See also “Supporting the need for competence.”
- Teach self-regulation strategies, such as time management, organizational skills, and self-motivation. For example, have students set up a timeline, then reward themselves for completing tasks by the scheduled deadline. The use of self-regulation promotes a sense of control, an important factor in minimizing procrastination (Cleary & Zimmerman, 2004).
- Help students adopt a mastery orientation. Reduce students' anxiety over being evaluated by focusing their efforts on mastery goals (Schubert Walker, 2000). Research suggests that students who engage in tasks in order to learn as much as they can, or because the task is interesting or optimally challenging, are more likely to give appropriate effort and persist to completion (Ryan & Deci, 2000).
- Don't allow students who exhibit learned helplessness to give up. Instead, adjust the difficulty of learning tasks so that students have a realistic chance to master them. Provide support and encouragement until they succeed. Most importantly, attribute their successes to internal attributions such as effort, persistence, and resourcefulness (Weiner, 2005).
- Whenever possible, minimize boredom-related procrastination by connecting assignments to students' personal interests. In addition, teach students to find the interesting aspects, or to find ways to make it interesting or challenging. Because students are more likely to stick with tasks—even boring ones—when they know they are important, help students see the value of what they are learning with the task (Ryan & Deci, 2000). See also “Supporting the need for autonomy.”