Last week we explored the science behind why we procrastinate, this week we look at the fears which can make our procrastination worse and examine how we can overcome them.
Almost all psychological causes of procrastination relate to fear, namely fear of success and fear of failure. Below are some examples of how our fears can manifest themselves consciously:
Fear of failure
- Not knowing where to begin
- Doubting your ability to do the task
- Being overwhelmed by the size of the task
- Being overwhelmed by the complexity of the task
- Being intimidated by how little time you have to do the task (you feel you will fail anyway so don’t even try / delay working on it because it fills you with dread)
Fear of success
- You feel too much pressure to continue performing well
- You associate success with an undesirable personal quality (such as arrogance or pride)
- You view success as complicating life
- You view success as having more responsibility
- You fear having success is temporary
- You fear success because if you achieved it you would have too much to lose
How to overcome the fear of failure
I have struggled a lot with this one. The ‘aha’ moment came when I realized that by not trying I was making my fear of failure a self fulfilling prophesy. My thinking beforehand had been that if I didn’t try I wasn’t really failing because I could always rationalize that I didn’t really try. But the end result was always the same, the project, task or assignment would remain unfinished and I would have made no progress whatsoever. See below for practical solutions to the most common forms of a fear of failure.
Not knowing where to begin
Whenever I start an article I always do research and draw up an outline. I list every subject I am going to write about and in what order, even listing anecdotes I will share in draft form. Whatever task you are presented with do your research! Google is your friend. Then draw up a plan, breaking it down into manageable parts with deadlines.
Doubting your ability to do the task
This one is tough but I firmly believe that only by really focusing and putting in every effort will you maximize your chances of doing the task well. Every time you doubt your ability to do the task call a supportive friend, remind yourself of examples when you’ve felt the same and performed well and recognize that you can only do your best. Remember, if you fall short of doing a good job it doesn’t mean you are less of a person for it! Don’t let it have the power to affect your self-esteem. For more on self-esteem please read my Tiny Buddha article titled ‘Learning to Love Yourself: 3 Steps to Instantly Boost Your Self-Esteem’.
Being overwhelmed by the size of the task
Break it down into mini parts that are more manageable to complete until they are small enough not to be too daunted. Then set deadlines and times when you will work on each part, noting it down in your diary. When you have a definite plan in place you will feel more in control as opposed to overwhelmed.
Being overwhelmed by the complexity of the task
Revise, revise, revise and practice, practice, practice until you both understand it and / or can do it. Buy a ‘for dummies’ book, ask teachers, fellow students, workers, or friends who do understand it. If you still don’t get it / can’t do it hire a tutor or coach. If you still can’t understand it and / or can’t do it at least you can say you tried your best.
Being intimidated by how little time you have to do the task
Draw up an hour by hour account of what you need to do and when so that you can do what’s required in the time you have. This not only helps you feel it’s more manageable but it might give you a sense of urgency as you realize that it will only be manageable if you stick to your timetable.
How to overcome the fear of success
Surprisingly I also suffer from a fear of success. I often think that success brings with it greater responsibility and can easily lead to a more complicated life, a life I fear I could not handle well. In spite of having both fears I have managed to significantly reduce the degree by which I procrastinate, so if there is hope for me trust me when I say there is for you too!
You feel too much pressure to continue performing well
Comparing your current work to your past work is very destructive as each project, task or assignment is unique! Especially with anything creative analyzing it’s quality or the impact you think it will have not only serves to destroy creativity itself but doesn’t allow you the freedom to create something new. If your task is not creative the risk with feeling pressure to continue performing well makes you stressed and anxious – both states which will serve to undermine your performance in whatever you are doing and will ultimately encourage you to procrastinate further.
The best way to get around this is to imagine you are a complete beginner and no one knows about your work, that way you will stop comparing and allow yourself the freedom to complete the task without thinking about how it will be received.
You associate success with an undesirable personal quality (such as arrogance or pride)
I have struggled with unhealthy pride in the past and I find it a very unattractive quality. The best way to avoid this specific fear is to actively work towards being the opposite of the quality that you are trying to avoid. For example, I have done work on fostering a more humble nature through both personal development and my faith, which helps me a great deal.
You view success as complicating life or having more responsibility
Again these are fears of mine as although I am very disciplined I fear reverting back to my old self when I could not look after myself very well, let alone deal with complications or responsibility.
The best way to overcome a fear of a more complicated life is developing a greater level of confidence in your ability to handle complications. I have done this by using cognitive behavioral therapy techniques (CBT) to gain skills which will help me in complex situations, like mindfulness meditation, assertiveness training and anger management – as well as gaining a better understanding of myself and my motivations in general through private therapy.
The best way to overcome a fear of more responsibility is to seek out more responsibility, first with small things and then with greater and greater things. This helps to build your confidence in your ability to cope with responsibility.
You fear having success is temporary and / or if you achieved it you would have too much to lose
The truth is if you achieve success it may be temporary but equally it might not! No one can predict the future and it is certainly true that people with a great deal of success have much to lose but really when you think about it the most important things would stay with them. The most important things in life are family, friends, the relationships you build and the love you have to give. When we remember this we not only recognize the importance of nurturing those relationships alongside our desire to perform well but realize that nothing of true value will be lost even if the worst did happen.
Do you have a fear of failure or even success? How has this fear held you back in the past? Which steps do you think you will find most helpful to overcome these fears? Please share your thoughts in the comments below to gain encouragement, insight and support from our community, we’d love to hear from you.
Stay tuned – next week we will cover the many benefits of overcoming procrastination and delve into some practical steps you can take to beat procrastination for good.