How to Overcome Procrastination – Part 4

This is part 4 of my 5-part series on How to Overcome Procrastination.

Fear, 2nd Root Cause of Procrastination

Fear is the second underlying cause of procrastination. While you can have a desire to do something, if you have a fear stronger than your desire, you will face procrastination. This fear can be any fear – fear of pain, fear of uncertainty, fear of hardship, fear of not having control, fear of being incapable, fear of rejection, fear of being alone.

While this may sound bizarre, if you examine areas in your life you are procrastinating on today (even though you do want to do them), your answer is likely related to a certain fear you face. This is especially common among perfectionists, whereby procrastination is a common resultant behavior as they fear doing something in a ‘less perfect’ manner than they envisioned, and thereby impacting their idealized images of themselves.

Take the example of Tim, a driven and competent individual who enjoys his job. He has a job-related deadline in a week he is procrastinating on.

If we ask Tim why he is avoiding the deadline, his first answer may be ‘because I don’t want to do it’. Probing deeper, we find Tim’s avoidance is caused by the discomfort his work gives him. Why? After a minute or two of probing, he may reveal the work is too much for him to handle.

While the answer is rearing its head, it’s still not the real reason. After all, many people face an overload of work, but not everyone reacts via avoidance. Why is it that Tim procrastinates in the face of too much work?

If we look deeper, we may find that this procrastination is due to the loss of control from overwhelming work. He fears a loss of control because not being able to control makes him feel a lower self-worth. It becomes clear then that procrastinating on his work is an attempt to avoid feeling low in his self-worth.

Similarly,  many cases of procrastination are driven by a fear or several fears.

My example with public speaking

Sometime this year, I began to get invited by institutions to give talks. I was always excited every time that happened, because it meant reaching out to a larger audience base.

However, I noticed I always delayed the preparation work (slides/content/delivery) one day before the talk or even the day itself, even though I wanted to start preparation at least few days, ideally a week, before.

Even though I would always find some way or other to finish the material and deliver the speech accordingly, the procrastination was a big issue for several reasons:

  1. While the speeches turned out fine, it could have been better if I invested more time preparing as originally intended.
  2. The contact point with the audience is the one moment to share my message with them. Not putting my best foot forward meant I might be missing out on a chance to move someone forward on the path of growth.
  3. The whole process of procrastinating, rushing through work, delivering work less than my expectations and troubleshooting the same aftermath was wearisome. It would be much better to get things done on a timely manner with the level of readiness I wanted.

The first time the procrastination happened, I thought it was poor self-management. When it happened again, I suspected a separate reason. Then it occurred a third time, fourth time, and nth time. By then, it was clear there was a pattern forming and I had to get to the root of it.

I probed within myself on why this was happening. Was the avoidance due to a lack of desire? Certainly not. I’m always enthusiastic about new speaking opportunities. It signifies new growth opportunities, more exposure and enabling more people in their path of conscious growth. It is one of the necessary milestones toward achieving my long-term vision.

So I asked myself: “Why am I trying to avoid preparing for the speeches?”

The immediate answer that came up was “I don’t feel like doing it”. A natural first level response with every self-questioning exercise.

I asked again: “Why don’t I feel like doing it?”

New answers emerged. “So much work needs to be done”, “It’s such a dread”, “This is going to take a lot of time”. In my mind, I had subconsciously painted an elaborate preparation process. I envisioned being as good as top speakers like Les Brown and Obama one day, but I was nowhere near that standard. Thus, I saw lots of preparation needed.

My next question was: “Why do these matter?”

A voice in my head spoke. “Because it makes me feel I’m out of control”.

This was interesting. I was surprised and pressed on further: “Why is being in control important?”

“Because if I’m not in control, it means I’m not good enough. I’m incapable.”

It hit me there and then what was going on. Because a) a part of me had linked my worth with my skill in public speaking b) I wasn’t as good in public speaking compared to my ideal vision, I had lowered my own self-worth. Thus, any situation which reminded me of my lack of expertise in public speaking would make me feel lousy. This led me to procrastinate on my speech preparation process.

In conclusion: My procrastination was due to my fear of not having worth.

This answer caught me offguard because I don’t measure one’s worth by one’s skill level in something. A person who is a beginner in something doesn’t mean he/she is of low worth. Likewise, an expert doesn’t mean he/she is of high worth. Everyone’s level of worth is the same, regardless of who/what he/she is and the circumstance.

Furthermore, I’m passionate about being a powerful speaker. I knew in order to reach the expertise I’m looking for, I have to start somewhere, as all experts today have. I certainly wasn’t expecting to become better by avoiding the activity. These are all things my conscious mind understood.

Yet, a part of my subconscious had a flawed notion, probably conditioned from the younger years. Because it wasn’t addressed when I was younger, I grew up holding that thought subconsciously and probably having my other actions subconsciously affected by it.

Realizing this was liberating, to say the least. Just by uncovering the subconscious fears, I was able to immediately see how silly and baseless those thoughts were. In fact, when you starting uncovering the real reasons leading to your procrastination in part-4, you will find it is usually the most fundamental beliefs (and misconceived ones) which cause your procrastination.

After uncovering the hidden fear, I was able to immediately rectify the misconception in my subconsciousness and resolve the internal misalignment. It was a matter of reinforcing what I already knew consciously, since awareness of the fears was enough to realize they were baseless.

In the last part, I’ll share how to overcome procrastination through an introspection exercise.

This is part 4 of my 5-part series on How to Overcome Procrastination.