The intercom rang. It was my secretary who said “Your next appointment won’t be here. He said his meeting is running late, charge him for today, and he’ll see you next week.”
There it was – a free hour to write on my book! The session ended. I cleared my desk, took out a writing pad, a couple of pens and several pencils. I filled a large glass of water so I wouldn’t have to get up from the desk once my thoughts started rolling and included it in the picture I had created of a successful author’s workplace. There was one thing missing – something to eat, just in case hunger pangs hit me in the midst of my creative process. I was finally ready to get started. I poised my pencil at the top of the writing pad and scribbled the title of the paper, but it didn’t quite grab me. It was neither a beautiful rainbow nor a bolt of lightning. Half-a-dozen titles later, my secretary called again. My next patient had arrived. The entire hour was for naught, but I thought, next time, after I find the perfect title, I can begin a search for a drop-dead, grab-you-by-the-throat opening statement.
It wasn’t the first time that scenario had unfolded. Nor was it the last. Throughout my life, my fears have disallowed me to fail by causing me to procrastinate and fail by default. In itself, procrastination really isn’t a problem, unless it reaches a point that it paralyzes your decision-making process or totally curtails productive behavior. In essence, it can be viewed as a defense mechanism against feelings of imperfection, insufficiency or failure.
However, for many individuals, admitting to any one of these feelings is akin to feeling internally flawed, a second rate person or even sinful. In the past, being labeled a procrastinator was a term reserved for foot-draggers, shirkers, goof-offs and loafers. In today’s world, it’s almost socially fashionable. It has become either an acceptable excuse for failing to start a project, not completing a task, missing a deadline, or at least a viable explanation for those behaviors. The problem is that it only provides a short-term fix. It does little to mitigate or soothe your internal feelings of inadequacy. These feelings continue to fester inside and eventually contribute to overwhelming emotions you have to continuously hide from or deny. The other choice is to look your fears squarely in the eye and conquer them. The decision to do that is an extremely important one, because the manner in which you choose to deal with your fears determines whether you live a life of evasion and deceit, verses one of courage and honesty.
Intellectually, the choice between the two is an easy one. Emotionally, it’s not because most of you don’t recognize your fears and, when you do, your procrastination often intensifies sufficiently to obscure them. The increased procrastination is your attempt to protect you from facing a self you perceive as unacceptable. In both cases, denial and evasion are omnipresent. It would seem that, no matter what you do, you lose. That, however, isn’t the case. To best deal with procrastination, you must first recognize and accept the root of this behavior. That root is, almost always, fear. Once you can accept that you are only human and that it is OK for human beings to experience fear, you can proceed to the second step. That is to determine how you are going to handle your fears. Generally speaking, there are five ways most individuals cope with this emotion. Four of them border on being self-destructive. Only one is healthy. They are:
1) You are paralyzed by your fears. You feel incapable of reacting normally, intellectually, emotionally and physically. You lack energy, can hardly get out of bed and life seems to stand still. Some people go through their entire life that way, doing little, accomplishing little, feeling little.
2) Denial becomes your best friend. You unconsciously refuse to see your fears and sweep all disturbing thoughts under the surface. On occasion, you may function quite well, but your life is a continuous lie and you must remain insensitive and oblivious to your own reality. This coping technique initially contributes to a state of emotional security, but the price you pay for your false sense of security is that you remain out of touch with yourself, unable to communicate your true feelings, and consequently incapable of establishing meaningful long-term relationships.
3) Perfectionism defines your every behavior. You and the world perceive this behavior as contributing to your accomplishments. But, in actuality, it stems from your fear of failure. In many instances, this behavior aids you to be extremely successful, but the emotional price you pay for your success far exceeds the rewards you obtain from it. The reason being nothing is ever enough. Having to be perfect becomes your driving force and any sign of weakness undermines your entire being. Thus, you must constantly search for new horizons, new goals and new mountains to climb.
4) You become so obsessed with avoiding failure that you live with a constant level of covert anxiety, forever ruminating over your own behavior, second-guessing yourself and never feeling satisfied with your achievements. Then, when failure finally enters your world, as it eventually must, you fall to pieces, become hostile or emotionally depressed.
5) Running toward your fears is the only positive or constructive means of dealing with them. That means you must be willing to risk failure and learn to lift yourself up each time it occurs. Eventually, your performance will improve and your fears will dissipate, but they won’t totally disappear. When they occur you will still view them negatively, but also as unavoidable. Consequently, you will no longer have to avoid them and the energy and effort you previously used to run from them can be directed toward producing, instead of perfecting.
In summary, you cannot totally avoid making mistakes, experiencing failures or feeling insecure, but you can learn to behave in spite of, rather than because of them. That’s called emotional growth. In the process of growing, you come to experience a sense of confidence that enables you to own both your fears and your capabilities. You also discover that, in themselves, fears are not a sin or a flaw, they are only normal feelings. In that context, your fears become less overwhelming and no longer decrease your productivity because you are able to take risks, to expose yourself emotionally, to try, to fail and to try again.