Considering that I have been talking about starting a blog for several years but continually keep putting it off, it seemed that procrastination and fear was a fitting place to start. I am almost never a procrastinator by nature and am usually the opposite – driven by anxiety that fuels me to complete things early. I decided to dig into why I kept putting this off and discovered almost immediately that it was my good, old friend perfectionism and the accompanying fears that have a way of silently controlling me. As a psychologist, I know that both perfectionism and procrastination can be related and that they are usually driven by underlying fear and anxieties.
Let’s unpack this army of offenders, shall we?
WAYS THAT FEAR MANIFESTS AND CAUSES PROCRASTINATION IMPACTING OUR GOALS
These fears can easily take hold and prevent us from following through on our goals and dreams.
• Fear of failure
• Fear of not doing things perfectly or right
• Fear of being seen
• Fear of success
• Fear of change
• Fear of not being good enough
• Fear of being exposed as a fraud or inadequate (Impostor Syndrome)
Just to name a few!
These fears are sometimes very obvious and visceral, but more often, they are subtle and operating on a subconscious level. They then can lead to growing anxiety, avoidance and procrastination. Sometimes, these fears are driven by some level of underlying perfectionistic beliefs and expectations.
THE PERFECTIONIST'S DILEMMA
Perfectionists often set excessively high goals, feel most things are not good enough, have excessive concerns about making a “mistake” and chronically doubt themselves. Perfectionism can be the root cause of the fears listed above. Not all people respond to perfectionism in the same way, yet all of the following can be behavioral reactions to perfectionism:
(1) Avoid situations that may test one’s performance
(3) Goal achievement behaviors (e.g., overpreparing)
(4) Testing one’s performance
(5) Reassurance seeking
(6) Excessive social comparisons
I think of perfectionism as the distorted underlying thought patterns, and procrastination as a behavioral response to those underlying beliefs and fears. Stay tuned for the next post which will go into perfectionism in greater detail.
For now, I want to focus this post on some quick tips for how to address the underlying fears and perfectionistic beliefs and behavioral patterns so they don't control you and cause unintended avoidance, which can get in the way of reaching our goals.
4 WAYS TO COPE WITH FEAR AND THE PERFECTIONISTIC THOUGHTS THAT DRIVE PROCRASTINATION:
1.) The Voldemort Effect: Start by identifying and naming the fear or belief. Often understanding and knowing what hidden factors might be driving your behavior, fears or procrastination makes them seem less powerful and scary. When we avoid it and don't want to acknowledge it or talk about it, it actually tends to grow in its power. This is why I call this the Voldemort Effect, which is being too afraid to speak of something or acknowledge it exists and thus derail any attempt to confront it.
(Side note: I really wanted to believe that I was clever enough to come up with this idea, but after a quick search realized that The Voldemort Effect has long since been coined.)
2. Reframe/Challenge: Use various reframing and thought changing skills to shift your perspective and challenge the distorted and irrational basis of your fears. These skills make the foundation of what is known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Description of these skills is beyond the scope of this post but will be covered in future posts. If you find changing your mindset and perspective particularly challenging, then you may want to consider talking to a therapist.
3. Defuse The “narrative” or “story” underlying The Fear: This comes from a type of therapy known as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which essentially states that it is not our thoughts that are the problem but instead it is when we “fuse” with them or believe that because we have a thought or fear, that it is actually true. The idea is that all of us have narratives and stories about ourselves that have found a home in our minds from all kinds of life experiences. Those narratives then silently control and dictate how we see ourselves. After we acknowledge those narratives and fears, then we simply “defuse” from them. Defusion is essentially various strategies that allow one to distance, disconnect or see thoughts and feelings for what they are (streams of words, passing sensations), not what they say they are (dangers or facts). Again, there are entire books written on this idea and strategies to overcome them, which I look forward to covering in a future post.
4. Facing Your Fears also known as “Exposure Therapy”: Forcing yourself to confront those fears in action because the more you avoid them, the stronger they become. A widely used therapeutic skill for anxiety and phobias is graduated exposure, which means slowly facing the fear-provoking stimulus in small, gradual steps. This process works because you don't start by facing the entire situation but rather begin with some basic initial steps that gradually work you toward the eventual end result. Write out a list of steps that slowly work you up to the end goal or fear (also known as an exposure hierarchy). You begin with the situation that causes the least anxiety, repeatedly engage in that activity (e.g., saying “hi” to a cashier or stranger everyday in varying situations) until you start to feel less anxious doing it. Then move to the next step. Here is a helpful guide that walks you through creating an exposure hierarchy and facing your fears, but I highly recommend this is something you do with the guidance of a psychologist.
Put simpler- TAKE IMPERFECT ACTION. Start anywhere and just take one step. Case in point, I really want to re-edit this post an additional few times and in the spirit of imperfect action I am posting now!
In sum, it’s worth pointing out that I am oversimplifying some complex psychological concepts to fit them into a succinct post. For many clients, this is something we collaborate on helping them to address these issues over time through therapy. For some, these steps might easily click and be enough to get you going on your own. For others, if these ideas feel overwhelming or difficult, then consider talking to a professional about the fears, anxiety and procrastination you are experiencing and how to combat it.
The psychologists at Wellness Psychological Services are uniquely and expertly specialized in helping you target these kinds of fears and goals. We welcome the chance to discuss an individualized plan to meet your needs. Contact us for an appointment anytime.