“Why do I feel an urge to do something else whenever I start doing something important? What steps can I take to move forward?”
We are asking the wrong question, and I’m as guilty as anyone. It’s not, “Why do I put off the things I really want or need to do?” The real question we have to ask ourselves is, “What’s the pay-off I enjoy by avoiding doing what I say is important?” Our answers may vary but see if any (or all!) of these apply:
- I get to stay comfortable.
- I get to stay anxious.
- I get to protect my dream.
- I get to avoid making a decision.
- I get to stay small.
I get to stay comfortable.
Fear of Failure/Fear of Letting Go
Are we ignoring the nudge to take an important step, and instead, holding on to what’s familiar? Pruning is a metaphor I write about often because it’s just that powerful. We are often so afraid of letting go—of something, someone, maybe some job that isn’t working—that we will cling to the dying branches. The thought of the void seems so much worse than the death itself. Invariably though, when we let go of what’s not working and what is draining our energy and resources, we make room for new growth. Usually it’s so much better than we could’ve imagined!
Maybe we’re afraid of failing so we never try? Sometimes the only way to know what we are capable of is to push our limits. We will either delight in accomplishing what we set out to do, or we will find out what our best is on any given day. If we fall short of our expectations, we can celebrate that we did our best. As we continue to push our limits, we may fall short of the goal, but we will continue to grow in the process.
I would rather overestimate myself and find my limits, than underestimate myself and never reach my full potential. Les Brown says, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Don Ward says, “If you are going to doubt something, doubt your limits.” If you think you can, you might be right. If you think you can’t and never try, you are definitely right!
I get to keep my dream intact.
Fear of Lost Hope
Why does an ostrich stick its head in the sand? I don’t know, but why humans do it is a little easier to figure out. We may want something so much, but we don’t go after it because if we fail, we’ll lose our dream. We would rather stay comfortable on our cozy couches, dreaming, hoping, praying, wishing and asking ourselves, “Wonder what it would be like to do that?” Instead, we could be asking ourselves, “How will I actually do that?”
Maybe that dream is all we have? Maybe our identity is so tightly wound up in that dream that we can’t afford to lose it? Maybe we keep our heads in the sand about a job or relationship because we know deep down, it’s not right, but we don’t want to admit it, much less do anything about it. We disconnect from the part of us that knows the truth, so we don’t have to get out of our comfort zones and take action. Once we have awareness, it’s very difficult to go back to blissful ignorance.
Awareness may lead to fear but the cure for fear is always action! “I’m afraid!” Do it anyway. “I may fail!” Do it anyway, because either way you will grow. “What if it doesn’t work?” It definitely won’t work if you don’t try, but what if it does? “Who will I be if my dream doesn’t work out?” I don’t know, but who are you now, with an unsung song in your heart?” Personally, I would rather have my head in the clouds trying different things, than buried in sand, trying nothing.
I get to stay anxious, which is more familiar than calm.
Fear of the Unknown
How many times have you said, “Tomorrow, I’m finally going to start that big project,” but then tomorrow arrives and you act against your best intentions? All these unintentional choices can leave us filled with disappointment in ourselves, short on hope that we will ever act in a way that reflects our true desires. How can we allow the greatness we have inside us to be fully expressed while the dark clouds of anxiety and shame are constantly hovering over a corner of our lives? Ahh, but maybe that’s the point?
By avoiding what’s really important, we can regularly sabotage our lives and continue to feel pretty crappy about ourselves. I hope some of you are wondering, “And how is that a pay-off, exactly?” It’s crazy, I know, but sometimes feeling good actually feels bad to some of us. So we do things that feel bad to feel better. Huh?
If we came from a background of chaos, calm can seem scary. By keeping anxiousness and unhappiness steadily flowing into our lives, we can have a leg up on anything else that might hurt us. In other words, we may feel we can control sabotage easier than success. And this becomes a means of self-protection against fear of the unknown (good or bad). Nothing and no one can ruin our day if we’re doing a good job of that on our own! If this describes you, maybe it’s time to take a risk and try something different? I’ve ventured out of my chaos-comfort zone a few times now and the sky hasn’t fallen. I’m learning it’s okay to feel good and that vulnerability can actually pay off nicely. Exercise one (below) is critical.
I get to avoid making a decision.
Fear of Mistakes/a.k.a.Perfectionism
Perfectionism. The very word even sounds rigid and binding. Some of us may prolong taking any important action until we have the whole script written and we have everything worked out to the last detail. While it’s possible life could happen the way we plan, more often than not, we will have to take action without knowing how it’s all going to turn out.
One way I’m learning that perfectionism is controlling me is by watching my vocabulary when I’m talking to myself. Should’s, and ought-to’s are a good sign that I’m trying to force a particular outcome or make myself do something I don’t really want to do. Sometimes the should voice gets so loud, it drowns out all my authentic wants and needs. I feel paralyzed in overwhelm, wrestling with what I ought to do versus what I might like to do, so I stay frozen and do nothing. Either that or I trick myself into thinking I’m taking action when I’m really just busying myself with other “important” tasks like cleaning out my inbox or getting lost in social media for hours.
I’m making progress in learning to trade in the “I should’s” and instead, ask myself, “In this moment, what do I really want to do?” I usually have an answer immediately. When I can mediate a balance between my wants and needs, and discern if there is any validity in the “should” voice, I can tap into my own natural flow and take action, without hesitation.
I get to stay small.
Fear of Success
We’ve all heard the phrase, “We are never given more than we can handle.” I’ve always applied that to difficult situations and tough times, but I recently heard the idea that it’s also true for our talents, our potential, and thus, our destinies. Fear of success is just as real as fear of failure. This may be the reason some of us constantly avoid taking important next steps.
In Nelson Mandela’s famous inaugural speech, he quoted Marianne Williamson by saying, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
The biggest role we will ever play on the stage of life is ourselves! We must not be afraid to trust and follow the mysterious greatness inside us, no matter how unknown, unpredictable, or scary it may seem. Change will happen at a speed we can handle. Me being all of ME, you being all of YOU, inherently came with the equipping we would each need to be that person in full. Being all that we are meant to become, letting all of ourselves float to the surface for the world to see is never a mistake. It’s who we were born to be and it’s our role in the symphony of life. While this doesn’t happen overnight, we can all take a step in the right direction today by being honest and asking ourselves if we are hiding behind avoidance.
Moving forward is a choice. However, understanding why we procrastinate leads to greater self-empathy, which helps us discover what we need before real progress can occur. Only then will we give ourselves permission to take action on our goals and dreams.
Make a list of everything you’re avoiding or procrastinating about. Congratulations! Awareness and acknowledgment are the first steps. Now draw a line down your paper and for each one, write all the possible fears of taking a step in the direction of what you really want. Then ask yourself, “What is the underlying belief holding me back?” Maybe it’s, “If I act on a dream and it doesn’t work out, I will look foolish.” Or, “If I succeed, I won’t be able to manage the pace of success.”
There’s no right or wrong answers, this is just you getting to know the real you—your fears, hopes, dreams and inherent beliefs. In a third column, write down the worst thing that could happen if you move forward in that area, and rate how likely that is to come true on a scale of 1-10. In a fourth column, jot down one tiny step you are willing to take and the name of someone you can use for accountability and support.
Strangely enough, one right action can give us just enough of a self-esteem boost to make another right decision. With each small, seemingly insignificant choice, self-trust and self-respect begin to return. We’re motivated to continue. All the while, we remind ourselves what we really want and why we’re doing this in the first place. Our “why” must stay in the forefront, fueling our efforts.
Another trick is to focus on the journey rather than just the ultimate outcome. If we look for the gift—the reward solely in today’s small action—we may be more likely to jump in and do it. If we slow down and enjoy the activity, we are more likely to find the willingness to take the next right step. Most of our lives are spent on the way anyway. Let’s have fun getting there!
Remember, good things take time. Living in a microwave, fast-food society, our inherent desire to pull up to the drive-thru window and have it our way is so much more appealing than taking small steps toward a meaningful accomplishment. But we have a choice. We can dismiss the urges, desires, dreams, and goals that are going to take longer than one day, or we can do one small thing today (and the next, and the next) to get us closer to the goal.
Visualize how nice it will feel to just do it (whatever “it” is). Imagine being free of the mounting pressure hanging over your head. See the goal achieved. Allow yourself to bask in the glow of accomplishment, self-pride, and the fruits of your actions. Doesn’t that feel great?
When the payoff for avoidance and staying comfortable
becomes overshadowed by the payoff for getting it done, the scales will tip and suddenly we will have more motivation to be unstuck than stuck. We will do what is necessary to feel better and improve our situation. We will enjoy a sense of accomplishment for finally taking action.
No one can tell us when it’s time to move forward. We have to stay stuck until we’re good and ready to get unstuck. When we’re done playing around with a problem, we’ll solve it. We already know what we need to do. In the meantime, we can accept we’re right where we’re supposed to be, getting the lesson and building up the necessary drive to take action. Pretty soon we’ll do it and wonder why we waited so long! Usually, it’s not as big of an issue as we made it out to be in our minds … and in our procrastination. Cheers to your perfect timing!