God doesn’t require that we succeed. He only requires that you try. ~Mother Teresa
In Part 1
, we explored procrastination, the behavior and the serious impact of delaying actions and decisions. We know procrastination has a detrimental affect on our lives, so why do we do it?
We don’t come into this world with the habit of procrastinating; it’s a learned behavior. Small children don’t put off learning how to talk or walk. In fact, when we first stood up on our chubby little legs, wobbled and fell back onto our diapered bottoms, we stood up and tried again, until one step became two, and three and four...and soon we were running.
Some people learned to procrastinate as a reaction to an authoritative parental figure. It can be a way of rebelling, or perhaps the constant directives disabled the ability to self-regulate, to act on an internal imperative.
Time management isn’t usually the cause of procrastination, either. As Dr. Joseph Ferrari, associate professor of psychology at De Paul University, Chicago, says in a Psychology Today article
, “Telling someone who procrastinates to buy a weekly planner is like telling someone with chronic depression to just cheer up.”
Procrastinators might soothe themselves by believing they’re more creative and productive under pressure, or there’s something better to be doing right now than the unpleasant task ahead, but these are ways to justify behavior and avoid the often scary, underlying feelings. While there are many reasons people procrastinate here are some of the most common ones:
Fear of Failure
Many people suffer from the irrational fear that they just can’t succeed. In a 2009 study, psychologist Timothy Psychl and his colleagues found that, “Higher scores on the fear of failure measure predicted higher scores on procrastination.”
When we have a core belief, often unconscious, that we can’t succeed at completing a task, achieving goals or fulfilling our dreams, anxiety will cause us to avoid the necessary actions involved. We may see, intellectually, our goals are reasonable and within our grasp, but that deeper, hidden fear will stop us from what seems like certain humiliation and disappointment. We protect ourselves by keeping busy, putting out fires, dealing with life’s dramas and other distractions so we might never feel the pain of failure.
Fear of failure usually begins in childhood, and often people who suffer from this were undermined or experienced ridicule at home or school. Or, if you had overly critical parents, you may never have felt you could meet their expectations and believed you were an endless disappointment to them. When you attempt to succeed as an adult, that old, unresolved anxiety crops up, making it difficult to move forward in life.
Fear of Success
Why would we ever fear success–isn’t that what makes us happy?
In a recent Psychology Today article
Dr. Suzanne Babbel suggests, “The excitement of success feels uncomfortably close to the feeling of arousal they experienced when subjected to a traumatic event or multiple events...People who have experienced trauma may associate the excitement of success with the same physiological reactions as trauma. They avoid subjecting themselves to excitement-inducing circumstances, which causes them to be almost phobic about success.”
So, our victorious feeling of achievement can trigger old wounds, reminding us of a trauma that caused very similar sensations in our body. Our victory can actually cause pain. Dr. Babbel goes on to describe another aspect of the fear of success, the risk of “getting one’s hopes up.” When we internalize negative messages as kids, like, “I’m not good enough,” or, “I never do it right,” we don’t believe we deserve to be successful. “After all,” the irrational train of thought continues, “if I’m not good enough, why would I deserve to be happy?”
Even with a less traumatic childhood, many of us are uncomfortable with competition, “outshining” our parents or siblings, or the envy of others that may accompany success. We may have a core belief that its not fair for us to have success if others we love do not, and we may fear they will withdraw because of our new status.
Next, Part 3, we’ll look at procrastination and perfectionism.
Have you’ve been held back by the fear of failure, the fear of success, or both? How has it shaped your decisions and held you back? Please leave your comment-it makes a difference for all of us!
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