CTO Compass

The Hidden Fears Behind Procrastination: How to Identify and Beat Them

Although this may sound counterintuitive, you need to be able to quiet your mind to listen to your inner voice that will tell you where your real problem lies.

Over the last couple of weeks, we have explored a couple of techniques (Decision Time and The Magic If) that you can use when you’re stuck planning a project or task. These were “how” techniques designed to get you moving by reducing some of the overwhelm, but if we really want to get rid of procrastination in ourselves and our team, once and for all, then the only way to do that is to dig deeper and ask why; what are the real root causes?

One of the most valuable skills we can build as a leader is learning to ask “why” so we can quickly identify the real root cause of an issue and not just address the superficial problems that appear to be surfacing.

Often, the best place to start doing this is with yourself. We have to uncover the underlying reason, ultimately sabotaging our possible success. When it comes to procrastination on tasks and projects, the most likely root cause of the avoidance is some sort of fear. It could be a fear of the unknown, a fear of failure, a fear of what others think, or even the fear of success itself. For example, Alan Lakein relayed a story in his book of an advertising executive who kept procrastinating on his most important task of selling a new account. Ultimately, he feared adding further to his workload if he was successful in the task of signing the new account. When he realised this, he decided that what he needed to do was to clear some other work off his plate by delegating or deleting other tasks from his list. Once he’d done this, he was quickly able to get on with his most crucial task of landing the account.

Ego is the enemy

The biggest fear that caused my procrastination was my ego. I realised I felt that I needed projects to be successful to show everyone how good I was and that I deserved to lead a team. This meant I obviously needed “perfect projects” to guarantee that success. This desire would lead me to spend more time researching possible ways of achieving the goal instead of just rolling up my sleeves, doing the best I’m capable of and learning and iterating as I went. It was less unpleasant to stay in the quantum state of possibility than to face the reality that it could be a failure and how that might make me look in the eyes of others.

Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, your worst enemy already lives inside you; your ego. — Rumi

Perhaps more often than we care to admit, it is our emotional state that prevents us from doing what we know we must do. Fear is a particularly powerful emotion that can hide under the surface and manifest itself in myriad ways that aren’t always obvious. However, once you know what the underlying fear is, then you can get to work facing it and conquering it. Then the project you’re procrastinating on will suddenly become much easier to plan and start making progress on.

What are you afraid of?

So, if you think that fear is at the root of your procrastination, ask yourself what you might be afraid of. Make a list of the possibilities that come to mind, and then try to single out the one most likely causing you to avoid the task at hand.

You might find it helpful to find an environment where you’re comfortable and can sit quietly to let thoughts bubble up. Have a notepad and pen to hand so you can note anything pertinent.

The WOOP framework, which we covered before, is also a great tool that can help you figure this out and subsequently create a plan of action to deal with it.

Because that’s what you need to do next. You need to face that fear. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “Always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always do what you are afraid to do…Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain.”

Personal growth requires us to face our fears and push through adversity. Whether you succeed or fail at this project, you are sure to learn and grow, and that itself is a success.

⚡️ Thinking Time ⚡️

Using your Thinking Time to get to the root of your procrastination is a great use of that time. Find a distraction-free environment where you can sit and think quietly with your notebook in hand.

Now, ask yourself what you might be afraid of. List anything that comes to mind. Don’t try to censor yourself; get the thoughts out of your head. Then, review the list and try to single out the one that’s the most likely cause. You might find that simply thinking about each one and paying close attention to your body and emotional state as you do so will give you a hint, or even a real jolt of insight, that it’s “the one”.

Once you have identified the reason, first accept it as it is, then figure out how you will walk through that Fear Door. Don’t finish your Thinking Time session until you have written down the next action you’re going to take and when you’re going to get it done.