Why do we procrastinate? For things we don’t enjoy doing, it makes sense: because you don’t want to do it. It will be work, or take a lot of time, or geez there are so many other things you’d rather be doing.
But what about for things we enjoy doing, that we want to do? Why do we procrastinate doing those things?
There. I said it.
It’s all about fear. Call it what it is.
With something you want to do, and even enjoy doing, what is there to fear?
Types of Fear
Oh, let’s see. Here is a short list of sample fears:
- fear of failure
- fear of embarrassment
- fear of success
- fear of wasting time
- fear of what others might think
- fear of the unknown
- fear of discomfort
- fear of change
What does fear do for us? Fear is a wonderful alert — it warns us that something is dangerous. This is often helpful: walking alone in the dark is a vulnerable experience, so by Fear alerting us, we can pay closer attention to our surroundings.
Wanting to paint that picture or start writing a new story? Watch out! Fear roars into life, warning, “Danger! You don’t know what you’re doing! You’re wasting your time! Don’t you have more important things to do? What would your mother think? You’ll only embarrass yourself!”
Yeah, not so helpful.
Our lizard brain can’t distinguish between actual physical threat and an imagined threat. It’s all about Fight or Flight, and the adrenaline rush. This is great when your child is trapped under a burning car and you need to lift the car to free your child. This is terrible when you’re just trying to make a little art.
How to handle fear and do the thing
You could fight it.
- Talk back to Fear and let it know that you don’t care. So what if you fail? It’s not the end of the world. So what if you make a fool of yourself? So what if your mother sees your painting? So what if you don’t know what the hell you’re doing?
- Ask yourself what the worst case scenario would be. Writing the world’s worst story? Painting a picture that your mother sees and then refuses to speak to you? Wasting time that could have been spent “more productively”?
You could acknowledge it.
- What are you feeling? What exactly are you afraid of? Where are you right now? Are you okay? Is anything actually threatening you? Name the specific Fear.
Or you could embrace it.
- “Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.”* So move closer to Fear. Get familiar with it. Treat it like a good friend. If it’s hanging around you so much, you might as well make friends with it.
These are all excellent ways of handling fear and coming to understand and appreciate it, and thereby take the wind out of its fraidy cat sails. But do you know the one thing that will stop Fear in its tracks?
Pick up a sketchbook and a pen. Open a blank notebook. Get out the toolbox. Start the application.
Just take the first smallest step. It doesn’t have to be big, and it’s better if it isn’t. Fear recognizes Big Moves, but for some reason it tends to ignore tiny actions because it doesn’t see them as a threat. Sometimes you have to be sneaky if you want to get something done, and this is one way to do that.
When Fear steps in your path, take a moment and see it for what it is: a Protective Gatekeeper. Know that it is doing its best to guard you and keep you safe, and be thankful. Then take a (small) action. And then another. And then another.
Has Fear stepped in your way recently?** How did you handle it?***
*Pema Chodron quote from her book “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times”.
**Fear constantly steps in my way, which is why I wrote this post: as a reminder to myself to acknowledge it and keep moving (slowly) forward.
***For a longer take on fear and creativity, take a look at Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art.