Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Procrastinating 101: Damned if You Don't, and Damned if You Do

According to Wayne Gretzky, or Michael Jordan (depending on which source you believe), "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."  So it's a false security we resort to when fear of failure causes us to put things off.  Dr. Neil Fiore, in The Now Habit:  A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play, discusses fear of failure--and paradoxically, fear of success--in his consideration of "Why We Procrastinate."  

Fiore tells us that fear of failure is particularly problematic for us perfectionists (no, duh), and for those who have too many of their eggs in one basket, and thus "feel they have to succeed at one specific goal, seeing no acceptable alternatives."[p.28]  He cites the work of Yale psychologist Patricia W. Linville, who
found that the more complex and varied your sense of self, the less likely you are to become depressed over stress in one area, because "you have these uncontaminated areas of your life that can act as buffers." [Fiore, p. 28]
 Of course, psychologists have named this fear, just so we know it's something to be taken seriously, especially since we can't pronounce it.'s Psychology pages include the Phobia List:  An A to Z List of Phobias, where we can learn that atychiphobia is the proper, high-falutin' label for this dread scourge.  From there, we can go on to visit any number of sites which provide further details concerning this malady, and advice about its"treatment," which can include self-help.  Going down this road--endlessly exploring the fear of failure that keeps us from doing the things we need and even want to do--can assist greatly in the avoidance we seek.

I can save us some time and summarize my findings from just such a cursory, though time-consuming search.  Essentially, the "experts" on atychiphobia encourage us to apply what many of us fear-prone individuals should have already learned about dealing with other phobias.  We need to face the fear, though in small, gradually more difficult steps.  We need to "get rational," and challenge our crazy thoughts about what catastrophic consequences would befall us if we should (gulp) FAIL!  We need to prepare for the "exposure"--no, not the kind of exposure that would result in our face on the 11 o'clock news under the headline "Local Schmuck Screws Up Again!," but the fear-facing "opportunities" therapists refer to as exposure to the fear-inducing situation or stimulus--by gathering information and practicing necessary skills.  In other words, some more sensible self-talk, and practice.  And getting on with it.  Oh, and spreading our eggs around wouldn't hurt, obviously.  Just in case we're going to have our manuscript rejected, or our promotion denied, or our show panned, we can fall back on being a really okay mom, or a pretty good pet owner, or one of the choir members who sings on key.

Now, fear of success is something else again.  And, even though the internet is also replete with wisdom in this area, which of course makes it real, psychologists have not yet coined a term for this apparently common affliction.  But for some of us, it is the flip-side to the tired fear of failure recording.  When we aren't imagining ourselves disgraced by poor performance, we are cowering before the possibility that we might be horribly accomplished and proficient, wildly (yikes!) successful.  And why should this terrorize us?  Again, Fiore:

Fear of success involves three central issues:
  1. you find yourself in conflict over the awful choice between advancement and friends;
  2. success in completing a project means facing some painful disincentives to success, such as moving, looking for a new job, or paying back student loans; and
  3. success means advancement to increasing demands and a fear of ultimate failure sometime in the future. [p.30]
I think Dr. Fiore pretty much covers it here, and all of these issues are at work in my failure to get started, to keep going, and to finish everyday tasks and major undertakings.   

Next week, "How We Procrastinate," according to Dr. Fiore, followed by "How to Talk to Yourself," (instruction I didn't think I needed), and then, finally, the part I've been looking forward to--"Guilt-Free Play, Quality Work."  In the meantime, I will at least swing more mindfully between the horns of my current, unreconstructed dilemma.

1 comment:

  1. I don't believe in fear of success. Its really just a way to avoid accepting you are afraid of failure.