Have you heard Elizabeth Gilbert's podcast, Magic Lessons? In one episode she talks about procrastination being born out of fear.
What am I afraid of then? Because I am an extraordinary procrastinator.
I am also a very hard worker who has completed two degrees, a master's thesis, a good part of a doctoral degree, and two years (and counting) of midwifery school. I also have clean laundry and food in my fridge (most of the time), so I pull through in spite of my tendency to put absolutely everything off until the last minute.
And I think this is part of the trouble with being a relatively high-functioning procrastinator: I almost always get everything done so everything seems fine. But the stress and guilt and anxiety it produces? Those are not fine. Ask Matty (no, wait, maybe don't) about how much trouble my procrastination causes. I'm legendary, really.
Something that has always bothered me about my own procrastination is that it happens even when I'm doing something I love. For example, I love midwifery school pretty bad. While the program certainly has its ups and downs, it is giving me the knowledge and skills to become a midwife one day, a pretty kick ass one if you don't mind me saying. So why oh why do I still procrastinate when I'm doing something I love? Anyone?
I'm afraid of a lot of things. I'm afraid that the work will be hard and I won't be able to do it well. I'm afraid I won't be perfect. I'm afraid that I'll be judged. Or worse: that I'll fail completely. I'm afraid that I've given up so much to change careers and return to school and that it will all be for nothing. Deep, deep down I'm afraid I won't finish, just like I didn't finish my PhD (a fear that lingers even though the context is so very different). I'm afraid that I'm just faking at all this adult stuff and that I'll soon be found out by the whole wide world.
Tim Urban writes that a procrastinator acts this way because "he has incredibly low confidence when it comes to this part of his life, allowing himself to become enslaved by a self-defeating, self-fulfilling prophecy." (And if you haven't read his post on why procrastinators procrastinators, you really should. It is insightful and hilarious.) I think we develop this low self-confidence because we're afraid. When we don't move forward on account of this fear, when we don't get started on necessary work or make the important first steps on something that is important to us, we end up confirming these fears--that we are going to fail all over again.
Procrastination might be the best tool we have for looking after of ourselves. If we're afraid of something we need protection. If I don't start studying for that exam I won't have to realize that I'm not smart enough to learn the material. Or, and this is what's been on my mind lately, if I put off the hard work of pursuing my goals this year, I won't discover that I'm not strong enough to do it. My goals feel big and scary some days and putting them off protects me from not accomplishing them.
So how do we move forward when we're afraid?
We plan. We take small steps. We make choices that reflect what's really important to us. Every single day we decide to move forward, to change the story we have written for ourselves.
When it comes to goals, we dream big and plan small, breaking down each step as clearly as possible. I am committed to finding a way to plan out the hard work that needs to be done to accomplish my goals, not just the big picture, day-dreamy blog posts I write, but actual step by step plans, filled with steps and deadlines and actions. I want to share these plans with you.
But most importantly, I will forgive myself. I will give myself permission to fail. We can't move forward if we're so terrified of making mistakes. I hope you will give yourself permission, too. Is there a goal you want to accomplish? Do you have a project that is important to you that you've been too afraid to begin? Perfection is the enemy of the good. Let's all get started.