This article was first published on KSL.COM
Every time I get assigned a big, overwhelming or difficult project at work, the same pattern shows up. I want to start working on it and get it done, but I end up putting it off for weeks or even months. I procrastinate until the last minute and then have to rush it. I never do things as well as I wanted to, either. Why do I repeat this pattern every time? How can I stop getting overwhelmed by big projects and feel more confident and get them done earlier?
Most people think procrastination is a time management issues — but it really isn’t. It is a fear problem. (I know some of you still aren’t convinced yet that almost every problem is a fear problem, but it is.)
Joseph R. Ferrari, an associate professor of psychology at DePaul University, says, "Telling someone who procrastinates to buy a weekly planner is like telling someone with chronic depression to just cheer up."
It’s a little more complicated than that.
The real cause of procrastination is a basic, instinctive, subconscious program that has been with us as long as we have existed as a species, it is our fight and flight response to scary things. This subconscious response is obviously necessary for our survival, but it can cause some serious problems in modern-day life.
Imagine you were walking down the street and a hungry crocodile came running out of the bushes at you. What would you do immediately without even thinking about it? You would run!
You are literally programmed to always run and hide from scary things if you can. If you can’t run or escape, you will fight, but if running or avoiding the scary thing is an option, you will always choose that.
This makes sense when we are talking about wild animals. Avoiding these is a good idea, but you have the same subconscious reaction to big, difficult projects. Your first inclination or unconscious reaction is going to be avoid it, hide or run.
The question is what are you afraid of?
This is the question you must ask yourself every time we feel overwhelmed or catch yourself procrastinating. “What am I really afraid of that is causing this behavior?”
The fear is probably based in one of the two core human fears: failure or loss.
You may be afraid you won’t do the project well enough and it subconsciously feels safer to avoid it than to try to not do it perfectly. (This is the fear that made me procrastinate publishing my book for six years. I was deathly afraid it wouldn’t be good enough and I would be a failure.)
You could also be afraid of losing your reputation, losing the respect of other people or having the failure affect the way others see you, meaning you would lose their friendship or love.
When you are overwhelmed with the size of a project, you might be afraid it’s too big and you will never complete it or that it’s just too complex. It might feel safer to put it off and avoid it so you don’t have to find out that you weren’t capable.
Here are some suggestions for conquering your fears and making yourself take action:
You can do this.
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is also the author of the new book "Choosing Clarity: The Path to Fearlessness" and is a coach and speaker.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.