I have been doing some research at a couple of the universities I teach at (Oxford, Oxford Brookes, Cardiff and Liverpool Universities), around the area of fear of failure and procrastination. They are both often linked and procrastination is usually, (but not always) driven by a fear of failure. Approximately 80-90% of the procrastination I have looked at appears to stem from a very simple fear driven basis. For example:
Beth is a writer, or more accurately she would like to be an author but at the moment she just writes. She is a member a couple of writing clubs and is a bit of a writing course junkie. Her bookshelves are full of books on writing and being an author, but 9 years on she hasn’t published very much and certainly hasn’t published the book she always wanted to. Firstly she hasn’t actually written the book. She has started a million times, but never quite seems to turn it into a book. Secondly she has never approached a publisher. Why? “Well I don’t really have much to give them”.
So why after all this time hasn’t she produced at least 5 or 6 books? A fear of failure.
What I discovered in just about every case where an individual is procrastinating, is they have played a scenario in their mind of being rejected or failing in some way. Beth for example was very quickly able to identify that she had a particular movie she plays in her imagination of reading the rejection slips from publishers. Every time she does this so the older part of her brain reacts emotionally, as if she has actually been rejected in reality. Her brain then thinks ‘whats the point? I keep getting rejected’.
Her brain now has a history of failure, even though she has never even submitted anything to a publisher. This in turn reduces her confidence and motivation to even try.
When I talk to failing business people I often find similar pattern. A history of imagined failure even before they have tried new things.
Oh and the other 10-20% of cases of procrastination? It’s still fear and it’s still fear of failure – sort of… more in my next post.