Please don’t get confused by my sudden eloquent use of Greek - I bet you've heard of atychiphobia by its plain English name: The Fear of Failure.
It is incredibly common and leads to a very common consequence - Procrastination.
So, can you really snap out of your atychiphobia - and overcome Procrastination?
I say “Yes, you can”!
And that’s not just pure optimism. I am not saying it’s going to be easy to do. There definitely isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ solution but … it can be done.
Let me share some strategies that have worked for myself and others – I sincerely hope you can find some that work for you.
Ways For Optimising Your Decisions
One key driver of procrastination is the inability to make decisions due to overwhelm or because of having too many goals that are not realistic.
It is difficult to give a complete list of strategies, but here are a few ways to overcome this fear by optimising your daily decisions:
Know Your Top Three Priorities in Life (personal and work) and spend 95% of your time on these priorities
Set realistic goals and timeframes, make goals specific considering your "why" and allow for variances
Each day, choose the ONE thing that will make the biggest difference and prioritise focussing on that
Eliminate anything that is not going to make a difference or is likely to never get done
Prepare your surroundings for success
This entails planning every day, and having a list of everything that you do want to accomplish. Next, cut out anything that doesn’t really need to get done.
Now, on your list should only be the important things, from here you can easily prioritise the single most important task per day and focus exclusively on that - until either it is done or as close to complete as you can get it at that time.
A few examples of setting up your surroundings for success are doing things like clearing your desk, telling your boss, co-workers or employees that you are focussing on an important task and don’t wish to be interrupted for the next hour unless lives are in danger or the building is on fire, keeping a bottle of water on your desk so your default decision is to drink water and not coffee, etc.
Further examples are closing your email program, and leaving your phone in another room on silent so there is no temptation to check intermittently and get distracted.
Use the Pomodoro technique to train your main to focus without any distraction. Simply applying this step could make a HUGE difference to your productivity and ability to focus on process and tasks instead of outcomes (and fear of not achieving them).
Distractions are great at helping you to manage your fear by doing anything except what you really need to do. You are doing all you can to give the impression you are focused on doing something, rather than facing your fear of failure.
Mentally this is a much more comfortable place to be. However, this does not actually address your fear. By eliminating all distractions (Facebook, your phone, Snacks, Netflix, the washing, kids, email, etc.) you give yourself no choice but to face your fear, to understand it and conquer it.
Instead of allowing distractions to control your day, schedule a specific time to do things by creating dedicated periods for work and rest.
Knowledge is power. You need to arm yourself with the skills and information relevant to your goals. By getting prepared and making the unknown known you reduce uncertainty.
Getting as prepared and ready as you can be effectively removes any fear of failing.
You will know exactly what you need to do and how to do it.
One easy way to get ready is to set specific measurable goals (SMART) for the short, medium and long-term with action steps attached to them. Make sure you set the “right” goals by reflecting on your ‘why’.
This way you can track whether you’re doing actions that need to be done on a daily basis. Concurrently, when motivation fades you have a fully laid out path to follow that you simply need to follow.
By doing this you remove any darkness and shine a bright light on your fear - allowing it nowhere to hide.
DO Get Started, But Start As Small As Possible
One of my mentors likes to say “You can’t eat an elephant in just one bite!”
However, if you start with one or two small chunks and break your elephant eating trip into smaller pieces it becomes more manageable.
Ultimately, even goals that seemed out of reach at the start begin to feel doable.
Start with NANO steps! Small steps don’t activate an overwhelm response, choose little steps that are easy, doable and non-threatening.
Whenever faced with a task or goal that seems out of reach, break it down into baby steps and simply make a start.
There Is No Perfect Moment
The idea that there will be a better time to get started will be a temptation to continue to procrastinate.
If you don’t feel like it or if motivation hasn’t hit you, you can easily fool yourself into thinking you can’t do something and mistakenly believe this means you cannot get started. In fact, simply the act of getting started will effectively dissolve any feelings you have of it not being the right time.
There never is a perfect moment and to chase this moment or to wait for it will trap you in the habit of inactivity.
Most Mistakes Can Be Fixed
A mistake is not the end, instead it is an opportunity to learn, grow and move forward.
As a child, you made mistakes all the time.
What did you do then? Exactly, you just got on with it and tried again, many times over if necessary. You weren’t afraid of breaking anything, in fact, you probably broke a lot of things just to see how they worked.
Can you adopt this mentality again and realise that when it comes to reaching your goals you’ll make mistakes, but that it is ok? It would teach you how things work or more importantly, when and how they don’t work. When we take each opportunity to learn we end up stronger and more resilient.
Once we adopt this mindset fear of failure will disappear. Mistakes or errors (failings) will no longer be a “bad” thing. Instead, they are an opportunity to grow. Let’s not be afraid to trial different things and experiment to get the results we want.
Give It All You’ve Got
If you put in only mediocre effort don’t expect to get outstanding results. Nothing that is truly worth having comes easily.
It can be easy to get caught in the trap of telling ourselves that we're making progress when in fact all we do is spin our wheels, and just doing enough to give a false impression of progress. This way we would never really get anywhere.
If we want to achieve whatever it is we set our minds to, we must apply ourselves and give it all we’ve got. This won’t always be easy, and it probably isn’t going to be quick. However, it will always be worth it. So, get your head down and get to work.
If you persist with doing some or all of the above things you can manage or minimise your fear of failure and therefore get rid of most of the things that are causing you to procrastinate. This will give you progressively more clarity and the headspace you need to take consistent action and meaningfully progress towards your worthwhile goals.