13. Fear Creates Obstacles to Success

Relatively few people, when they procrastinate, think, “Hold on, there! I am procrastinating as a symptom of my fear of failure,” or “I am procrastinating as a symptom of my fear of success.” That’s because our fears tend to remain buried beneath our consciousness, where they work by impelling us toward “protective” behaviors that take us physically or mentally away from the situation that is scaring us. So . . .

• Someone who is afraid of intimacy might keep starting fights with her boyfriend, until the relationship ends and she no longer has to worry about getting too close.

• Someone who is afraid of the challenge that new information and ideas may present to his way of thinking may close himself off to new sources of information, thereby ensuring that his preconceptions are never challenged. And,

• Someone who is afraid of failure or success might keep procrastinating or otherwise screwing up her work, so that there is no question of her making progress.

I call the fear-based behaviors that bump you off your daily path, causing procrastination, “obstacles.” They fall into three categories:

1. The Big Three are the fear-based obstacles Perfectionism, Negativity and Hypersensitivity. These are extremely common among procrastinators, and I discuss them individually in Chapters 15 through 18.

2. Additionally, there are Logistical Obstacles, which may have some component of fear to them, but which are also often caused by simple ignorance or bad habits. For example:

• Lack of a clearly defined Mission

• Lack of Time Management

• Lack of preparation, skills and/or facilities

• Lack of mentors or other support

Logistical Obstacles without a large fear component can usually be easily addressed. Common solutions include: doing Mission Management and Time Management, organizing your office, taking a class on a subject you need to master, and setting up regular consultations with mentors.

If, however, you have trouble adopting the solution to your Logistical Obstacle—if you seem to lack the willpower to solve it, no matter how hard you try—then your procrastination problem probably does have an underlying component of fear. You’ll need to deal with that first, using the techniques described in the remainder of this part of The Lifelong Activist, before you can move on to the more superficial “fix.”

3. Finally, we have what I call Situational Obstacles, which involve other people or circumstances outside your full control. A tough day job and an unsupportive spouse are Situational Obstacles. So is a disability or serious health problem. Situational Obstacles are often the toughest to overcome. Most do have a strong component of fear, which must be addressed before any more superficial aspects of the obstacle can be addressed. But once you get past that, you are still left having to deal with some very tough circumstances.

Besides these three categories of obstacles, we also have Panic: not an obstacle in itself, but an obstacle-amplifier that can turn small bumps in the road into giant mountains. I discuss it in Chapter 19.