What’s Really Behind The Fear Of Taking Action
Do you procrastinate? If, like me, you are a habitual procrastinator you have probably wondered why it is you always seem to put things off until the last minute…especially important things. And it is not because you are lazy or unmotivated as many might think. In this article Morty Lefkoe uncovers the real culprit behind procrastination.
This is a common response when I suggest to people who are afraid of taking action that what is really stopping them is a fear of failure. They explain that they aren’t thinking about failure; they are only aware of a vague sense of fear just before they are about to take some action. Nonetheless, let me explain why a fear of taking action is always a fear of failure and what you can do about it.
How I know fear of taking action is a fear of failure
I’ve worked with hundreds of people who had an intense fear of public speaking. Often they have told me that their fear is just a physical reaction. Their hands sweat; their heart pounds; they can’t remember what they had planned to say. But when I ask them to look inside and see what’s really going on they mention that they are afraid of not performing well and of everyone seeing that. In other words, they are afraid of failing and this fear is most intense for them when everyone would see their failure while speaking in front of a group.
Many procrastinators seem to not be aware why they procrastinate at first. They “just put things off “ as long as they possibly can. But when I ask them what they are feeling just before they put off doing what they had planned to do, they almost always reply, “fear.” And when I then ask, “What are you afraid of?”, they answer: “I won’t do it right” – in other words: I’ll fail. That’s what they really are afraid of and why they put off doing what they need to do.
Men who are afraid to approach women and start a conversation are afraid of a lot of things, but the most important is that they will be rejected. And when I ask such them what it means if they attempt to start a conversation with a woman and she clearly indicates she is not interested in talking to them, they usually reply: “I’ve failed.”
In other words, any time you are afraid of taking almost any type of action, a significant source of your fear is a fear of failure.
The fear of failure is not human nature
Because so many people fear failure it is often considered to be human nature. I disagree. Yes, it is common, but this fear is not inherent in being a human being. How do I know this? Because I’ve seen so many people totally extinguish this fear once its source has been eliminated.
What causes fear of failure?
In order to understand why a fear of failure is so common you first need to understand the cause of the fear. The primary cause is three beliefs and one conditioning. The beliefs are: Mistakes and failure are bad, if I make a mistake or fail I’ll be rejected, and what makes me good enough or important is having people think well of me.
Let me explain how these three beliefs—which most children form in childhood—necessarily lead to a fear of failure. First, if you think it is bad or wrong to fail, you will be afraid to do it. Second, merely thinking you will be rejected if you fail is not sufficient to cause fear. If, however, you base your sense of self-worth on what others think of you, then thinking others will reject you when you make a mistake will lead to you feeling something is wrong with you as a person—and that will cause fear.
The conditioning is: fear associated with failure, in other words, you are conditioned to automatically feel fear when one fails or even thinks one might fail.