Procrastination and Fear of Failure: How They’re Connected

What’s the connection between procrastination and fear of failure? How can you overcome this fear of failure?

One reason why we procrastinate is because of a sense of inadequacy. In Immediate Action, Thibaut Meurisse writes that when we fear we aren’t good enough to reach our goals, we keep putting off tasks we need to complete.

Learn how to confront your fear of failure so you can get your tasks done.

Confront Your Fear of Not Being Up to the Task

Procrastination and fear of failure are closely related to one another. But this fear often doesn’t reflect our actual ability: It’s just about how we perceive ourselves.

Meurisse proposes a solution that doesn’t require you to change how you feel about yourself or about a particularly challenging task: Let your fears fuel your efforts. He points out that even the most successful people feel inadequate; they’ve just learned to use those feelings to motivate them to keep making an effort. If you use your sense that you aren’t good enough as an excuse to keep putting off the things you really want to do, your sense of inadequacy will only grow worse with time.  

It might help to reframe your sense that you aren’t good enough. Instead of resigning yourself to being a person who doesn’t have the ability to reach your goals, you can think of yourself as a person who’s able and willing to continually grow, learn, and improve as you pursue your goals.

Meurisse also suggests learning to accept your feelings of inadequacy as a signal of the high expectations you have for yourself and for the impact you could have on the world. Then, you can cultivate a sense of compassion for yourself and any mistakes you might make. That can help you stay motivated to challenge yourself and take on difficult tasks that will push you closer to what you want to achieve. 

How Can We Face Our Fear of Failure? 

Many experts agree that procrastination often involves fear and avoidance. In The Procrastination Equation, Steel writes that when we think we’ll fail at a task, we put it off as long as we can to avoid risking the pain of failure. Steel explains that if this is the reason you’re postponing your tasks, it might help to focus on building your confidence. He recommends doing this by breaking the task down into smaller, more manageable steps. (If each step is something you know you can achieve, you’ll feel more confident from the start—and experience a boost of confidence each time you check a task off your list.) He also advises surrounding yourself with people who have positive and encouraging attitudes. 

Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, takes a more unconventional approach to letting go of the fears that cause you to procrastinate. He explains that according to the Buddhist concept of “no self,” the idea you have of yourself is just an illusion. When you let go of the labels you use to define yourself—leaving behind both the dauntingly high expectations you have for your work and the fears that you aren’t good enough to achieve those lofty goals—you can simplify how you see yourself. Reframe your identity so that you’re just a student, a creator, or a writer (rather than a great student, creator, or writer). Then, you’ll define yourself less narrowly, and your fear of failure might feel like less of a threat. 

Philosopher Alain de Botton suggests another approach to curbing your fear of failure: focusing on reducing your perfectionism. De Botton points out that it’s typically preferable to complete a task imperfectly rather than to leave it unfinished. He contends that if you can feel more afraid of getting nothing done than getting something done badly, you can finally get to work on the tasks you’ve been putting off. (Plus, to Meurisse’s point about how even the most successful people struggle with feeling inadequate, those successful people tend to work toward progress, not perfection, and many even welcome failure.)
Procrastination and Fear of Failure: How They’re Connected

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Thibaut Meurisse's "Immediate Action" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Immediate Action summary:

  • How procrastination was useful in early human evolution—but not anymore
  • How to face your procrastination habit head-on and build healthier habits
  • Why we tend to do nothing when we have too much to do

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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