Thursday, March 01, 2012

Break Free of Procrastination and Anxiety by Controlling Your Fears

Break Free of Procrastination and Anxiety by Controlling Your Fears
by Neil Fiore, PhD

Our fear of mistakes, embarrassment, loss, or criticism can lead to futile attempts at controlling life, others, and the outcome of events. This only leads to greater anxiety and greater need to procrastinate, avoid, and control events, tasks, and people.

Having faced several life-threatening experiences by the age of 32, including a “terminal cancer” diagnosis, I know the power of coming to term with death and loss. I’m a big fan of facing fears immediately, saying to myself, “Yes, I could die in that situation; I could suffer loss with that person. I will choose what to do. I may not win, but I will play full out.” [new sentence] “By choosing to get my fear inoculation I can show up, get started on this project and become productive.”
Fear has its purposes and survival value. It warns us to be careful; to avoid being too impulsive or acting without enough knowledge, or to even procrastinate at times. Fear, like worry, asks us to do a Risk-Benefit Analysis from our higher, human brain (prefrontal cortex). It motivates us to make plans and strategies for survival.
I also know how denying our human vulnerability and trying to avoid what you fear can lead to destructive procrastination, attempts at control, and even Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Fear builds when you try to control what happens in life or how others feel about you. The more important the goal, the more you try to get control which only makes you feel frustrated and out of control, often leading to panic. Control is like potato chips, you will always want more. It’s a dangerous drug and an illusion. On the one hand we have limited control over life and, on the other we can be very powerful in creating a comfortable living environment, friends, a delicious meal, plans, products and services, and a meaningful life. The trick is knowing the edges of what we control and when we must let go of trying to control.
To say make this point more succinctly, take a look at my version of the very elegant Serenity Prayer:
Grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot control; courage to work on what I can control [mostly my attitude and how I treat myself], and wisdom to know the difference.

Instead of trying to control or trying to avoid what you fear might happen it is more empowering to face the worst that could happen—even death, loss, embarrassment, rejection, or loneliness. Facing fear reduces the fear; breaks the habit of fear and avoidance, and sets you free. Perhaps, just as “the truth will set you free,” so facing the truth of your human vulnerability also sets you free.
For procrastinators this means learning to face your fear of mistakes, criticism, self-doubt, and the awful self-threat that you would make yourself miserable if you fail.
For those who suffer from anxiety, chronic worry, or OCD, the fear of not being in control can lead to extreme anxiety and a full-blown panic attack. Yet lessening or curing OCD [and overcoming procrastination] requires that you repeatedly face your fears in small, manageable bites. This really means that you fully accept yourself as human and, therefore, as vulnerable to mistakes, hurts, loss, and joy. Perhaps it is this full acceptance of yourself that lessens fear and the need to control. Instead of trying to be like a god, an angel, or a Peter Pan who flies above human difficulties, you join with the rest of us in the humus, the humility, the humanity of being earthbound. Release the struggle of trying to control, let your muscles and mind relax and then discover that the chair, the floor, the earth, and the bed will hold you. Discover that you don’t have to try so hard alone; you’re connected and supported.


Change is constant; all relationships change.
My soul is from elsewhere,
I'm sure of that.
And I intent to end up there. . . .
I did not come here of my own accord
And I can't leave that way.
Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.
--Jalaluddin Rumi 1207-1270

It’s Spring and our fledglings are about to leave the nest, flying off to the larger world that awaits them.

High schools and colleges all around the country will be having commencement exercises. So many of our fledglings are taking flight—trying out their wings and taking off to foreign lands and foreign homes, leaving us with empty nests. They think of their “commencement” as an end to the drudgery of homework and boring classes. But the word itself means a beginning, an inauguration, an initiation, or a new start; which it is for those leaving and those left.

We who are left with an empty nest in many cases will begin a new stage of our lives as well and new roles and even new identities. The roles and identity of mother and father carry such great weight that there should be a formal initiation, commencement for us to recognize the momentous journey parents take on: birth, first steps, leaving for daycare, kindergarten, first date, the stress of graduation from high school and college applications, and, eventually, leaving the nest.

It takes great courage to open oneself to the vulnerability of having children and birthing them into a world we can’t possibly control or protect them from. This Choice is an acknowledgement of our natural human vulnerability--not a weakness--and our stronger self.

We must continue to love our children without having control and without being controlling. And then we set them free to fly into life and feel a new level of loss. We have been so completely enmeshed in our role to parent, mentor, friend, teacher, and coach that we are shocked to discover that our job of 18 years is over; taken away with a “commencement” exercise, a graduation.

We lose our cherished and often stressful parental role but also a major identity—a large part of who we thought we were. We lose a part of our identity when we lose a job, a home, a relationship, or our health. The severity of the loss depends on how many of our identity eggs are in one basket. Those with diverse activities and roles in life may have a slightly easier time of losing one identity or one role. Nevertheless, there is a loss of identity when our children leave home.

Losing your identity can be a painful loss, but not necessarily a bad thing. It can open us to the unexplored aspects of our larger self. While always uncomfortable, the loss of identity can lead to living life more as a creative improvisation rather than following a set script; can open us to a surprise, a sense of wonder about “What’s next?” coaching: