Red Light Green Light

You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.

Zig Ziglar

It’s quite common to reach adulthood with a case of fear of failure and its sidekick procrastination.  As we proceed throughout life, each of us will inevitability encounter many experiences where we have failed to some degree or another.  Sometimes this will be intentionally, sometimes inadvertently, and other times it may have resulted from our own  negligence.  Regardless of the cause, few can walk away from these experiences without having some or several negative beliefs and/or feelings about what has happened.  Just as we’ll easily learn to proceed with caution when jumping into water for a swim after jumping into an ice-cold lake, we will learn to proceed with caution, delay or even entirely avoid any situation that has led to a negative and painful personal experience.  This tendency of our thinking and relating minds does a very effective job at keeping us safe from any sort of harm.  However, it can’t keep us safe from the harm we cause ourselves in terms of missed opportunities and personal growth.  After a certain point, safety is insufficient for ensuring our happiness and quality of life.

Consider a baby between birth and five years of age.  In normal circumstances any given baby will learn to walk, talk, control bodily functions, complete simple tasks, mimic adult activity, devise ways to amuse themselves, etc.  And they all do it, at least seemingly, with little to no fear.  Consider a young child learning to walk.  They will fall down countless times and simply pick themselves up and continue to practice walking until they have it mastered.  Consider many adults twenty, thirty, even sixty years later.  After a few failed attempts, and possibly even just one, they will quit or fail to approach an unfamiliar experience, be it a new job, relationship, skill, form of recreation, or anything.  Somewhere along the lines we learn that failing is unpleasant, and our brains begin to operate on the assumption that the possibility of failure, guilt and shame, is a threat to our personal safety and is therefore something to avoid at all costs.  Even at the cost of a quality life.

ACT interventions often ask the question:  Which will you believe, your mind or your experience?  Your mind is throwing up red flags signalling dangerous territory ahead, and you feel this in your body as anxiety, resistance and dread.  But your experience tells you that you have survived and learned from every painful experience you ever had and will continue to do the same.  Your experience tells you that many of the ultra successful have failed many more times than the average person.  Your experience tells you that you have already learned countless things and with much less information than you have now.  It probably also tells you that you have succeeded far more often than you have failed.  However, success is not useful information for the part of our brain that functions to keep us safe so its typically filtered out.  Luckily we still maintain access to all the memories of success, big and small, that are stored within our brains.  We just have to set an intention to recall and focus on the useful memories we find and devote ourselves to the process of obtaining whatever it is that we seek with a willingness to accept whatever failures we encounter on the way.  Your mind will give you a red light, your experience will give you a green light.  Which will you believe?

The following is a link to a fantastic article about procrastination that is very helpful. It puts procrastination in a more realistic light and provides useful tips for overcoming it.  I’ve also included links to a self-help classic, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, for those whose struggle with fear and procrastination is more moderate to severe.  The first is the quick and easy to read best-seller, and the second is an audio version of the book which includes eight CDs.  Counselling sessions with myself or another helping professional remain available to you as well.

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