How fear of shame causes procrastination

You’ve got a big presentation to give in a month. All the big shots are going to be there, you’ve been working on this project for the last year and it’s going to be great. You can see the standing ovation, the accolades, the smiles. So why does day after day goes by without you starting to work on it? Why can’t you bear staring at that empty slide deck and the pull of YouTube videos is so strong? Why can’t you just sit your ass down and get to work?

What you’re experiencing is fear of shame. And even though the positive thinking part of you, reinforced by years of listening to well meaning productivity gurus, is generating the images of a standing ovation, the fearful, younger part of you is sensing the potential of crushing shame. The unplesant images don’t come as easily, but if you stay with the sensation you’ll probably note the tight throat, deer in the headlights, OMG what have I done feeling you’re dreading. The silence. The dubious looks. The desire to run away and hide under a bed.

And while you’re sitting here, getting angry at yourself for being on Reddit all day long for no reason at all, you’re missing the fact that there’s actually a profound reason for you to be running away from working on this presentation. Fear of shame is a very intense demotivator and is way sneakier and nastier than the actual experience of shame.

When we feel shame when we failed at something, it’s real, it’s strong and most of all – it’s justified. We know what happened, we know why we’re feeling this way and we usually aren’t judging ourselves for the feeling itself (just for the actions). It’s an awful sensation but because we’re not fighting it, it eventually goes away. Fear of shame on the other hand hides in the shadows and creates the perception that there’s no reason to feel what we’re feeling. So we fight it, or as is more commonly the case, we run away from it. And what’s a better place to run to than the autoplaying, autoscrolling, autoloading madness of YouTube, Netflix and Reddit?

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@finereli