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Image: a woman dressed business casual walking across a square, image taken from above

A Step-by-Step Guide to Overcoming Fear, Doubt, and Procrastination

This article by Maliheh Paryavi Ph.D. originally appeared on malihehparyavi.com.

In my previous article, I shared four questions you need to ask yourself as a changemaker before signing on to a new project. But what do you do once you sign on to a project and the internal fear and doubt start creeping in?

You signed up with the best of intentions. You were excited, the project and individuals involved felt aligned with your values, you found it energizing, and you felt that you would be making an impact and creating the change you wish to see in the world.

Image: A woman dressed in business casual clothing, walking through a square. The image is taken from directly above.
Source: Unsplash

But once things get rolling, you may start to doubt yourself. You may start to feel scared. You may even feel yourself shut down, withdraw, procrastinate, and completely lose interest in the very project you were excited about just a short time ago!

You try to connect with yourself to see what is going on. You go inward and notice the self-critical inner dialogue:

What if I can’t live up to the expectations people have of me?

Am I good enough to be doing this?

Is there a point to me doing any of this?

Do I have enough to give?

What if it doesn’t turn out well?

What if I disappoint people?

What if I can’t make an impact?

What if this whole thing falls apart?

And on and on…

It can feel like a lot hitting you all at once.

What do you do when you feel like your internal thoughts and fears are getting in your way?

Here is a step-by-step guide to help you troubleshoot and get you going again:

  1. Thank your mind and inner critic for sharing their input and tap into your growth mindset. Remember that the inner critic’s main job is to keep you safe. Turn toward it with compassion. And remember that no matter how accomplished of a changemaker you are, you are still allowed to make mistakes and to grow.

    Tell the inner critic: “I know you are trying to keep me safe. Thank you for sharing your concerns. I know I’m capacious enough to handle whatever that happens just as I have so far in my life. Whatever happens, I know I’ll learn and grow and I will be OKAY. I choose to take one small step.” (For more on the role of the inner critic, growth mindset, and practicing self-compassion, tune into my podcast conversation with the pioneer in self-compassion research, Dr. Kristin Neff). 
  2. Embrace the fear. Remember that fear is a normal human emotion. It is completely OKAY to feel scared. Most of us shut down because we believe that if we are really good enough that we should never feel scared. So when the fear comes up, we see it as a sign that we are not capable or confident enough somehow. Instead, if you are feeling scared, that is probably a sign that you are being challenged and growing.

    Most people make the mistake of saying to themselves, “I’m scared.” No, you are not scared. You are feeling scared. The feeling does not define you as a person. It is simply an experience you are having. Tell yourself, “I know I’m feeling scared, and it is OKAY to feel scared. This is new for me. I’m learning and growing. I choose to breathe through it. I choose to take one small step.” I love this quote from Susan David, Ph.D., Harvard Medical School Psychologist and author of Emotional Agility, “Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is fear walking.” (For more on thriving with emotional courage, you can listen to my podcast conversation with Susan David here.)
  3. Remember your “Why”. Why did you sign up for this? Who did you want to serve? Re-energize yourself by thinking about the person or people you want to impact and your greater purpose. Remember what a disservice it would be if they missed out on all that you could be giving. Really visualize them and feel what it would feel like for them to receive your presence, insights, gifts, and talents and what it would feel like for you to give to them.
  4. Trust your curiosity. Ask: “What am I feeling curious about starting? What is one small step I can choose to take to move forward with this project?” Not “what should I start on” or “what do I have to do”, but “what do I feel curious about and can choose to do”. If you identify a few tasks, pick the one you feel most curious about and aligned with in this moment.
  5. Take that one step. Move forward by taking the one small step you feel most curious about. Let go of perfection and just START!
  6. Celebrate yourself and the step you just took. Pay attention to how good it feels to take one step and to be moving forward. You deserve to feel good about the progress you are making and celebrate the small wins, not just the final end result. This is how you allow yourself to enjoy the journey.
  7. Repeat steps 1-6 as necessary. Take it one super tiny step at a time. Before you know it, your curiosity will start to carry you, the momentum will start to build, your confidence will get a boost, and you’ll be flowing and rolling again.
Notice that the suggested inner dialogues use the word “choose” not “have to” or “should”. Don’t take your own power away by operating in “have to’s” and “should’s”. You are powerful, strong, and have the agency to “choose” what is best for you.

Of course, if you start a project and realize that it is not what you thought it was and the project (or the people involved) are not truly aligned with your values and/or it is going to take up much more mental space, time, or energy than you have to give, it may be necessary to reevaluate your involvement. 

But if the core issue is related to your internal fears and doubts, then I hope these steps help you get going again. 

Ultimately, it is our attachment to outcomes that trigger most of our fears and doubts. So surrender the outcomes and thoughts about the future by being here, present in this moment. 

Trust that YOU ARE ENOUGH, you are exactly where you are supposed to be, and everything will unfold as it needs to — one moment and one tiny step at a time.

You’ve got this!

– Maliheh

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Image: Maliheh Paryavi Ph.D.

Maliheh Paryavi, Ph.D.

Content Partner

Maliheh Paryavi, Ph.D. is a strategic advisor and thought partner for women business leaders. She is a Harvard-trained behavioral economist and expert in women’s empowerment, decision making, and leadership. Learn more and connect with Maliheh via www.malihehparyavi.com and find her on Twitter and Instagram: @malihehparyavi.

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