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Dealing with the Top Cause of Failure: Procrastination

by Dr Jay Earley, psychologist and author of “Taking Action: Working Through Procrastination and Achieving Your Goals

Do you know the number one cause of failure to succeed?


Ironically, some people are really good at procrastination: government bureaucrats, politicians, and kids, especially when it’s time for chores or bed time.

In a professional setting, the most common impact of procrastination is missed deadlines, which raises costs to the employer or client. For people who are self-employed or work at home, procrastination can literally mean lost wages or reduced income. In some cases, the failure to act can cost someone a job or cause problems in a relationship. For students, procrastination can seriously impact grades and future job possibilities.

People typically avoid a task or a project that needs to be done because there is a part of them that doesn’t want to do it. In most cases, this part is unconscious and rooted in childhood experience.

Procrastinators are often unconsciously afraid of what will happen if they attempt to do the task. They may be afraid of failing, being judged, shamed, rejected, or other painful consequences.

They may be also afraid of succeeding, and getting rejected or attacked if they do.

Even if there is some danger of failure, shame, etc., what the procrastinator is faced with today usually isn’t nearly as bad as what happened back when they were a child.

So what do you do?

Deal With It.

Get in touch with what you are afraid of. This will take a little introspection because these fears may not be totally conscious.

Recognize that you aren’t in the danger your unconscious part thinks you are. Or you can handle whatever hurt might come your way. This because you aren’t a child any more!

Create a Plan of Attack.

If there is some danger of getting shamed, rejected, etc, devise a plan for how to handle this by asserting yourself, setting limits, etc.

Pay Attention to How You Avoid.

Now you are ready to change your behavior. Become aware of exactly how you procrastinate. Do you get distracted, forget, become busy with other things, put it off? When do you procrastinate? Related to what tasks?

Change Your Approach.

Create a practice to change your procrastination. The first step is to notice when you are procrastinating. Then remind yourself that you don’t have to be afraid of tackling the task. And get started on it, right then!

Work with Others.

Find a friend who will help and support you in doing this practice. Tell them your plan, and check in with them every few days or every week to let them know how it is going. This will help keep you on track.

Track Your Performance.

Track your success by taking notes on what happens. Reward yourself whenever you break through and get something done that you have been avoiding.

Overcoming procrastination can be a very rewarding change. The breakthroughs and benefits to be achieved can improve your career and personal life. You can have more opportunities, less frenzied work hours, reduced stress, less guilt, and most important, more success and self-confidence!


Jay Earley, Ph.D., is a psychologist, psychotherapist, and author of numerous books on psychology, self-therapy, and group therapy. Dr. Earley has created the Pattern SystemSM, a comprehensive and detailed map of the human psyche. He is publishing a series of books based on specific patterns, including “Embracing Intimacy“, “Letting Go of Perfectionism“, and “Taking Action“. He is also the author of “Self-Therapy“, “Transforming Human Culture“, and “Interactive Group Therapy“.



This is an article contributed to Young Upstarts and published or republished here with permission. All rights of this work belong to the authors named in the article above.

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  • lswconsultant

    Dr. Earley, I came across this post and it is exactly aligned with my dissertation research question. Do you mind sharing with me any scholarly resources that led you to this conclusion? In particular-procrastination as a major cause of start-up failure.