Procrastination Is the Enemy of Success—Here’s How to Beat It

The antidote to mediocrity is embracing your fear of failure

Optimize your day by planning your decisions. William Iven/Unsplash

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”
—Dale Carnegie

Procrastination—also known as, “Oh look there’s that new series on Netflix,” mindlessly scrolling on Facebook, and browsing page after page of Reddit—is the source of many failed goals and shattered dreams.

How do I know this?

I used to be a big-time procrastinator.

I could procrastinate with the best of them and often used to think to myself (while procrastinating of course) that if there was an award for champion procrastinator that I’d be right up there with a great chance of getting gold.

In fact, I was so adept at procrastinating that I often didn’t realize I was doing it. Instead, I would convince myself that I was doing something productive and meaningful when in reality I was doing everything except what I should have been doing.

I’d make another cup of coffeeget sucked into YouTube or get lost in Google (for research of course).

Tasks that should have taken me five minutes to complete took me 50 or more.

Before I knew it, another day, week or month had passed, and I would wonder why I hadn’t reached my goals yet. I think deep down I always knew why, but it was infinitely easier to pretend I didn’t than it was to fix the issue.

The truth is I was scared. I was scared of failing, of letting myself and other people down, and even scared of succeeding. I know I’m not the only one.

What is procrastination? The fine line between success and failure.

 “All procrastination is delay, but not all delay is procrastination.” —Timothy Pychyl

Procrastination is usually considered the habit of delaying or postponing something.

However, procrastination is more than just postponing something, it’s actually better described as putting off something that needs to be done.

In fact, an article written in Psychology Today by Piers Steel Ph.D., an internationally recognized researcher and speaker on the science of motivation and procrastination, discusses how if procrastination merely meant putting something off we would “be comfortable placing it along[side] similar concepts [like] scheduling or prioritizing.”

It’s clear this isn’t the case. Let me give you an example: Imagine you had planned a trip to the seaside, but due to unseasonably stormy weather, you were forced to postpone the trip.

Would you describe this as procrastination? Of course not, even though it involves the act of delaying something.

Steel goes on to explain that this “important distinction is increasingly [being] recognized.” Citing the American Heritage Dictionary and Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary examples respectively: “To put off doing something, especially out of habitual carelessness or laziness” and “to put off intentionally the doing of something that should be done.”

In his own words, Steel believes the Oxford English Dictionary “gets closest to the irrational dark heart of the word.” It defines procrastination as a postponement “often with the sense of deferring through indecision, when early action would have been preferable,” or as “defer[ing] action, especially without good reason.”

Why do we procrastinate? Why do we nothing instead of something?

Timothy Pychyl Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, identifies three main reasons we procrastinate:

  1. Challenging tasks make us feel uncomfortable.
  2. We have weak and vague intentions.
  3. We are easily distracted.

You can begin to see it now, and although it’s not named directly, fear (specifically the fear of failure) is entangled with each reason for procrastination.

Let me show you how:

  • Challenging tasks are by their nature more complex and difficult to complete; you fear that if you try and fail you’ll let not only yourself down but those around you, too.
  • Weak and vague intentions bolster this fear by failing to give you a clear path to follow. This leaves you unable to make a decision and second guessing your actions.
  • You use distractions to regulate your fear, falsely believing it is better that people think you lack the necessary effort than the necessary ability.

On top of this, you also fear the unknown. All of this only adds to your reluctance to complete a task that would take you closer to your goals.

These feelings of fear are so strong that you seek comfort in the idea that it’s better to never try and never fail than it is to give your all and risk falling flat on your face.

You procrastinate, get distracted, and put off what you know you should do only to end up stuck in no-mans-land trying to give the illusion of progress. You insulate yourself from failure by never truly putting yourself out there.

Can we overcome procrastination and the fear of failure? 

Yes, you can! It’s not always easy and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, but it can be done.


Every mountain appears difficult to climb when you’re standing at the base. However, if you start with one or two small steps and break the journey into small chunks, it becomes more and more manageable. Eventually, what at one point seemed out of reach begins to feel doable.

Small won’t strike fear into your heart. Small is easy, doable and non-threatening. So, whenever you’re faced with a task or goal that seems out of reach, break it down into small steps and make a start.


Knowledge is power. You must arm yourself with the information relevant to the goal you wish to accomplish.

Through this act of preparation, you will remove the fear you have of failing. You’ll know what you need to do and how to do it. By getting prepared, you’ll diminish the fear of the unknown by making it known.

One way to get prepared is to set specific measurable goals for the short, medium and long-term. This means you can keep a close on eye on whether or not you’re doing what needs to be done day-to-day, but it also means you’ll have a pre-laid path to follow and can keep going when motivation fails.

By doing all of this, you‘ll remove the darkness and shine a light on your fear, giving it nowhere to hide.


There is always a temptation to put things off in favor of getting started right away. The idea that there will be a better time will always be trying to lead you astray.

You’ll fool yourself into thinking you can’t do something if you don’t feel like it and mistakenly believe this means you can’t get started. When in fact, the simple act of getting started will dissolve any feelings you have of it not being the right moment.

It’s important to realize that there is never a perfect moment. You need to chase this moment.


A mistake is not the end; it’s an opportunity to learn and move forwards.

As a child, you made mistakes all the time, and what did you do? You tried again—many times over if necessary. You weren’t afraid of breaking anything. In fact, you probably broke a lot of things just to see how they worked.

You need to adopt this mentality again. Realize that when it comes to reaching your goals, you’ll make mistakes. But it’s okay—mistakes teach you how things work and don’t work. If you take each opportunity to learn, you’ll come out stronger the other side.

Once you adopt this mindset, your fear of failure will disappear. Mistakes will cease to be a bad thing. Instead, they will be an opportunity to grow. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try different things to get the results you want.


Nothing worth having comes easily, so don’t expect to get outstanding results with mediocre effort.

Don’t get caught in the trap of telling yourself that you’re making progress when you’re spinning your wheels, doing enough to give the false impression of progress but never really going anywhere.

If you want to achieve, you must apply yourself and give your all. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. So put your head down and get to work.


Distractions help you regulate your fear by preventing you from doing what you need to do. You do everything you can to give the impression that you lack the necessary effort rather than the necessary talent.

Mentally, this is a much more comfortable place to be, but it doesn’t address your fear. By eliminating all distractions (Facebook, your phone, Netflix, email, etc.) you give yourself no choice but to face your fear, understand it and conquer it.

Instead of letting your distractions rule your day, try setting aside specific times to do these things.


The inability to make decisions is a key driver of procrastination. However, you can overcome this by optimizing your daily decisions.

There are a few ways to do this:

  • Prioritize the most major task and focus on it.
  • Cut anything that won’t make a difference or will never get done.
  • Set up your surroundings for success.

You should plan your day, list everything that you want to accomplish, and cut anything that doesn’t need to get done. This should get your list down to just the important things. From here, you need to prioritize the single most important task and focus exclusively on it until it’s done.

To set up your surroundings for success, you can do things like keeping a bottle of water on your desk so your default decision is to drink water and not a sugary drink. Another example is to leave your phone in another room on silent so there is no temptation to check it.

Summing up

If you do some or all of these things, you can minimize your fear of failure and remove the causes of procrastination. You will gain the clarity you need to take action and make meaningful progress towards your goals.

Theo is the founder of Lift Learn Grow, a blog that helps you build the body of your dreams without sacrificing your lifestyle. With a focus on lifting heavy weights and eating the foods you enjoy Theo helps you reach your goals and love your journey. Join a growing community or like-minded people and get the tools you need to build the body you want.

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Procrastination Is the Enemy of Success—Here’s How to Beat It