Chapter Three
Anxiety and Fear

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A really great reason for procrastination is fear, or, if you prefer, anxiety.
There are all sorts of things to be anxious about.

  • You might make a mistake
  • If it goes wrong you might get blamed.
  • You could get hurt emotionally.
  • You could be laughed at, ridiculed or bullied.
  • You relationships with people might suffer.
  • It could place your job in jeopardy.

But it may not be so dramatic.

There may be just a quite minor anxiety about the result. Nothing that you would even call an anxiety, buy just worrying enough to cause you to put off doing anything for the moment.



(This is an edited extract from my book “Overwhelmed? Shrink The Pictures.”)

 When you think, you use all your senses, including sight (pictures,) touch, taste, smell, and sound, as well as your feelings, emotions and memories, configured in sequences and associations.

For most people, pictures are very important. Pictures can vary from being very clear to hazy to vague impressions associated with feelings or sounds. Some people are not aware that they use pictures, and may be more aware of feelings or sounds, but the pictures are there.

Some people have never reflected on how they think, and say, “It’s just in my head.” If you are one of these, you may need to work through the next section several times.


Think of the face of a person that you really love or like. Most people will be aware of a picture in front of their eyes. (It isn’t in your head, unless you look backwards to see it behind your eye level. The information is in your brain, but you make a picture/awareness. It will probably be in front of you, but not for everyone.)

We will call your awareness a picture, whether you see it clearly or not.

Point to the picture.  How far away is it? For most people it will be quite close.

Now think of the face of someone you don’t care for or actually dislike. Point to their face. It may be in a different direction, and further away. Push it much further away. As you push it away, change their nose into a parrot’s beak; give them a stupid hat and a Disney voice. You will probably notice that your feelings become less intense when you do that.

If you have the face of someone you dislike or a bad memory up close to you, you will feel unhappy. Your brain mostly sorts your feelings by the distance you place the pictures from your eyes.

You can play with feelings in a number of ways like this – and change them.

Most depressed people keep a number of bad pictures up front and close. Overwhelm has some similar characteristics. There are too many “too big” pictures up close.

Procrastinators have pictures of possible problems and dislikes, often with a feeling of apathy.

Pictures can be changed. After all, the pictures you see are just a bunch of neurons belting around in your brain. Notice what you can do with some of your pictures. Drain the colour out of them. Make them transparent. Turn movies into stills and stills into movies. Move the picture around on the “screen” in front of your eyes. Put yourself in and out of the picture.

As you do this you can notice how this changes the intensity of your feelings.

So if you have a collection of things that you procrastinate, or even just one or two, it’s time to take control.

Here’s the trick.


Squash them down into a square about 35 cm by 35 cm (14 in x 14 in,) 2/3rds arm length in front of you, below eye level. This is the work area you are already familiar with.   Use your hands if necessary to force everything into the square.

Make sure that you get everything. Collect any vague sensations, sounds and voices. Push any feelings in your body that seem to be part of the overwhelm right out into the work area. Pretend, if you need to. Pretending is good.

This is your work area. What’s there is under your control.

When it is all there, go to:


Go through everything in your work area and decide what you need to do, one by one. There are tasks to prioritize and schedule.  So the next step is to put them into your organizer, calendar/diary, or put them onto your to-do list.

You do have a to-do list, don’t you?!  At this point, it is valuable to write one, and renew it daily. Writing is more effective than using an electronic devise in most cases. It isn’t just a case of one or the other. You use a different brain process to write than you use to type/text, and it is more memorable.

If there is too much, there is too much. Get someone else to do it, or abandon it. If that’s impossible, short cut. You have permission to be imperfect and untidy for the present!

If there are matters that create bad feelings but you don’t really have to do anything about them, you can shrink them even further. Spin the picture until it’s grey, and let it float away. I know a woman who has a ”toilet” in the lower right –hand side of her mind. Anything she doesn’t like, she drops it in and flushes. Try it.

The more you play with things like this, the faster your brain learns that you are in control, problems can be sorted, and the better you feel!


Sometimes there are bad feelings from the past. All the stuff that makes you feel badly about yourself. Be aware of them.  They are in the next step.

Often my overwhelm had lots of bad feelings about what might happen in the future because I had no hope of completing all that I had to do. But once I started controlling my life all that disappeared.


I love EXECUTE. It has two meanings, “Kill” and “Do!”


The KILL bit is clearing the decks, getting rid of what is in the way.

Consider tasks or people that are too much, but you can live without. Cut them out.

Tasks you have taken on because you couldn’t say no. Delete them. (That’s right. Practice by picking up the phone and saying, “I’ve had something come up and I can’t do it. Sorry.” Try really doing it: you CAN dial the number first if you want! It’s time to get rid of those tasks that you decide are not going to serve you well in the long run!)

The limiting awarenesses that you have from the past that are part of the overwhelm need special attention.

So now you have the thing or things that you procrastinate ready to start.


 There is another fear that people don't mention much. It is the fear of completion.

It is a little different from the fear of success, which is mostly about the fear that you might be unable to handle all that goes with success, from successful people you would then deal with to the responsibility of management.

 The fear of completion is this. When you have done all the things on your to-do list, what do you do then? And even worse, who are you, if you have nothing to do.

 Your identity vanishes. While you have an incomplete to-do list, you are someone. Admittedly, you are only a person with some things that you are not doing, but nevertheless, you have reason for existing. If you complete the list and there is nothing more, you have ceased to be.

You have no future.


Jesus Christ said that unless you become as a little child, you cannot see the kingdom of God. But, unless you become like a little child, you can't enjoy life here much, either.

Because what marks off healthy and alive children is curiosity, and an eager anticipation of what will happen during the day. It creates a level of high excitement, very often.

It's all about how much fun they can have, who they will meet, what they will learn, and even how much mischief they can cause.

Yes, it's true, adult life is a lot more complicated and tasks can take a lot longer, but the principle holds: fun and excited expectation.

 The big problem is that adults have often learned, as have repressed children, that they are not allowed to be curious and have fun, and there is nothing much worthwhile to expect.

Get curious. Find out what causes things, how they work, what people do, and use the Reward System below.

 Along with this is what is described in Neuro Linguistic Programming as a Meta Program - Towards/Away From. Do you generally move towards situations, or away from them?

If you learned as a child to move away, to retreat, for safety or whatever, then you need to make some changes. Now that you can decide what you do and how you feel, you can deliberately move into situations, and act as you decide.

For some people, this underlies procrastination. A more effective way of thinking and acting is needed. It isn't necessarily easy, but it can be done.


Julian Smith wrote a book called "Flinch" and you can obtain it free on Kindle and other places. I strongly recommend that you get it and read it.

He uses the illustration of the sport of boxing to describe how we act. You might dislike boxing, but you can easily understand “flinch”.

The core of what he said that I want to use here is this:

If you become a boxer, the first thing you learn is, DON"T FLINCH, because if you do, that is where your opponent will know to hit you.

We naturally learn to flinch if someone swings a punch at us: boxers don't. In fact, boxers FLINCH FORWARD. If a boxer stops to think or pauses to consider possibilities, he (or she) is flat on the canvas. The fight is over.

Boxers flinch forward. They move into whatever is coming. We all have areas in our lives where we need to flinch forward.

We talk about our limits as our comfort zone. We could just as easily call it our flinch zone. It is where we hold back. "Beyond this be dragons," as an old map said. But the good stuff is outside the comfort zone. If you are reading this you are probably uncomfortable inside your comfort zone. You need to un-procrastinate yourself to be in control and know achievement.  Happiness lies on the other side of fear.

Flinching forward is a step into a better life. And most of is just stance, and not risk!


 Martin Seligman, an American psychologist last century, conducted a series of experiments on dogs. This will give you a rough idea of the key part. Some dogs were caged and the exit closed, then given mild electric shocks over which they had no control. They learned that that could not escape. They were conditioned to being helpless. Then the gate was opened and the shocks continued. Most of the dogs did not move or try to escape, and remained being shocked even though they could have fled. This is learned helplessness.

Seligman saw how this also applies to people. If you learn that the position is hopeless, you don't act for yourself even when there is no longer anything preventing you. This is different from procrastination - putting off something that you know you can do or probably do, but it sometimes confused with it.

The person with learned helplessness is stuck. They can imagine acting successfully, but they can't bring themself to do it, and won't, without changing a core belief about themselves.

If learned helplessness is the problem, then you need to attend to that.  It will feel as though you procrastinate most things and whatever you do you will feel that you are still in a mess.

You can learn ways to create freedom. That will have to wait for another book. But NO! Don’t wait! Get some help to change. – You could contact me. Details at the end.

Mandy’s Story

Mandy was 47, slightly overweight, and said that she hated housework.

She had a part time job in a local florist which she quite enjoyed, and spent some of her time caring for her granddaughter. Her husband was a self-employed plumber who worked long hours. He usually collapsed in front of the TV when he arrived home. Weekends were busy with a local sporting club and family.

In a discussion about the hated housework Mandy revealed that she had been required to work around the house by her mother all through her teens. Although she recognised that it was necessary, she resented it.

Marriage meant housework, and she wasn’t particularly conscious of a problem about it in the first flush of marriage and then through the years of child-rearing. But once the children left home, she found it an increasing irritation.

The first thing we did was some clarification.

1]  She didn’t “hate” housework; she disliked it, and procrastinated.
2]  It was her house, and not her mother’s. It was her adult life, not that of a dependent teen-aged daughter.
Then she went through The Solution.

Many identified her enthusiastic dealing with customers at the florists as an everyday process where there was no procrastination, a process into which she moved easily. We used that as the core feeling.

She had some great feelings about looking after her grandson, and could remember very clearly the enjoyment of tennis from younger days. She built these feelings in as well.

As she realised it was possible to change and take control, she shifted away from her focussed annoyance and decided that she could play music she liked while she cleaned.

Using The Solution made housework satisfactory, a part of her ordinary, enjoyable life.

Go to Chapter Four

 © David Townsend 2014