By Gloria Arenson, MFT, DCEP
This article is excerpted from the book EFT for Procrastination, by Gloria Arenson, pp. 131—136.
Zach misses the deadline for handing in a quarterly report at work and is reprimanded by his boss. Kathy fills her garage with so many boxes that she can’t park her car in it. Anthony keeps postponing taking the test to get into graduate school. Beverly delays finding an office for her new business. What do these four people have in common? “That’s easy,” you might think. “They are all playing the waiting game.”
Why are they willing to put up with the dire consequences of dragging their feet? Zach is passed over for a promotion, Kathy’s boyfriend is on the verge of breaking up with her because she’s so messy, Anthony is anxious and depressed, and Beverly can’t get her business going. No, they aren’t lazy, stupid, or weak. Their lack of initiative results from false beliefs.
What kind of thoughts could be so intense that a person would rather hold back from completing a project and be willing to suffer the negative outcome rather than go ahead with a goal that seems simple or desirable?
The Five False Beliefs that keep most procrastinators from moving forward are:
1. Failure is unacceptable.
2. People will dislike, ridicule, exclude, or harm me if I don’t do it right.
3. Success is dangerous.
4. I’m afraid of what the future holds.
5. I don’t wanna, and you can’t make me!
Experiences you have earlier in your life lead you to make decisions that have remained in your unconscious mind ever since. These False Beliefs have been the stage directions in your life story up to now. You are so used to feeling the anxiety generated by the False Beliefs that you may not even be aware of it. Eventually, the fears are covered over with your excuses so you are no longer in touch with them.
One way to rid yourself of the consequences of your False Beliefs is to play the Worst-Case Scenario game. Ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that will happen if I clean out my garage/pay my taxes/go for my mammogram/send Christmas cards in time for the holiday/sign up for school/wash my car?”
Write or say aloud the first thing that comes to mind. Don’t judge yourself on your answer. Ask again, making sure you use the phrase “I’m afraid,” because that is what this is all about. Keep this up until you have run out of the easy answers like “I’ll be happy” or “I’ll be healthy.” Eventually, you’ll hit pay dirt. The answer that springs to mind may have nothing to do with the project you are dawdling over. That is the point. Once you find out which False Belief is to blame, use EFT to reassess it and install a new and reasonable alternative.
When Zach tried this method, he discovered two False Beliefs: “Failure is unacceptable” and “People will dislike, ridicule, exclude, or harm me if I don’t do it right.” He was afraid that although he might think his report was good, his boss might have different standards that were higher. His worst fear was that he would be a laughingstock if his report wasn’t perfect. He always had to be perfect.
He used EFT, saying, “Even though I am holding back because I am afraid I will fail, I am now releasing all the times and all the ways I have harmed myself because I believed that failure was unacceptable.” With each round, his anxiety decreased. As the fear of failure disappeared, he came up with a solution. He decided to ask a trusted friend to look over his work in the future and give him feedback when he doubted himself.
Kathy found out that she was one of many whose behavior symbolizes “I don’t wanna, and you can’t make me!” She just didn’t want to do the boring chore of organizing and cleaning. She started to tap on those words and said, “Even though the garage is a mess and I should clean it up, I don’t want to and I am willing to explore why.” Tapping revealed that, when she was a teenager, her authoritarian father would never let her meet her friends at the mall on Saturday until she had completed all the chores he set out for her. He was mean then, and she was still sticking her tongue out at him.
When she tapped about how she was still sassing her dad, she realized that the more her boyfriend nagged her, the more he reminded her of her father. No one was going to boss her around like her dad! She felt the anger in her solar plexus and continued to tap while she put her attention there. She continued to tap until her anger toward her dad reached 0. At that point, she knew she was no longer under her father’s thumb and she could clean up her garage because it would please her, not because she had to.
As she tapped, Kathy uncovered another aspect underlying her problem. She was procrastinating because of fear of what the future held. If she cleaned out her garage, she would have to give away the toys her daughter had outgrown. That reminded her that her daughter was growing up and would soon graduate from school and leave home. Not cleaning the garage meant not having to look at the toys and face her sadness about what was to come. She felt the sadness and continued to use EFT until she felt acceptance and love instead.
Anthony also feared what the future might hold. When he thought about the Worst-Case Scenario, he imagined himself in graduate school meeting new people. He would become friendly with intelligent people who were interested in what he was studying. A thought popped into his head. What if he met a woman who was more interesting than his wife! He might find his wife boring. Would graduate school ruin his marriage? A few rounds of EFT focusing on this fear allowed him to feel reassured that he could go to school and stay married.
Beverly figured out that her fear of being a success in business stemmed from the False Belief “Success is dangerous.” When she pondered the Worst-Case Scenario if she opened her own office, she immediately said, “If I am too successful, no man will want to marry me and take care of me.” As she tapped, she told me that each time she went office hunting and imagined her name on the door, she heard her mother’s voice inside her head whispering, “If you are too independent, what man will want to marry you and take care of you?” Her mother’s generation was mostly homemakers who thought their mission in life was to look good and make a lovely home for their husbands. What if her mother was right? Would she jeopardize her chances if she competed successfully with men?
After a few more minutes of EFT, she knew without a doubt that she could be as successful as she wanted to be. As she continued to tap and focus on this thought, she remembered reading a quote by Gloria Steinem: “Some of us are becoming the men we wanted to marry.” She soon found the perfect office and then found the perfect man.
Another person whose False Belief caused great misery was Clara, who had moved from a large home to a small apartment after the death of her husband. She was a book lover and kept procrastinating about going through the three thousand books she had taken with her. There was no room in her new home for so many books and she couldn’t part with any of them. When I asked Clara about the worst thing that would happen if she parted with some of these books, she finally blurted out, “What if the answer to the secret of life is in one of these books, and I give it away!” As she used EFT to explore this irrational fear, she realized that most likely all the books she owned were available in a library, a bookstore, or online if she needed to replace them.