Two words I am hearing lately in the business community are “Uncertainty” and “Change.” Uncertainty in 2020 is easily attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the economy, the employee/employer working relationship, supply chain interruption, and more. Change, on the other hand, is constant in business. The need for change in business occurs with or without the presence of a pandemic. So, why is change so difficult for many of us? Procrastination.
For example, a CEO knows that his company should implement a new marketing campaign to drive new sales, yet he doesn’t commit to spending the money and puts it off. Or, a plant manager knows he needs to fire a toxic employee, yet he or she still works for at the business because the manager can’t pull the trigger on a termination because “it’s not the right time.” These are decisions that impact the business significantly.
Business changing decisions are deeply emotional, stressful events. And as such, people go to extreme lengths to avoid them — and they procrastinate for days, weeks, or months, even though we know they’re best for us and our companies.
This is due to the fact that underlying our worst procrastination is a deep underlying fear that doesn’t go away. Maybe it’s a fear of failure…or fear of success. Maybe it’s a fear of being vulnerable or hurting someone else’s feelings.
But there’s always a fear behind it, and that’s why we procrastinate. Procrastination is always rooted in some form of fear.
But where does this fear come from?
Best-selling author Mark Manson, decided to address this issue and created Manson’s Law of Avoidance — The more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid doing it. (Manson’s Law is basically just a particular encapsulation of self-verification theory from social psychology).
That means that the more something threatens to change how you view yourself and how you believe yourself to be, the more you will procrastinate ever getting around to doing it. If you believe, for example that you are a good boss and good bosses are liked by employees, it’s very difficult to fire people. You avoid that conflict like a plague.
The crazy thing about Manson’s Law is that it can apply to both good and bad things in one’s life. As a CEO, increasing revenue can threaten your identity just as much as losing all your money. This is why people are often so afraid of success — for the exact same reason they’re afraid of failure — it threatens who they are and what they know now. It sounds insane, but Manson argues it’s true.
Generally, the hardest things for us to do in life are full of emotional resistance. Whether it’s finally moving away from our hometown for a better job, or shutting up and starting the new business that we’re always telling people about, we avoid these things because in some way they threaten to contradict the beliefs we have about ourselves. The employee doesn’t leave his job because he secretly believes he’s not good enough to be successful anywhere else. The executive who never sits down to with her boss to talk about a pay raise because ironically, the possibility of failure would threaten her belief that she’s smart and capable of anything.
The belief always takes precedence. Until we change how we view ourselves, what we believe we are and what we are not, we cannot adopt the decisions and behaviors we spend so much time avoiding.
The solution is to change your mindset and change your life. Lose the image of who you are. Psychologically speaking, your idea of who “you” are is constructed throughout your life with a bunch of random experiences. When we let go of the stories, we tell about ourselves, to ourselves, we free ourselves up to take action (and fail) and grow.
When the boss admits to herself, “You know, maybe I’m not a great leader or good at managing people,” she is suddenly free to act and terminate the toxic employee. She has no identity to protect.
When the salesperson admits to himself, “You know, maybe I’m not above prospecting, maybe I’m just scared,” he is free to be ambitious again. He has no reason to feel threatened.
Manson’s recommendation: redefine yourself in mundane and broad ways. Choose to see yourself not as this corporate star or undiscovered genius. Choose to see yourself not as some horrible victim or dismal failure. Instead, see yourself as just a few simple things: a boss, a spouse, a parent, a friend.
This often means giving up some idealistic and flowery ideas about yourself: that you’re uniquely intelligent, or spectacularly talented, or stunningly attractive, or especially victimized in ways other people simply could never relate to.
We like telling ourselves these amazing stories. They make us feel good. But they also hold us back.
Define yourself in the simplest and most mundane ways possible. Because the narrower and rarer the identity you choose for yourself, the more everything will begin to threaten you. And with those threats will come the avoidance, the fear, and the procrastination of all of the things that really matters.
Todd Palmer is founder and president of Troy-based Diversified Industrial Staffing and Extraordinary Advisors Coaching, and a regular contributor to DBusiness Daily News.