The Hidden Costs of Procrastination: Unveiling the Impact on Your Life


For this post, I started out with the intention of defining the reasons why people procrastinate and how to stop it. Or at least how to tame procrastination into some kind of submission. Along the way, I disappeared down internet rabbit holes searching for illuminating data but in the end really just … well, mostly procrastinating.

There’s a great deal of information about procrastination on the web, like one article that lists no fewer than 15 specific reasons for procrastinating. It’s all very valid and helpful for those who are prone to putting off the business at hand.

However, according to Tim Urban, everyone is procrastinating on something in life.”

In his amusing and thought-provoking TED talk Inside the mind of a master procrastinator, Urban speaks about the kind of procrastination that makes us put off truly important things. Things that are not urgent, that is, they have no deadline.

The thing about deadlines, Urban explains, is that as they loom closer they tend to induce panic. For many, panic can be the ultimate motivator and things get done. However, no deadline, no panic. No panic, no motivation. But ‘no deadline’ does not mean ‘no consequences’. Urban observes:

“Long-term procrastination has made [people] feel like a spectator, at times, in their own lives. The frustration is not that they couldn’t achieve their dreams. They weren’t even able to start chasing them.”

Take a moment to think about your life. Do you have a health concern you are pretending doesn’t exist or isn’t that bad? Do you hate your job? Are you on the wrong career path? Are you bored? Unfulfilled? Stuck? Unhappy? What would it take to turn things around for you? What is stopping you? Are you procrastinating?

Why do we procrastinate when it comes to the non-urgent but ultimately important, life-defining stuff?

I think the number one reason is fear. Fear of making a mistake or a bad decision. Fear of judgment, negative opinions, or making an unpopular choice. Fear of disappointing others’ expectations. Fear of stepping outside our comfort zone. Fear of the unknown. And possibly the greatest fear of all, the fear of failure.

Let’s take a closer look at that last one.

Fear of failure

Broadly speaking, the human mind has a monumental fear of failure. We tend to play it safe. It can be paralysing to contemplate taking a risk. But inaction means we risk living a beige life … or as Urban put it, being a spectator on the sidelines of our own lives.

As if dealing with the fear of failure isn’t hard enough, that fear usually shows up with company – its first cousin, the fear of being not good enough. We all have our own versions of not being good enough. Sometimes they are handed to us by others; those versions are reflections of how someone else sees us and can in themselves be devastating. But from my own experience, I believe that not good enough stories are never more debilitating than when they are spoken in our own voice.

Mine pipes up each time I sit down to write a new blog post: why would anybody want to read what you write?  Who are you, anyway? You’re going to fail so why not just give up now? And a hundred other judgments and accusations that join the chorus.

It’s not as bad as we think

We don’t begin life with a fear of failure. No able child holds back from learning to walk, talk, or feed themselves because they fear they won’t succeed. A young child is not afraid to be a learner, a beginner. He doesn’t tremble at the inevitability of making mistakes, stumbling, and falling. Moreover, he is generally applauded for his efforts and given positive encouragement to keep trying.

What would happen if, instead of envisioning all possible woe, we applauded our own efforts? If we accepted mistakes as a natural and normal part of discovery, growth, and progress?

That’s what Henry Ford did. A man who tasted failure repeatedly, Ford said,

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

I love how Hugh Downs, a long-time television anchor and host, put failure into perspective. He said,

“Don’t be afraid to try something. It never hurts as bad as you think to fail. You seldom regret what you do. You regret what you didn’t do. Don’t try to be invulnerable. Don’t worry too much about security. If you build a wall around yourself, you become a prisoner of that wall. Take a chance!”

Here is Erin Hanson’s eloquent take on the possibility of failing:

“There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask “What if I fall?”
Oh, but my darling,
What if you fly?”

Procrastination – Where to start?

Two words: small and now.

Do something today, something little but meaningful. Something that will take less than 5 minutes.

If it’s your level of fitness that needs attention, put on your joggers and walk around the block, or the yard. Start small…and easy. Then do it again tomorrow. Aim for small, easy…and consistent.

After all, doing something, however small, is better than doing nothing at all. Furthermore, it’s not difficult to improve a small action you perform regularly, but you can’t upgrade something that doesn’t exist.

A personal story about building on very small beginnings: Eighteen months ago, my health took a sudden dive. Over the space of two months, I lost my strength and with it much of my muscle mass. My legs were so weak that I could scarcely climb the stairs in our townhouse and had to haul myself up using the handrail.

I sought treatment and gradually some strength returned. My husband began taking me for walks at the seafront. Supporting me on his arm, we would shuffle along very slowly for a short distance before returning to the car. It was exhausting but that little outing became an almost daily practice.

After a few weeks, I could walk unsupported although still not very far. Then I got strong enough to drive myself to the seafront and walk unaccompanied, progressively increasing the distance.

There was consistent action and continual upgrades.

Fast forward a year and I have recovered completely. And the upgrades have continued. I was inspired by an older, superbly fit woman who regularly jogged past me on my walks. Despite never having jogged in my life, I tried it. Just very short distances initially. Now, though, I can jog almost half the distance of my 4km walking route. 

Don’t wait

A year from now you may wish you had started today.” Karen Lamb

Are you thinking, “Can’t I just wait until I’m not afraid anymore? When I conquer the fear, then I’ll take the action.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

Twenty-five years ago, Susan Jeffers wrote a book called Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. What I learned from her book changed my life. I came to understand that fear and courage are not dichotomous. Courage does not mean the absence of fear. They can and mostly do co-exist. I learned that I could be afraid, even very afraid, AND at the same time take action.

I adopted the title of that book as a life motto. That motto is what gets me on an aeroplane, despite having an intense fear of flying. A few years ago, my husband and I lived in Thailand. During the 14 months we lived there, we took 27 flights. I have never overcome my fear of flying but neither has it overcome me. Despite having to face that fear on average twice a month for more than a year, that time in Thailand was one of the richest times of my life.

The more we put something off, the harder it becomes. Don’t wait for your real life to begin.

Here’s a poignant song on the subject, performed by Colin Hay.

And now, as I finish this post and go to hit publish, I am feeling the fear… and will do it anyway!

What small but courageous action could you take today?

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash



The FREE Simplification Starter Kit

Learn about 3 things you can ditch today for a lighter tomorrow (downloadable pdf).

Enjoy the Read?

Would someone you know benefit from this post? 

Do them (and me) a favour and share it with them – I deeply appreciate your help with bringing my work to a wider audience. Thank you!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Send a message...