How I Overcame the Torturous Choice Between Doing Work and Slacking Off.

work torture

Sometimes I’d rather claw my own eyes out than sit down and start working. You might think this is because I have some faceless soulless factory job. Or that I’m merely a cog in the corporate machine but I’m not.

I run my own business. I set my own schedule. And I love what I do. Despite all this, just getting started is one of the hardest things I do all day.

My Start

This is what work morning looks like. I’m sitting at my house after breakfast or a run. I open my computer where I have a list of things I’d like to get done today, this week, this year, and this lifetime.

I look at the list and begin to formulate what I want to do first. Then all of a sudden, as if hordes of Mongols have invaded my brain, I think of some decadently lazy thing I could do.

I could play video games. I could watch the entire 3rd season of Star Trek TNG. I could putz around my house listening to podcasts and reorganizing my socks. This is when the pain begins.

What went from being a clear simple day has become a torturous choice between doing work and slacking off. It literally causes me physical pain. I feel an ache in my stomach, a longing in my chest, and a clear palpable sense of sadness.

But the last time this happened to me, I got curious. I started to wonder, why is this so painful?

I like working. And whenever I do sit in bed and watch TV, it’s never as satisfying as I had imagined. And yet, every time I face this dilemma I get this same tortured feeling.

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad …

So the next time it happened I stopped and asked myself the question: Why is this so painful? Then I paid close attention to my thoughts and wrote each one down as it arose.

  • I love work, but if I get started, I won’t be able to stop.
  • I feel like I work so hard it’s exhausting.
  • Relaxing is so much easier.
  • But I know if I relax all the time I’ll fail.
  • Successful people are focused and driven
  • Well clearly I’m not focused and driven, if I want to play video games all day, I’m not focused and driven,
  • And if I’m not focused and driven, then I won’t be successful.
  • And if I won’t be successful, then why am I working so hard?
  • If I’m going to fail anyway, then it would be better if I didn’t try.
  • And if I’m not going to try, I might as well stay home and play video games.

When I looked back over this, I realized that my desire to slack was really fear.

I was afraid that no matter what I did I would fail. And if I was going to fail why try? After all slacking off is not only easier. It’s also less embarrassing and painful.

But then I wondered why am I so afraid of failing? I have faced many challenges in my life, but for some reason this was different.


Back when I was training for triathlons, there were times I didn’t want to work out. I felt tired and stressed. But I still did it. Why? Fear of failure.

I knew from experience that if I don’t train I won’t do very well. I was afraid of not doing well so I trained. Based on this experience and others fear of failure actually seems like a good motivator for me.

But when I looked at the fear that arose before starting my day, it wasn’t the same. The more I thought about it, the less I wanted to do. Instead of motivating me, it discouraged me.

How Work is Different?

I started to wonder what was different. Eventually, I realized that with triathlon training, I believed in myself. I knew what needed to be done and I believed I could do it.

But the same was not true of work. I was still afraid of failing, but when it came to my professional goals, I didn’t have faith in myself. I wasn’t sure what to do and even more, I wasn’t sure I could do it.

I realized that if I was going to overcome this torture of work I had to find a way to believe in myself. If I didn’t then fear would get the best me.

From this realization that I developed five simple ways to overcome fear and develop a deeper faith in my ability to change.

1. Be Patient

There is a well known quote that says, “Most people overestimate what they can accomplish in one year, but underestimate what they can accomplish in five.” Belief in yourself takes time to build.

Don’t beat yourself up over one little mistake or even a whole year of mistakes. Be patient with yourself and give yourself time to create change.

2. Make a List of Awesome

When I look at how I did last week, I might give myself a mediocre grade. But when I look at my life over the last five years I’m blown away with what I’ve done.

  • I quit smoking cigarettes and pot.
  • I lived at a Zen monastery for over two years.
  • I sat over twenty week long silent retreats.
  • I worked as a preschool teacher.
  • I did two Olympic length triathlons.
  • I ran a marathon.
  • I got my yoga teachers certification.
  • I started my own business and it’s paying my rent.
  • I met and developed an awesome relationship with a woman I love.
  • I improved my relationship with my parents.

And the list goes on and on.

So, make a list of everything you’ve accomplished in the last five years and don’t forget to include the little things you’ve done.

Include good vacations with your family. Include how you survived hard times. Include that nice hike you took last summer.

When you look at the long term often you find that instead of failure, you’re actually doing pretty well.

3. Connect to Your Values

When I start my day with my personal mission statement it’s easier to get started. I realize that my life isn’t about accomplishing any one thing. It’s about embodying the kind of person I want to be.

When I connect to why I’m doing something instead of the how I’m doing it, I find that success and failure become irrelevant. Some of the most admirable people in history have suffered great failure, but they did so in alignment with their values.

Take the time to discover your values. I used the method in the 2nd chapter of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, but there are tons of other methods. Pick one, clarify your values, and reconnect to them every chance you get.

4. Be Grateful

There is no greater antidote to fear then gratitude. Gratitude is the practice of seeing success by appreciating how much we receive. Without a doubt, we rarely appreciate how good we have it.

Along with connecting to your values reflecting on what you have to be grateful for is a potent way to fight the fear of failure.

Everyday after you write down your values, write down three things you have to be grateful for. At the end of a month, you’ll have a list of over 90 things that make your life a success.

5. Be Audacious

We all have the voice of doubt and fear in us, but we also have the voice of audaciousness. When fear arises, it’s important for you to access your kick-ass self.

Despite all the fear, your kick-ass self believes in you. It knows you will fail, but it also knows that going for it, is the only way to win. True success is found not in having it all, but in giving it your all.

So the next time you find yourself staring at your computer screen deciding between Facebook and work remember that you may be choosing between faith and fear.

Ask yourself, who do you want to be today? Do you want to be the hero of the kick ass self, or the fear that holds you back?

Fear can slow us down, but if we believe in ourselves, nothing can stop the change we create in our lives and the world

19 thoughts on “How I Overcame the Torturous Choice Between Doing Work and Slacking Off.”

  1. Samuel, you actually took all my jumbled, fear-filled thoughts from this week and put them in a way that made them crystalize for me! I now understand how fear of failure is driving some of what I do (or don’t do). I’m going to print this out and put it near my computer…and spend less time on Facebook, emails, and surfing the web and more time on remembering my “why.” Thanks!

  2. Marvelous! Really like your article as it reflected to what I really slagging off lately. Sometime I fear of working too hard but accomplish nothing at the end. I fear I can’t stop when I start working too much. Fear is the thing that keep tickling with my mind. I believe it’s time to overcome the fear and waste less time doubting myself.. Thanks for your reminder!

    1. I love the idea of fear tickling your mind. I think it tickles me too. It’s a great description of fear working on a subtle level. I’ve struggled alot with work hard and slack cycles. It’s hard to find the sweet spot, but it’s totally worth it when I do. Good luck overcoming your fears and finding a sustainable pace of work.

  3. Hi Sam,
    The list resonates. I was critical of myself because I was impatient. i want to do this. i want to achieve this and I measured myself by the day. i am glad I learnt to blog and in the course of learning, I began to understand the value of understanding that you can be successful every day with a little progress. When I want to give up, I think of why i did it in the first place. I wanted a platform to share my 40 years’ of experience. To me gratefulness is greatfulness. Once we are grateful of what we are endowed with and what we can do with what we have, we will have a greatful mind. One that pushes you forward to do things that we thought not possible. My three energizers in a down time:
    1. It’s perfect as it is now
    2. It’s not what happen but how you respond to it
    3. Deal with it!

    Thanks and regards.

    1. Stu I love your three things those are awesome. I agree that gratefulness is key to success. I find that practicing daily gratitude is one of the most energizing things I do all day. Thanks so much for your comment and for sharing your wisdom.

  4. This fear of failure/making mistakes runs a very familiar course – been there, done that! Practicing gratitude, knowing my “why”, mindfulness, keeping an “evidence” journal and meditation have all played key roles in helping me to step out of fear.

    When I start out on a new endeavor that might involve exposure, the old fears rise up again; but by making these practices into habits, I have the tools to deal with them. And, I like to stay inspired by reading articles like yours… Thanks for sharing Sam!

      1. Sam – I use my evidence journal to daily measure my efforts and results in moving towards my goals. It helps me to make quick corrections before a “slide” happens and to do more of what pays the biggest dividends.

        But mostly I use it as a development tool for getting that part of me that likes to procrastinate (the scared, small self) to trust that it’s “safe” to step out and engage with life wholeheartedly – evidence that even if I don’t get the immediate results I’d like, I’m still here, it’s okay to take risks, the world didn’t end and that I have what it takes to cope. It’s my favorite self worth tool!

  5. The fear of failure is in all of us. However, some gets it worst than others. Everything you said in this post makes great sense. Most of the time I would get on my computer to study or do something progressive, but I would get deviated onto something else like: browsing the Web, emails, chat, Facebook, or even watch movies, and when I finally start studying, it’s already time for bed because I work from 6 to 4 PM. And I am a very discipline individual. I read a lot of inspiring books that would keep me motivated. Reading your post, surely inspired me in a way to not let distractions get on my way.
    Thanks for your thought share…

  6. Fear does play a very important role in my life. Wvwryrhing that I want to do, I think of million other things that could go wrong an that’s it.

    I try my best to think of the positive things and it is definitely the little things that makes a difference. We always tend to think about the things that we don’t have and make ourselves sad.

    I believe fear is one of the biggest illness where the cure lies within ourselves but we fail to make the use of that cure

  7. The part that resonated most for me was “fear of failure,” which each of us define differently. When you talked about not wanting to stop training for your triathalon it brought me to my workout “addiction.” It’s not really….I’m just very consistent in my three to four days a week…and if I miss time I get very cranky (ask my wife).

    I have a certain narrative, which is how I see myself and being fit is very much a part of that narrative. So wanting to maintain it is an important value.

    So if we can become aware of the story we tell ourselves…about ourselves, it becomes easier to make choices about which parts of that story serve us, and which we’d like to change. Then the fun starts!

    Great post, Sam.

  8. This was a timely reminder to me (as I site here brainstorming what I want my 2014 year to look like when it draws to a close).

    What I’ll write on my wall, doodle on my palm and, otherwise commit to remember is that timeless phrase “Connect to your values.” What that single declarative statement does for me is to remove all of the “bright shiny objects” that threaten to clutter my vision. In the past 2 years, I’m much better at not letting myself get taken in by things that can literally derail me from the path I’m on: as long as I remember to ask myself: “Does this (new bright shiny object) connect to your values?” I’ll be much better off.

    I’m in your debt, Mr McCree.

  9. I really resonated with your second point “Make a List of Awesome”. Yes. I do this for myself from time to time; not so I can rest on my laurels, but rather to remind myself that I CAN accomplish things. It usually gives me the boost I need to tackle what’s in front of me, especially when faced with new things.

    Thanks for sharing!

  10. Thank you so much for this reminder Samuel I am a terrible proscratinor. No actually I am brilliant at it!! I wrote a poem about it last year…..what a great way to work out why holds us back though questioning our motivation for avoiding doing something. I have a little voice reminder telling me ‘will I regret not doing this/taking this opportunity’ that usually spurs me on…..

    Thank you

    Yes, I know what I ought to be doing

    Yes, I know what I ought to be doing
    Should be shopping and loading my trolley,
    But I’ve got things to do, no listen it’s true
    I’m mending the spokes on my brolly…

    I should be updating my website
    And buying equipment on-line
    But I’ve found things to do, no listen it’s true
    I’m sampling my husband’s red wine…

    I have to renew my old passport,
    In time for my trip to Bordeaux
    But there’s things I must do, no listen it’s true
    I’m reading diaries from ten years ago…

    I should be repainting the hallway,
    In a cream I saw at the Savoy,
    But what else can I do, no listen it’s true,
    When my cat wants to play with her toy…

    I have to do washing and ironing
    And there’s meals to prepare and then freeze,
    But one thing I must do, no listen it’s true
    Make new feet for my teddy Denise…

    I ought to take down these old curtains
    And the carpets could do with a hoove
    But what I really must do, no listen it’s true
    Is get with Madge into the groove…

    Yes, I know what I ought to be doing
    Asking for some vindication,
    But what I really must do, no listen it’s true
    Is stop all of this procrastination.
    Sharon L Forsdyke ©

Leave a Comment

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