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Why We Put Off Life’s Most Important Things

A clock with the words No Time Like the Present telling you to gNo question about it. Life is messy, complicated, complex and full of surprises. There’s always a lot to do and the feeling that there isn’t enough time to deal with what needs to be done. In fact, however, we are our own worst enemy when it comes to taking care of some of life’s most important decisions. Why do we put off what’s necessary, often inevitable, and can make such a difference? It often has a root in fear.

Fear of failure

Perhaps the biggest reason most people delay making a decision and taking action on something important is fear of failure. The thought of failing miserably, profoundly, publicly is so appalling that we’ll do almost anything to avoid experiencing this highly emotional aftermath. The result, predictably, is inaction. We don’t do anything, thus ensuring an unsatisfactory outcome.

A key lesson here is that there is no real failure if we learn from the mistake. While that may be difficult for perfectionists to accept, or disbelievers to rationalize, it’s true. Adopting the mindset that all experiences offer kernels of wisdom, if we’re open to receiving them, will help overcome the paralyzing fear of failure in the first place.

Fear of success

On the other hand, many people who don’t see failure as a barrier to action do see success as overly formidable. Success isn’t the end but the beginning, and it’s what comes after the success that’s often viewed as too demanding, involving, exhausting and, yes, public. For those who prefer to remain in the background and out of the spotlight, success is not the pinnacle. It’s to be avoided at all costs. Better to go along at medium speed than be thrust into the limelight by sudden success.

What can be done to get over a fear of success? Without a doubt, it takes some practice and a willingness to experience a little discomfort in the process. Success isn’t always grandiose. It doesn’t necessarily expose the one who achieves it to undue scrutiny, celebrity or countless demands from others. Think of accomplishing a goal to walk outside 15 minutes a day for a week as a success. Look forward to spending time with loved ones and family members after completing a workday as a success. The drip-drip-drip process of small successes will gradually fill the container with the good feeling that comes from doing what’s important and good — and successful.

Fear of criticism

Sometimes, it’s not being afraid of failing or succeeding that stands in the way of getting important things done. Instead, it’s the fear of being criticized by others. The most abhorred criticism is often from loved ones and family members, but can also come from a boss, co-workers, neighbors, friends, even people we don’t know. Past experiences involving harsh criticism and the resulting humiliation add to the fear of further criticism, often to the point of complete inaction on anything worthwhile. This isn’t living life joyously. It’s akin to being hollow, feeling nothing except fear.

The solution could well be to look closely at what prompts such fear. Is it that being criticized makes us feel inadequate, dumb, impractical, ineffective? Does it remind us of a harsh parent or bullying by classmates in our youth? Does criticism remind us that we haven’t prepared and hoped to skate without consequences? By examining the root of the fear, we rob the emotion of its power. Knowing is better than ignorance. It isn’t that criticism won’t sting, but we’ll be better able to withstand it and not crumple under its weight.

Fear that there’s nothing more

What if we do achieve success beyond our expectations or dreams? What, then? What if there’s nothing more? That’s the fear that stops many of us from pursuing what should be, even what we’ve always told ourselves is, our most important goals. Can it really be that once we get where we believe we want to go that that’s it?

Getting past this fear involves nurturing hope, for hope drives us forward and allows us to experience all that life offers. The knowledge that life is precious, short and unpredictable does nothing to deter the person who hopes. With hope, all things are possible. Indeed, even the most formidable project, task or pursuit takes on the aura of decidedly doable, imminently appealing and prompting motivation to get started.

Fear that we’re lacking

Ever get called on by a teacher unexpectedly and find yourself at a loss for words? That feeling of complete blankness isn’t pleasant, but it speaks to another reason why people put off tackling life’s most important things. We fear that we’re somehow inadequate, lacking in intelligence, drive, motivation, friends, allies, resources, money, talent and skills, even background.

Overcoming a fear of this kind is only accomplished by doing. Adequate preparation will mitigate some of the feeling of falling short when asked for our opinion or to deliver facts or a presentation on an impromptu basis. Making it a practice to absorb as much knowledge as possible from every experience will similarly help boost self-esteem and self-confidence. Instead of bluffing, we’ll have substance to back up our statements and actions. If we don’t know something, say so. There’s no harm in admitting it. However, if this is something we could benefit from, also make it a point to say that we’re interested and intend to learn more.

No matter what is on your to-do list, your dream or wish list, or a must-tackle list, instead of shying away because of one or another fear, address what’s holding you back head-on. After all, the point of living is to live joyously, fully and without reservations. Don’t let fear tempt you to put off what matters most.

Why We Put Off Life’s Most Important Things

Suzanne Kane

Suzanne Kane is a Los Angeles-based writer, blogger and editor. Passionate about helping others live a vibrant and purposeful life, she writes daily for her website, She is a regular contributor to Psych Central. You can reach her at

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APA Reference
Kane, S. (2018). Why We Put Off Life’s Most Important Things. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 17 Feb 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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