A new client recently shared that although she had intended to devote twenty hours to growing her new business each week, she wasn’t showing up for work.

Instead, she had cleaned the house, got stuff at the store for a sick friend, and gone to a yoga class.

When I asked her what was going on, she said she was procrastinating to cope with the fear of not getting it “right.”

Let’s see if this sounds familiar to you:

You sit down to write content for your new website or workshop or grant proposal, and your mind freezes up.

Your inner critic tells you that you better not do something “wrong.” You better do it “right.”

Your fear of not getting it right has been lurking in the shadows since childhood, ready to jump out and block your path whenever you try to do something new and potentially risky.

When this fear gets in your path, it can feel impossible to access your prefrontal cortex.

You can’t think clearly, and your mind goes blank.

So, you get up and do something that you know you can succeed at. If you can’t come up with the right words, at least you know how to clean the laundry or do sudoku or help out a friend.

But once you cross these things off your list, you go right back to feeling crappy.

You tell yourself that you were stupid for being scared. You know your fear’s not rational. You know that there’s no such thing as perfection. You know there’s no one right answer.

Telling yourself this makes you feel even worse. Which, rather than motivating you, usually just makes it harder for you to access the creative energy you need to put yourself out there.

When you catch yourself procrastinating or being afraid of “getting it wrong,” the first step is to pause and offer compassion to the part of you who is afraid.

This may seem counter-intuitive. Our society is riddled with messages to “not be afraid.” Your parents or teachers or friends at school might have given the message that there was something wrong with you if you were scared. Or, you may have heard well-intentioned new age teachers repeating the message that “The only thing to fear is fear itself.”

The truth is, it’s very important to not reject the part of you who feels afraid.

In fact, the more you judge or push away or turn your back on the part of you who is afraid, the more it will cling to its fear.

The part of your who’s afraid is afraid of being judged. And, the judgment of the fear is, simply put, more judgment.

You could call the part of you who says you “should” be less afraid or more confident or more spontaneous or more of anything you wish you were, the “Spiritual Judge.” It’s the same Judge or Inner Critic, just in different clothes.

So, how exactly do you offer compassion to the part of you who is afraid?

I invite you to set a timer for ten minutes and try this right now.

Think of a moment in which the fear of “not being right” or “being wrong” or “not doing it perfectly” or “not being good enough” arose, and then:

  • Try to feel how you felt in your body at that moment. You may have felt checked out, or there may also be a sense of tension or nervousness in your body. Whatever you feel is okay, you don’t need to try to feel anything different than you do.
  • Then, place one hand on the opposite side of your face and the other hand on your upper arm in a warm embrace. At first, it may feel silly to give yourself a hug like this but see if you can notice how good it feels.

There is science to back this up. Adrenalin is the hormone of fear, and oxytocin is the hormone of love. They work on the same receptors in the body, so it’s hard to feel both at the same time. When you hug yourself, oxytocin releases in your body, lowering the amount of adrenalin you perceive. So, physiologically, when you practice self-compassion in this way, it makes it harder for you to feel fear.

  • Now, keeping your hands where they are, bring your attention back to the sensation in your body when the fear arose. Feel where you feel this sensation in your body. Then, say “hello” to this part of yourself. In your mind’s eye, sit down next to this part of yourself like you would a child who’s afraid.
  • Ask this scared part of yourself— How does it feel in your body? What emotion does it have? What does it look like? What does it need? When you describe this part accurately, it will shift and change in some way. It may feel stronger, or it may feel relief that finally, you’re paying attention to it. Writing down what comes up may help you to focus or hear the responses more clearly.
  • Keep listening to what comes up for a few more minutes. You can end when you feel complete. Or, if you need to move on to the next part of your day, promise this part of yourself that you will return and let it know when you’ll be back. Make sure to make a promise you can keep.

Although there are often more steps to letting go of a fear of being “wrong,” offering loving attention to the part that feels fear is the necessary first step.

It’s normal to find yourself thinking, “Yeah, yeah. That all makes sense. But I just want to get over it already! This takes too much time!”

Unfortunately, just trying to “get over it already” usually doesn’t it work.

The more you get in the habit of loving the part of your who’s afraid during everyday life, the more you’ll be able to rely on this practice during potentially triggering experiences. Eventually, loving the part of you who is scared will become to automatic that you no longer need to think of it. And, more and more, the fear you feel now will be replaced by a feeling of warmth and ease.

If you have a friend or two who you think would benefit from this article, please pass it along. Thank you so much!

And, I’d love to hear from you. What came up for you when you were doing this exercise? What helps you to offer compassion to yourself?

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