Can’t seem to get it together lately? If you’re berating yourself for procrastinating about a goal, falling off the wagon, or feeling down because you haven’t started working on a project or presentation yet, it might be wise to ask yourself: Am I just afraid? Jessica Geist, a subconscious psychologist, says that fear — not laziness — can cause us to “press the snooze button on life and dive headfirst into an all-day Netflix marathon.”

Woman sitting on couch

Here’s how it works, according to Geist: Fears get buried into your subconscious (you likely aren’t aware of them) and leave you feeling frustrated or even confused with your own lack of motivation. “The truth is, if you lift up the rock and start digging around underneath someone’s ‘lazy’ behavior, you’ll probably find all kinds of creepy crawly fears,” Geist says. “It could be fear of failure, fear of rejection, or even fear of not being good enough.”

Conversely, Geist describes laziness as a state of being unwilling to work or use energy and says motivation is what really matters. “Laziness can be a lack of interest, or it might be not wanting to take ownership or responsibility for something. It’s not inherently bad, but it might be a sign that you’re lacking discipline, holding resentment, or aren’t feeling valued in your work.”

Work isn’t the only area where people put things off. You might feel “lazy” about turning down event invites, flaking on dates, ignoring mail, or putting off tasks for days. “Most people can catch themselves saying or doing these things but the problem is that they don’t address the underlying issue behind what’s really happening,” Geist explains. “You might not want to deal, feel like something is too much, or think you can do something tomorrow, but over time you’ll feel defeated and start to lose confidence. It’s not your fault! No one’s willpower is a match for deeper emotion or fears.” If this sounds familiar, we have good news: There are specific signs that can help you realize that you’re actually afraid, and a handful of effective ways you can triumph over your feelings to go forward.

3 Ways to Uncover Subconscious Fear

If you’re wavering, waffling, or simply can’t get started, it’s time to check in with yourself. Geist suggests using the following three questions to uncover if you’re subconsciously feeling afraid.

1. What kind of thoughts do I have? “If your thinking is negative or self-defeating like ‘it doesn’t matter, no one will hire me anyway,’ you might be avoiding something from a place of fear,” Geist says.

2. How do I feel? Fear takes a big emotional toll, but it can cause you to suffer physically as well. “If you feel drained of energy, tired, or disconnected, you may be afraid,” Geist says.

3. Am I taking care of myself? Self-care has become a buzzy trend, but taking care of yourself will always be a good idea. “Fear can strip away your ability to replenish by making you feel like you need to escape,” Geist explains. “Even more, fear-driven avoidance comes with a nice side order of guilt and shame, and can show up with symptoms of anxiety and depression.”

3 Ways to Conquer Any Fear

Once you figure out that you’re actually afraid — and not lazy — you’ll be ready to start taking steps forward. “Your brain is hardwired for fear to help you survive, but it doesn’t mean that emotion or fear has to control you,” Geist promises.

1. Feel the fear. It’s scary as heck, but facing your fear means you need to acknowledge and feel it. “The more you ignore your fear, the bigger it gets,” Geist says. “When you’re ready to move forward, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and notice where you feel the fear in your body.” You’ll be uncomfortable, yes, but the scariness will start to subside.

2. Start small. Geist told us that psychologists suggest small steps because they build self-efficacy, or belief in our abilities. So if you’re scared to do something, taking a tiny step is the best way to start overcoming it. “You’ll reinforce the ability to trust yourself, and over time, you’ll build up to that big thing,” Geist says. A small step could be sharing your fear with a friend, writing it down, making a call, or even setting a long-term goal that moves you away from it.

3. Flip the script: “When you’re scared, you’re plagued by negative ‘what if’ scenarios like ‘what if they say no?’ or ‘what if it doesn’t work?'” Geist says. “Instead, flip the script to focus on the positive possibilities. Ask yourself, ‘what if it does work?’ or ‘what if they do say yes?'” She says that picturing these scenes in detail can help you see the possibility, reconnect you with what you care about, and help you find the courage to take action.

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