Avoidance ...

Over the last two years, I have discovered that I have a tendency of side-lining projects and tasks instead of tackling them full on. So, something will require my attention, and instead of sitting down and doing it, I’ll hold it off and focus on other things. The problem though is that while I am doing other things (procrastination usually), I’ll still be thinking about the abandoned task. Sometimes I can walk around for months holding onto this abandoned task, feeling worse and worse about it.

I don’t know why I do this. I’m guessing a large part of it is fear. The funny thing though is that usually the task is quite simple and could be completed quickly if I just sat down and did it.

The last responsibility I carried around for an unnecessarily lengthy period of time was asking for three recommendation letters. I knew who I was going to ask, but for some reason, I just wouldn’t do it. Looking back at it now, I really don’t know why I was holding it off, because when I did finally do it, it was pretty easy.

But seriously – at the time, I was an internal wreck. I was either thinking about it, refusing to think about it, coming up with strategies, predicting the outcomes, coming up with contingency plans to those outcomes, coming up with new responses to those contingency plans … It was ridiculous. Finally, I knew that I needed to write up a list of all tasks I was putting off, write down the reasons they were scaring me, and take them to my mom.

My mom has been very supportive and understanding about this act of mine, and that’s really enabled me to open-up about my stresses. By verbalising what’s going on in my mind, I usually see that the task isn’t half as bad as what I thought it would be, and that I’m more than capable of doing it. But it really helps that my mom is non-judgemental about my overthinking, because if she wasn’t, I would feel too embarrassed to talk about it and deal with my problems.

So, if you have a similar tendency of avoiding tasks, I would recommend:

  1. Speaking to somebody about how you tend to put things off, and that you feel e.g. embarrassed/upset to talk about it. Ask them if you could go to them in the future with a list of what’s worrying you. (I spoke to my mom about how I tend to put things off, and I asked her if I could come to her whenever I felt stressed out. I also expressed that it feels better when she just listens non-judgmentally even though I probably seem like a ridiculous, crying wreck.)

  2. Write up a list of what you need to do/what you are avoiding.

  3. Next to each task, write down why you’re stressing about it and what you believe is going to happen by doing it/not doing it.

  4. Take the list to a person you trust (See #1) and just talk through your list with them.

  5. Sometimes it may help for the other person to force you to do the task. The last time I went to my mom with a list, she listened compassionately and then marched me down the message to get my phone and send the three people messages asking for a recommendation letter.

Avoidance makes a task worse because you are building it up in your mind, instead of just dealing with it. If you just sat down and did it, you would save yourself weeks of torturous overthinking. It’s scary to ‘do’ though which is why it helps me a lot to speak through my worries with someone.

Do you overthink tasks a lot? How do you deal with this?