How do you react when you know you have a big to do list?
Are you the kind of person who attacks it with full gusto until you’ve ticked the very last thing off, or are you the kind of person who likes to bury yourself in other ‘avoidance tactics?’
I’ve encountered people who have ended up cleaning their entire house, or watched entire box-sets when they’ve been in avoidance mode!
There are also the people of course who bury their head in the sand (or put their head up the proverbial, as per the photo of my cat below). Then there are those that are in such avoidance of what needs to be done, that stress and sickness, eventually, settle in.
As a psychologist who is geared towards helping people achieve and makes changes in their life, I’ve been made privy to these kinds of actions. In fact much of my role can often be about helping people overcome this apathy and the bad practices that have managed to creep in over the years. Actions and behaviours that can ultimately lead to a feeling of lack of drive, motivation or belief that they can really succeed.
My avoidance pattern…
I remember as a teenager, when I had mountains of work to complete for my GCSEs, that my avoidance ‘pattern’ was feeling extremely tired. Sleepy to the point of being able to drop to the floor and nap!
Don’t be fooled that even though this appears to be an involuntary reaction, that it wasn’t something that had been ‘cultivated’ over time. It became a conditioned response. It was inevitable.
I would have a list of important deadlines and when faced with having to sit and actually ‘do the work’, I would feel incomprehensibly tired. Even as a teenager, I could see the pattern emerge and realised then that it was something that I would have to overcome if I wanted to get my work done. For a long time however, I was stuck in an unhealthy cycle of having a big pile of work…feeling tired..avoiding doing work because I felt tired and then waiting for the deadline to be so close, that last minute stress was the catalyst to get me through.
Sound familiar? Regardless of your tactic to avoid doing what you need to, the ‘way out; for many people is to wait until doing that thing is so completely unavoidable that the mere stress of having a deadline is what you now wait for to actually do it.
So, what can you do?…
Like many things that we want to overcome from losing weight to ending a bad relationship, that ‘thing’ will only stop wen you recognise that it is actually a problem and also that you want to change it! As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water…
If you recognise that there things that you are avoiding, that you too struggle to get things done consistently (not just every now and again which I’d say is completely normal and even the most driven person can have off days or days when they want to indulge), then you there are many things that you can do.
I’ve summarised here 5 tips that will help you to overcome the desire to bury your head, or clean your house (!), starting with…
TIP #1: JUST NOTICE
You will never overcome something unless you take the time to notice what you do that is an avoidance tactic. In my practice I often get people to keep a diary for a short while, one that monitors the things they get up to. When we then talk through it they, and I, get to see when the desire to avoid comes about. We can also see what they did instead as a method of ‘avoidance’.
You can do the same. Just notice what you do or how your body reacts. Do you, like me, suddenly feel tired? Do you tidy the house or start watching television or a film?
TIP #2: HAVE SPECIFIC GOALS
Sometimes people avoid because what they actually need to do seems almost insurmountable. Usually I find that this is because their lists are so ‘loaded’. By this I mean that it may have on it things like:
– Organise Sarah’s party
– Write report for David
Lists like this are not actually helpful, especially if you are someone who tends to ‘avoid’, why? Because each ‘thing’ is far too big. For example ‘Organise Sarah’s party’ can be broken down into 30 different components or more, for example:
– Choose the venue
– Make booking
– Send email to friends re the date
You might well just choose to do these 3 things in one week, as opposed to thinking that you need to do the entire thing. Breaking down our to-do list in this way allows us to see things that are specific and measurable and that can more easily be ticked off. This makes us feel like we are actually accomplishing something and the feel good factor continues.
TIP #3: WORK ONLY FOR 20 MINUTES A DAY!
This is an interesting one as it seems to go against the grain for some people.
When I am helping someone get a project off the ground, maybe one that they’ve been trying to get done for a long time (like write a book or programme); I get them to stick to a 20 minute a day rule to start with.
I ask them to factor into their day the time when they feel they are most able to get 20 uninterrupted minutes to themselves and to use this time (having preplanned what they will get done as per the above), to do this.
Often people start arguing that they could do at least an hour, or 45 minutes to which I reply, no. Don’t go above this time. You are ‘not allowed’ to go above this time limit. For now, you should just stick to 20 minutes a day (sometimes for only 5/7 days a week).
The idea behind this, is that you are forming a habit. As with all habits, they become, yep, habits!
You want to set up a new habit that actually serves you in your purpose not works against you…also it has to feel good. We as humans are pretty good at avoiding things that we feel bring us pain, hence avoidance!
So, based on this you would work for 20 minutes a day for a few weeks, and then slowly up your time to 30 minutes, then to 1 hour then 2 hours etc.
In doing this, what people often find is that they really want to do more than 20 minutes quite early on in the process. When you realise you can enjoy it, we become a little more conditioned to the pleasant feeling of the experience and therefore don’t go into a fight or flight mode at the mere thought of doing it. You may even find that you actually chomping at the bit to do your 20 minutes versus avoiding it in the first place!
TIP #4: BUILD IN REWARDS…
This sounds like an obvious one, and it is!
It’s important to rewards ourselves along the way. For some this might be as simple as an hour watching TV in the evening for others it’s a monthly massage or spa break? If you get done what is on your list, what can you factor in that you have to look forward to at the end of each big task completed?
It could just be as simple as pizza on Friday night after 5 days of going to the gym….
…think of something and book it in!
ADDITIONAL TIP #5: DREAM A DREAM…
There are many extra tips I could give here, but one that is really useful for people is to have a dream board or vision board of some kind?
Vision boards, though they feel like they were all the range in the 90’s (!!), can actually be very helpful. It can take any form but may include things like pictures and photographs, but it may also just be words or phrases that means something to you? (you may want to use Pinterest for this). You may also want to have a selection of objects or tangible things that inspire…whatever it is that helps you to keep focussed on a goal.
Something that all of this hard work is aimed towards achieving.
Over to you…
I hope that you’ve found some of these tips helpful.
I’d also love to hear what happens to you when you’re in ‘avoidance mode’ also what have you found that works as a way of overcoming your bouts of procrastination?
Till next week!