Avoidance and procrastination
As I sit and make my week's To-Do List, I am completely aware that I use these lists as a form of procrastination. I can make a list of tasks to complete, organize, color code, and put on the calendar. It sounds productive, right!? Wrong. What you might have guessed, is that I already did this yesterday. I am using this form of being "productive" to avoid just sitting down and completing the tasks. I might look busy and motivated, but am not fooling anyone, especially not myself.
So, why do it? The answer is simple ... avoidance and procrastination. Sometimes we get ourselves into a habit of organizing and preparing instead of actually doing. While part of this is derived from habit, the other part is also anxiety. Even the smallest task can seem major when it is pushed off and carried over from day-to-day.
Break it down and commit
When tasks start to feel too big to tackle, then it is time to break them down and commit to completing the smaller steps. Start with One-Thing-At-A-Time!! Follow your usual routine of making and organizing a To-Do List, but this time do it with intent and less anxiety. Make a list of things you want to accomplish, then pick just one thing, and hide the list for later. Now, break that one thing down into many small tasks and focus on just the first item again. Pick a day and time to complete the first small step towards your larger goal. When you finish the first step, make sure to cross it off the list, not only because you deserve that feeling of gratification, but your brain will also release a shot of dopamine and increase motivation to get more done. Win-Win!!
Tony has struggled with procrastination his entire life. He avoids completing homework until the night before, his closet has become his bedroom floor, and his apartment is a disaster zone. When he looks around at the mess, he feels overwhelmed and discouraged. "It's been like this all summer," he thinks. "Let's be honest, I'm never going to clean it and just need to accept that I am a messy person."
Ouch! Tony is having a HUGE distortion by identifying himself with his mess. This thought process will keep him down, instead of provide him with encouragement. Tony decides to bring it up in therapy and works to create a smaller lists of things he wants to clean. He chooses to start by focusing on just the laundry. He makes a list of steps to complete the laundry and makes a goal to focus on the first small task. Grab a basket and walk around collecting all the dirty clothes. That's it, that's his homework for the week! This doesn't clean the clothes or clean his apartment, but it is a start and more than he has been doing. Afterwards, he feels like that was pretty easy and proud of himself for setting a goal and completing it. Tony can't wait to tell his counselor of his success. Tony will be more likely to complete the next step, because he had a positive experience. Nice job, Tony!
Throughout the day be mindful of things you have completed, NOT your dreaded To-Do List. This will help you to stay motivated and build a sense of confidence that you are someone who gets things done! Yes, you!
- Nikki Gorman, MA, LPCC