Today I will be filming a video about a unique, clever and sneakily undercover form of procrastination. It was something I had been doing my entire life without realizing, and once I discovered what was really going on, I noticed how many other people were unknowingly prey to this habit as well.
In all of our lives, no matter who we are, we have unpleasant tasks that need to be accomplished and undesirable responsibilities that we must take care of. Some of these things can make us overflow with anxiety or fill us with so much dread that we want to stay in bed with the covers up over our eyes.
For me, I had so many back piles of things that I needed to do that it felt completely overwhelming just to think about it all. There just were not enough hours in the day to even make a dent in all, and many of the things just completely stressed me out way too much to even attempt. So although I was oblivious to the fact that I was doing this, I began to practice an avoidance technique called “safe problems”. Let me explain how it works, and you can see if it rings a bell for you also.
When I had to get something done that made me feel particularly uneasy, I magically had some other pressing obligation pop out of nowhere that I would create for myself. Suddenly the house just HAD to get cleaned or the dog needed to go to the groomers. Out of the blue, I desperately needed to immediately visit my mother or mow both the front or back lawn. I would think of something…ANYTHING…else that had to be taken care of that did not involve the duty at hand.
The truth was that I was filled with self-doubt and anything that triggered a feeling of uncertainty or the fear of failure felt too suffocating to address. I was secretly always predicting a negative outcome to these situations, so my ingenious little brain came up with a way that I could keep putting them off another day. I don’t think I need to explain the dangers of letting yourself get away with this very crafty and addictive habit.
Does any of this sound familiar to you? If so, you are not alone. This is a very a common practice that often slips under the radar, rarely ever being detected, addressed or corrected. Once we start letting ourselves off the hook in this way, it’s a hard vice to give up. It’s like having a life-long doctor’s note you can pull out anytime you want.
And it doesn’t stop there. We learn to use it not just when avoiding tasks or engagements, but also as a buffer from even thinking about things that make us feel apprehensive or bothered. Without warning, we find ourselves obsessively caring about a friend’s divorce or our niece’s prom. We create a cozy clutter of issues that don’t directly impact us. It feels safer, more controllable, and much less threatening. Sometimes our own truths can seem much too painful to face.
Believe me, I had become the master of this devious little modus operandi. Had I instead avoided my issues by tabloid reading or compulsive shopping, it would have been a lot easier to spot. So it went undetected for years and years. But when I began my self-development journey, I eventually caught on and exposed this nasty little habit for what it was. A way to hide behind my fears without ever having to face them.
But that is the great thing about being dedicated to personal growth. Finding where you need to take action and make positive change, and then truly committing to making those changes. When we expose these areas to the light, we can often readily understand why we began using these tactics and give ourselves enough love and understanding to address them.
The “safe problems” strategy can be problematic on many levels, as with any type of procrastination. When we drag our heels in getting what is needed done, we only create a bigger mountain of work or discomfort that we will still need to climb eventually, as nothing can be put off forever. What’s worse, anxiety will certainly multiply as that mountain grows. Half the battle, however, is noticing what is going on. And if we can make a habit, we can certainly learn to break it as well.
Now, I’m not perfect. I notice myself attempting to create a safe problem still every now and again. But I’m onto myself, and I don’t let myself get away with it often. Learning to face my fears head on has been invaluable, but it didn’t happen overnight. Self-awareness is the key. Remember, we are all a work of art in progress. Be patient with yourself, but push your own boundaries because you will be shocked at what you can accomplish and overcome once you’ve made the conscious decision to do so. So take an honest inventory and see if you are secretly using this technique. And remember, WE are the author of our lives and we can re-write whatever isn’t working for us. Be brave and remember to love yourself. Because you’re awesome.