- Avoidance and rumination are common in people with diverse mental health complaints.
- Interrupting overthinking and avoidance habits can help a person tackle tasks more efficiently.
- To reduce avoidance and overthinking, one must find ways to simplify tasks and make them easier to complete.
In some ways, these habits are related. Avoidance is mostly about behavior*, whereas rumination is a type of overthinking. Rumination can impair effective problem-solving and lead to avoidance. People who avoid often overthink why they're avoiding and worry about the consequences of avoiding.
I write a lot about strategies to manage avoidance and rumination. One I've been particularly recommending lately is what I call having an "it's never too late to do the right thing" day.
What is an "It's never too late to do the right thing" day?
This is a day for you to do things you feel bad you haven't gotten around to. The options are endless.
- Book an appointment.
- Contact a friend.
- Make a supportive comment.
- Restart a medication.
- Do the task someone has been bugging/nagging you to do.
- Do an activity with your child you feel guilty for not doing, or that you want for them to experience.
- Visit somewhere in your local area you've always been meaning to go.
- Get professional advice you need.
- Search for solutions to a problem.
- Fix an issue around your house.
- Reorder a product you've run out of.
- Use a piece of equipment you purchased and then never used.
- Clean out a small area.
- Plant some seeds.
- Leave a review for a business you received excellent service from.
How to do this, without overcomplicating it
Tasks that don't have deadlines (or when a deadline has already passed) often get pushed to the side. People who are prone to rumination will often overcomplicate tasks that don't have a deadline.
By assigning a day to this, you create a deadline. To keep things simple, do each task in the easiest way possible. Just get it done, however you can, not in the perfect way. This will ensure you don't overburden yourself.
Eliminate mental barriers like:
- "I have to research.... before I...."
- "I have to think about... before I..."
To simplify things, you could assume that you don't need to research or think more than you already have before taking action. For instance, you could visit a state park and choose a hiking trail without researching beforehand.
If you want to marinate about the best way to do a task, set a deadline. Let yourself think about it in the background, but go with the best idea you've had after an hour of doing that. More thinking doesn't necessarily mean you'll have better ideas.
Find ways to finish avoided tasks in less than 5 minutes
To use this strategy effectively, you need to find ways to simplify tasks and make them easier to complete. Routinely identifying these is a skill. Like any skill, you'll develop, refine, and strengthen this skill the more you practice it.
Challenge yourself to constantly look for the easiest way of getting something done and off your mental plate. For example, how can you make quick but effective positive comments when you want to support someone or show your appreciation?
Give this a try
Treat this as an experiment. See what results you get and how it feels when you don't overthink and overcomplicate tasks. Use what you learn to help you with future tasks.
Over time, develop a set of strategies to help you tackle tasks you've been avoiding.
The less you overthink and avoid, the less you'll feel you need to overthink and avoid to protect yourself from bad outcomes.
To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.
*There are multiple different types of avoidance, including avoiding situations and behaviors, but also avoiding internal sensations. For example, you might avoid any experience that gives rise to, or mimics, your anxiety symptoms, like exercise that raises your heart rate. Different types of avoidance are often connected. If you notice that doing avoided tasks provokes some anxiety or stress for you, but you can do the task anyway, that's what you're aiming for.