Saturday, December 27, 2008

Listmaking as Avoidance

I'm one of those people who loves to make lists. I have grocery lists, gift lists, project lists, idea lists. I have notebooks full of food lists and exercise lists, and of course, the "alternatives to eating" list from last week. Lists can be great tools to get things done in an organized fashion or serve as reminders of important ideas. But some people, myself included, tend to use lists as avoidance.

In the past, when I would hit one of those miserable days when I was just SICK of being fat, I'd plop down and start a list. Break out the spiral notebook and a pen, and start writing down all the foods I *should* be eating. One page for vegetables, one for meats, one for grains. Lists of the foods I liked that were healthy, recipes I wanted to try, and lists of foods I hated. Lists of trigger foods, lists of the most nutritious foods. And then I would get up from an hour of listmaking and go eat a pan of brownies.

When I get frustrated at the lack of organization in my life, I tend to make MORE lists. Lists of what should go where, things I should take to Goodwill, books I should read about getting organized. When I'd notice the house is falling apart because so many repairs need to be made, I make lists of everything that needs to be done. But I never do them.

Instead of actually tackling a problem, I've used listmaking as a way to "address" the problem, feel like I am doing something constructive about it, and then toss the list aside and go on about my life (never really dealing with what needs to be done.) After all, it's a lot easier to write

I will:
walk 20 minutes each day
eat 1600 calories/day
eat 6 servings of vegetables/day
etc, etc, etc

than it is to actually DO the things on the list. But it isn't very productive to distract yourself with *thinking* about the problems, organizing and solving them in your head, if you never face the issues in reality.

If I just did ONE thing off my lists each time I *made* a list, everything would be done by now.

The other day after I'd made the commitment to work on my family albums this year, I was feeling rather convicted that I haven't done much with it. I kept getting these nagging thoughts that I needed to get started. So I headed to my room, grabbed a spiral notebook and pen, and in my head I started listing off the steps I need to take in order to get that project done. Clean off the desks, find the photos, gather materials... but as I was about to sit down and make my list, I realised what I was doing. I was WASTING time and energy making LISTS about what to do, rather than just doing it. So I tossed the pen aside, and spent 15 minutes cleaning off my desk. Then I gathered up some materials. I actually got something done... not just another list.

Do you do this too? Are you busy making lists every morning of all the chores that need to be done, or what you will do to lose weight, or what you are going to do when you have time? Guess what? You have time! If you have time to make a list, you have time to do at least one thing that would be ON the list.

I'm not saying listmaking in itself is bad. But how many times do I really need to make a list that says:

mop floors
wash dishes
do laundry
wipe counters
clean toilet

?
Or how many lists do I need telling me the steps to losing weight? If you need a list, make one, and then post it somewhere visible and start DOING the things on the list. Otherwise, maybe you're using listmaking as a way of avoiding *really* taking action on something. Like me.

I'm going to try and curb my insane listmaking addiction. I already have a master list of home repairs, foods, and other stuff I need to do. I don't need a list of steps to take to finish my photo albums; I think I can figure it out along the way. I don't need a list of how to declutter the garage; I need to get out there and DO it.

So instead of writing down how you are going to start exercising every day, just get up and go take a walk. You'll feel better for it.

40 comments:

CJ said...

Oh, how funny! I go through spells where I do this too. Mostly its the family budget! Wow, do our finances look good on paper. But, I never stick to the list. Wish I could because damn I could save some money!

I can totally relate!

Chub said...

Oops!I'm very guilty of that one! However I've come to acknowledge that making lists makes me feel better and I try to simplify them and reduce them ato just 2-3 things that I have to do, or want to do. This makes actually accomplishing these things easier on the whole.
How about New Year's resolutions too! I used to do "105 things in 2005", now I write down 5-10 easily feasable goals and 1-2 harder goals so I don't feel too helpless!
Happy holidays!

Katschi said...

LOL! Exactly!
Let me add "Stop avoiding" to the list...

rawallison said...

I'm with you on the list-making. I can analyze until the cows come home and still not take any action. I will probably always make lists, but I now recognize my tendency to use list-making as a way to feel like I'm making progress when I'm really just procrastinating. List making is not the same as action!

Rebecca said...

I am right there with ya! I do the exact same thing. My favorite part is when I can draw a line through a completed task! It is therapeutic!

Dani said...

Lyn, I'm a listaholic myself. Although I think it's genetic inheritance from my mom. Still...sooooo many of those things on that list never get done. I haven't made a list this time. I'm doing what you suggested...just getting out there! ((HUGS))

Kimberly said...

I do the same thing. I am the queen of lists. The only difference this time is that when I decided to give dieting another serious attempt I made a different list of all the things I didn't want to do - exercise, eat vegetables, reduce sugar intake, stop counting points to get the maximum amount of food and start counting points to eat healthier. When I realized that I wanted to lose weight more than I wanted to keep doing those things then I knew I was on to something.

Carol said...

And I thought it was just me! I cannot believe that you just described me to a tee. Carol

Alexia@theonelastthing.com said...

Lyn, it's spooky how similar we are sometimes. I have a funny/sad story about my ill-fated perfectionistic attempt at FlyLady. Let's just say, I had the perfect list, no action, and I hate wearing shoes in the house. I developed a simpler more action-based system for myself after that. One thing I posted about the other day is that the endurance runners (ultramarathoners who run 40, 50, 100, 200+ miles at a time) are successful because of their ability to break things down into small pieces and just do them. Life is much more productive since I've been doing that!

Nancy said...

Wow! I'm freaked out that you wrote about this and I find I do the same thing! What's even freakier is how many readers left comments on here saying the same thing! LOL

Bethany said...

I am such a listmaker/avoider. Too funny...
Bethany

Dutch said...

I am a big list maker. I used to write down things I wanted to do in a day but have changed it to a week. I would never seem to get it done in a day. I hear ya about the exercise. I need to get moving. Have a great Sunday.

Kathy Ungren said...

I realized the same thing about myself last week as I perused a site with calendars, etc. and realized I would rather buy planning tools than do things.

So, now I'm back to a small calendar (I own a Blackberry and don't use it!) with simple post-its. If I absolutely have to remember an errand, I put it on a post it, stick it to the outside of my calendar, and I'm done.

Hard to wean myself off the listmaking/planning habit, though!

spunkysuzi said...

You too?? I'm so bad with lists and not only lists but starting new notebooks thinking this will motivate me more :)
And as far as being organized, i only wish :)

bbubblyb said...

I'm a list maker too. Finally one thing I did do that has made a world of difference in my house is making a family chore chart. My house has been cleaner than it ever has been in the past 3 months. So maybe it's time to enlist those kids in helping with some of those household things on your list which will then give you more time to fit the exercise in.

Lyn said...

Yeah... my house is full of notebooks, suzi. LOL!

bbubblyb~
my kids are really great about chores! Everyone over age 8 does their own laundry. And the kids take care of: setting/clearing the table, taking out trash, unloading the dishwasher, feeding the pets, cleaning *their* bathroom, sweeping the kitchen, emptying the towel hamper and folding towels, vacuuming one time each week, mowing the lawn and shoveling snow. I am very, very thankful for their help!! You'd think I could get the rest done but... ahhh!! There's so much to do!

jae said...

Oh my goodness, you just pointed out ANOTHER way I avoid my life!! I never thought about it that way! ~j

jae said...

And I also have stacks and stacks of notebooks. ~j

Lyn said...

alexia~
yeah. I do not get along with FlyLady. Believe me, I tried :)

She does have some good concepts in there, but I just don't fit that mold!

Lacey said...

I have a Word document saved on my desktop that has just about every chore one could ever imagine... from cleaning the litter boxes to washing the sheets. Some are daily tasks, the type of stuff I should never need on an actual list, but it's there regardless...

And everyday I highlight what has to get done that day. Homework, shopping, laundry... it's ALL there. It hasn't cut down on my list-addiction, but at least it's cut down on the time it takes! :-)

MizFit said...

so funny as Im not a list maker.
to my detriment :)
I think they scare me as I see so SOLIDLY in front of me what's undone in my life.

there's never a happy medium huh? :)

Hanlie said...

I have the list-making tendency and I'm pretty sure it comes from a desire to be in control, especially when it feels as if my world is spinning out of control. Since I came to that conclusion, I've stopped making lists and find that I actually get more done!

Good luck!

Dinah Soar said...

I do that too...make great plans, just never begin them.

Of late I've noted I'm less 'interested' in weight loss and am more interested in other things. That sounds bad--but the reality is that my mind is at the same time not focused on eating but the other stuff--hence I eat less and am 'doing' on auto pilot the things I've learned over the past 2 years.

Guess this is a good thing? Instead of my life revolving around food and my 'diet' I'm living my life with new direction and focus.

Vickie said...

My therapist and I have talked about this a lot. My lists used to involve cleaning the whole house - rather than cleaning one little part. I know I am not alone in this - because I have seen other bloggers post their lists - what they intend to get done over the weekend, what they intend to get done or a week's vacation. The lists are STAGGERINGLY long and complex.

My therapist has suggested to me (time and time again) that these kinds of lists are actually self sabotage.

So, I too have stopped making them. And I too have started just doing things - often small things that take up a bit of time and can be done easily (rather than making the list).

One of the most helpful (to myself) things I have found is to link a chore to a function - like scrub the shower floor quickly every time I get out the shower. It takes seconds and then the shower floor never gets dirty. Or to throw a load of laundry in every time I get ready to take kids to or from school - the load is done when I return and it guarantees two loads each weekday.

I do keep a short list in the car - errands that need run - library, bank, dry cleaners, recycling. And these lists are helpful! If I drive right by the library and forget that I have books that need to be returned - I am going to feel bad later. These types of lists are helpful, doable lists.

Anonymous said...

So funny Lyn, this is me too! I have even had lists of lists. I adore my lists, if I don't have a list going for the day I feel lost. But I did realize at some point that I sometimes use them as avoidance. Now if a task is something that can be accomplished quickly, I will not allow myself to put it on a list, I have to just do it. I took a stab at flylady too, and found her a little too OCD, which is dangerous for me. I did take away a few habits that have stuck though, so I guess that is a good thing.
XOXO
Schmoodle

Ann said...

What a great post! I can totally relate - but I had never put my list making mania into context before. Thanks for the thought provoking entry.

BG said...

Yes, absolutely. I'm a list-obsessed person. I imagine someday I'll be old and gray surrounded by stacks of paper. Lists!!

sonia said...

yes, yes, yes - i have also been obsessed with listmaking.

i can now see that used to be (or still am at times) a perfectionist. perfectionists don't like working on massive projects without being completely organized, and having all of their bases covered. Making over the top lists of the tasks at hand can take a long time, and then we are tired of thinking about whatever we've made the list for, and need a break. voila - another failed attempt.

this behavior is now my past. sometimes your life mirrors mine so perfectly.

thanks for another great post.

Paula said...

I know I'm going to upset some people, but I have been saying this about weight loss from the beginning. There are many who obsess about the dieting thing, why do I eat, deep seated childhood problems, what do I eat every second of the day, can't dare feel a hunger pain, must have little snack bags ready - but I still say it's an avoidance of actually just eating less and exercising more. It's so much talk. If you compare the way most men diet compared to most women it's like day and night. Man: quits drinking beer and eating desserts, loses 20 lbs instantly. Women: scouring recipes, 15 shopping lists, two hours at grocery stores, plans out little snacks etc. Loses 2 lbs. I know it's hormonal, they have more muscles blah blah blah but I still say we overcomplicate the whole issue. I don't want to think about food every waking moment of my life! I only want to think about it when I'm prepared THIS meal and eating THIS meal. That's the way I did it all the years I was slim, so why does it have to be a 24/7 obsession now? Aging and menopause can be so cruel LOL. My problem is I didn't nip it in the bud, waited until I had all this weight to do, so now it seems impossible. My motto for 2009 is going to be just DO it, there is no try, just DO it.

bbubblyb said...

Wow, sounds like you have organized kids *smile*. Can't say mine are but they are getting better. Yea, seems a woman's work is never done.

Cookie said...

Wow, I am TOTALLY with you. I have never really realized this, but now that I hear someone else say it, it is so true. I truly make lists to avoid doing things. Wow, how oblivious could I be? But how I DO love me a good list making session though! haha, well I would like to thank you for pointing this out, because now I will be more aware the next time I sit down to make a list. In fact, it already happened. I had started to make a list of chores and your words of wisdom chimed in so I got up and did them instead, and then when I didn't know what else to do I sat down and made a master list to refer to for later when I have more time again. Thanks!

Carol said...

Embrace the list maker within! As a long term list maker, I find nothing wrong with excessive list making. (If I did I'd list it here for you). Besides, there are no calories involved!

Amie said...

I am also a list hound. I love the point that you make about actually doing something from the list taking the amount of time it takes to JUST DO the task. But, I must say, I really like actually completing things on my list and seeing the items crossed off as I accomplish them. :)

Christie said...

Obviously, you have struck a familiar cord. I'm a bit of a list maker, I'm with Paula. I've found that so much of my "dieting" was reading about it. Learning about what to do. Making menus, grocery lists, etc., etc., etc. When what I really needed to do was eat less. One of my favorite quotations is from the Old Farmer's Almanac. It says, "You can't lose weight by talking about it. You have to keep your mouth shut." The list version would be, "You can't get things done by writing about it. You have to do them." You are definatly onto something!

Sheri said...

It's good that you observe where you may be hinding. I appreciate the problem of keeping too many lists too often. I've seen that. I on the otherhand am one of those people who needs to make one from time to time, because I tend to forget some of those 'need to get done things'. My biggest problem is I often don't do anyting from actually doing what I think about needing to get do to writing the list. I'm a work in progress getting better everyday.

Twix said...

I'm with Paula on this one, just Do it!

Lists, my relationship with them is so complicated. Maybe. I don't do well making them. I feel bad for my inability to make them, cuz everyone else who is organized makes them, right(?). When they do get made I find that they don't fit what I currently need to get done. Something else is already in play. And the list ends up as wasted time, energy, and frustration. Sometimes though and it is rare, the list actually gets done. Otherwise I'm sort of live by the seat of you pants type. Deal with whats in front of me right then. It doesn't do well with long term planning, like meals because it would be cheaper if I planned ahead or so it has been said. Never tried lists for weight loss or control interesting concept. Perhaps I should look into it. It's a funny thing about avoidance because it's easy to do until what you have been doing blows up in your face. Oops.

Chellie has Issues said...

List maker guilty as charged! You are so in tuned to your behaviors. I wish I was as enlighted mto the why's I do things too. It's a journey and I'm glad people like you are around for the ride!

Lynne said...

This IS my life --- LISTS everywhere - although it is gratifying to actually cross things off; the idea of neeeding a list in the first place is a way of procrastinating.

And, thanks for making me clean up my desk!

Gigi said...

Have you ever written down things on your list that you just did that weren't on there to begin with - just so you could have the immediate gratification of crossing them off? I do! I think I've got a whole other level of list-sickness.

45 and Aspiring said...

Lyn--

Also guilty. I'm always buying pretty little notebooks to write things in. How many notebooks have I started with food diaries?

I think lists are a way of dreaming. Once I was complaining to my dad (who happens to be a therapist) about the challenges of weight loss and he asked me how many times I had tried to lose. I said lots, and he said, "Really? Have you tried to lose or do you just dream about losing? Dreaming and doing are 2 different things." Pow!

What was the first list most of us learned to make? A Christmas Wish List. . . hmmmm

Interestingly, like Kathy U. said about preferring to buy planning tools than doing. . . it took me a long time to realize that I wasn't so much a crafter as a collector of craft supplies! Dreaming about the end product was usually more satisfying than seeing the product I ended with. . . seems like there is more to this that I haven't connected the dots on yet.