As humans, we are not perfect; some of us may have ideal behaviors that allow us to handle many different situations smoothly, but more likely than not, we each have at least one maladaptive behavior that could be improved. The desire to change, however, depends on the individual.
In a self-modification program, we have the ability to be our own change agents. When looking at my life and assessing behaviors that may cause conflict in my professional and/or personal life, I came to the realization that I avoid situations or tasks that seem too stressful, causing tasks to accumulate and become more difficult to complete. This realization came to me just a few weeks back during my move from Washington to California. Completing a move is not just changing locations from one state to another; it’s changing insurance, getting new jobs, setting up a new apartment, changing addresses for banks, mail, credit cards, etc. Moving and getting a new job are two huge life events, and the tasks that follow can cause extreme stress.
One at a time, many people are able to accomplish tasks in a timely manner as to not let them pile up. I have observed this behavior, as my husband accomplishes tasks immediately freeing him for any other tasks or situations that may arise. On the contrary, instead of completing tasks one at a time, I shut down. I push these tasks off because the feeling of stress permeates at the thought of too many items needing to be done at once. I believe that my avoidance is much stronger if there are other life events going on at the same time. The use of a credit card would be a perfect analogy for the difference in task-completing behaviors, with transactions representing tasks and interest/paying money representing stress. For someone who does not avoid (like my husband), his or her credit card would be paid off every month, and in fact would be paid off after each transaction. My credit card, on the other hand, would start to accumulate interest and cause me to pay more money because it would not be paid off in full each month. The amount of interest and fees would continue to pile up, just as my stress would increase with the amount of tasks I avoid completing.
My avoidance behavior is maladaptive because it hinders me from finishing tasks that must be accomplished as part of being a productive adult with responsibilities. Not only does it inhibit me from functioning in a productive manner, but it also brings about negative feelings and emotions such as distress and anxiety. In critiquing myself, I realize that avoidance feeds the stress. When I avoid tasks due to stress, I am adding more time, energy, and overall stress to the situation making it worse than it needs to be. Fortunately, my husband is a positive role model for appropriate task-completing behaviors because he sees what needs to be done and conquers it without hesitation. I, too, would like to look at a list of tasks and complete them one at a time without avoidance.
In order to change my maladaptive behavior, I would need to remember the essential components of a self-modification program: self-assessment, self-reinforcement and self-monitoring. Since I am a visual learner, I think that a logical starting point would be to list all the tasks that I need to complete. Then, I would set a goal for myself. For example, if it’s Monday and I have 10 important tasks that need to be accomplished before Friday, I would set a goal to complete at least 2 tasks per day. If I reach my goal, I would reward myself with something that makes me happy, like watching a favorite show I recorded. If I do not accomplish my goal for the day, I do not reward myself, and I would need to add the avoided tasks to the list of tasks for the next day. Each day, I would have to self-assess and determine if my behavior deserves a reward. When I start to feel the desire to avoid, I need to think of ???Grandma’s Rule which reminds me that I must accomplish the ???boring (and typically avoided) tasks before I can enjoy the fun ???payoff activity.
I would also need to monitor myself and collect data on my behavior. An effective way to do this would be to create a chart that separates days and tasks. I could highlight up to the amount of tasks needed for each day; if I complete a task, I would write a check mark. If I do not complete a task, I would write an ???x. If I do not receive a check mark in all boxes for the given day, I did not meet my goal and therefore would not reward myself. Although my example of accomplishing two tasks per day in one week requires me to do very little, it is an accomplishable goal. Starting small can heed great results and encourage me to succeed; as I progress through curbing my avoidance behavior, I can increase the difficulty and/or the amount of tasks to be accomplished. I may also decrease the frequency of the reward (i.e. rewarding myself after the 5 days of completing all tasks) as a means to shift from external to internal motivation. By using a self-modification to change my maladaptive behavior of avoidance, I am training myself to take responsibility for my actions and am slowly become self-reliant.