5 Types of Procrastinating Due To Avoidance Behaviors
As humans, we’re all hardwired to steer clear of uncomfortable situations and gravitate toward things that make us feel happy, safe, loved, and satisfied. If we perceive a task to be “too hard” or a situation to be “too difficult”, we find ways to avoid it. Sometimes we’re successful; sometimes we aren’t.
For adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) however, avoidance can be a bigger struggle. Neurotypical people with normal executive function capabilities might look at a situation and think “This may not be pleasant, but I’ll push through it.” Neurodivergent people will look at the same situation and think, “There’s no way I can do this.” Then, react accordingly.
In order to figure out if you are procrastinating or actually avoiding, read more to learn about the five main types of avoidance behavior: Situational, Cognitive, Protective, Somatic, and Substitution. In this post, we’re going to examine all of them, provide ADHD-specific examples, and offer tips on how to combat different types of avoidance behavior.
Different Avoidance Behavior Types, Examples, And Tips
Procrastinating With Situational Avoidance
Classic situational avoidance involves consciously avoiding the people, places, or things that can trigger negative feelings.
- You embarrassed yourself at a party, so you decide to decline future invitations.
- You lost your temper with a waiter at your favorite restaurant, so you don’t eat there anymore.
- You hid the fact that you forgot to pay the rent from your spouse because you knew they’d react poorly to the news.
This type of avoidance occurs when you have had a negative experience in a certain situation and want to protect yourself from feeling that way again. Your brain tries to protect you by insisting that if you put yourself in that situation again, the result will be the same.
Tips to Combat Situational Avoidance
Identify what went wrong and make a plan to fix the mistake the next time around. “I was pretty hyper at that party, which led to me talking too much and interrupting others. Next time, I can fix that by being more mindful of my behavior and walking outside if I need a minute to get myself under control.”
To work through this type of situational avoidance, mentally walk yourself through a frightful situation in advance. Then try to imagine what an ideal outcome may look or feel like. Then ask yourself what you can do to prepare yourself for different scenarios.
Another strategy to combat situational avoidance is to enlist a friend or family member’s help to ease yourself into a situation you may find repelling or difficult. They could help monitor the situation and give you a subtle sign if they sense that you’re losing control. Additionally, they might serve as moral support in difficult circumstances.
Hyper Focusing On Something Else As Cognitive Avoidance
Cognitive avoidance is actually engaging in something to avoid imaginary “what ifs” in a pending situation. Cognitive avoidance is when your brain effectively plays the tape forward then analyzes everything that could potentially go wrong and decides on an imagined unfavorable outcome, and chooses to distract you from the task at hand.
- You need to pay bills, but you’re stressed about money, so you play a video game instead.
- You’re up for a big promotion, but it requires you to be certified in a certain software program. You elect not to take the class and forgo the promotion because you’re worried that you won’t be able to pass.
- You had an argument with a co-worker and need to apologize for your part in it, but the conversation will likely be unpleasant, so you decide to ignore them, instead.
Tips to Combat Cognitive Avoidance
To begin combatting this type of avoidance, try to imagine the worst-case and compare it to an imagined best-case scenario. This allows you to engage in balanced thinking. Often training yourself to look at things in a different and opposite way helps you avoid black-and-white thinking. When you do this, a situation is typically never as bad as it seems at first blush. Therefore this imagining exercise can make it easier for you to do what you need to do. Other times, there will be severe consequences if it’s left unchecked, forcing you to do what you need to do.
Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness meditation allows you to focus inward, ignoring the outside world and all the stresses that come with it. It lets you feel what you’re feeling, silencing that nagging voice that says, “Don’t think about that right now.”
Visualize things going just the way you want them to go. Your bills all get paid with enough left over to buy yourself something nice. You pass the certification class with flying colors. Your co-worker gracefully accepts your apology, and your working relationship actually improves. Looking for what could go right rather than what could go wrong changes your entire mindset.
Check out this awesome, FREE Activating and Initiating Checklist to help you analyze the ideal conditions you need to get started!
Procrastinating Using Protective ADHD Avoidance
Protective avoidance is your brain’s way of proactively guarding you against what it perceives as “very bad things.” For those with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in addition to ADHD, it can exist as repetition and “magical thinking”. For those without the OCD component, it can look like overpreparation and perfectionism.
- You avoid leaving the television volume on an odd number because if you don’t, something bad will happen to you or a family member.
- You are so worried about the presentation you need to give at work that you let everything else fall by the wayside.
- You can’t even begin to think about the presentation that you need to give at work, because it has to be perfect, and there’s no way you have the time to make it perfect.
Tips to Combat Protective ADHD Avoidance
Ditch the perfectionist mentality. There is no such thing as “perfect”, and even if there were, it shouldn’t come at the exclusion of everything else. Sometimes, you need to accept that “good” is good enough.
Use your logic. Realistically, you understand that the television volume (or the number of times you hit the light switch, or the number of steps it takes for you to get from the kitchen to the living room) has no bearing on anything else. When you look at things from a logical standpoint rather than an emotional one, the picture gets clearer.
In order to combat protective avoidance try some simple strategies like setting timers, calendar alerts, or phone reminder triggers to help you avoid those rabbit-hole spirals, remember deadlines and keep your day on track.
Procrastination and Somatic Avoidance
Somatic avoidance is the desire to stay far away from anything that elicits a negative physical response, such as a racing heartbeat, shakiness, heavy breathing, or any other “fight, flight, or freeze” stress response.
- Your boss asked you to give a status report on your project at tomorrow’s board meeting, but speaking in front of your superiors terrifies you, so you called in sick.
- Your spouse sent you a chilling “We need to talk when you get home” text, so you volunteered to work late and then hit up the local watering hole afterward for a few drinks to take the edge off.
- Your grandfather was hospitalized with a heart condition. You get a call from your mother at 3 a.m. and let it go to voicemail because you’re afraid of what she has to say.
Tips to Combat Somatic Avoidance
Learn deep breathing techniques, mindfulness meditation, or other relaxation methods to help you lower your heart rate and calm the stress response.
Speak to your doctor about anti-anxiety medications and/or supplements you can take to help you cope.
Recognize that the only way forward is through. If you want to keep your job, you’re still going to have to give that status report. If you want to save your relationship, you have to have that conversation with your spouse. And you can’t ignore that voicemail from your mother forever. Kicking the can further down the road only leads to more problems in the long run.
Procrastinating with Substitution Avoidance
Substitution avoidance trades one thing in for another. If you’re feeling upset, your brain might decide it feels “better” to be furious, instead. If you’re feeling bored, your brain might decide it’s a fantastic idea to “solve” that boredom by using drugs or alcohol, driving too fast on the freeway, or picking a fight with a loved one.
- You were sad about your recent breakup, but “sad” felt uncomfortable, so you impulsively spent next month’s rent money on a weekend trip to Cancun just for the dopamine hit.
- You were distracted by your phone and got in a minor fender bender. Instead of being apologetic and making sure everyone was okay, you started yelling at the person you rear-ended.
- The tedium of everyday life was making you feel unstimulated, so you decided to liven things up a bit by talking to people online, which led to a connection with someone you definitely shouldn’t have connected with.
Tips to Combat Substitution Avoidance
Understand what you have, as well as what you have to lose. Is it worth sacrificing relationships, jobs, money, or long-term friendships to avoid uncomfortable feelings? Probably not.
Try to see things from other people’s perspectives. Your Insta-worthy Cancun photos aren’t going to get your ex to come back. Your car insurance company isn’t going to not raise your rates just because you got indignant at the person you hit. And your spouse definitely isn’t going to take “Well, I was bored, so I started talking to this person online..” as an excuse for your behavior.
Don’t rely on the tradeoff. It’s just your brain trying to trick you into taking the path of least resistance. To grow and thrive as a person, you need to meet yourself exactly where you are – not where you wish you were.
Is Procrastinating Masking As Avoidance In You?
Whether you’re neurotypical or neurodiverse, every living thing is designed to run away from negative situations and move toward the positive. This behavior is both self-protective and adaptive. For those with adult ADHD, however, it’s best to use your own awareness to discern if your once-adaptive behavior has become maladaptive and holds you back!
Learning to recognize what you’re feeling and why is the first step in digging deeper. Enhancing your own self-awareness helps you go beyond procrastinating to realize the underlying factors causing avoidance. Some situations are unavoidable – no matter how hard you try to avoid them! But if you’re putting things off instead of doing what you need to regulate and push through, it may be time to pop the hood and look deeper.
As a certified ADHD coach, I understand the struggles that you may be facing. Fortunately, I have systems and strategies to help combat them, too. It all starts with a free Discovery Call. My calendar has spots open!