The two bad habits making me crazy

Lately I’ve started recognising two bad habits of mine and the havoc they’re creating in my life. I suspect many busy (overachieving? perfectionist?) women share these little behavioural blips so I’m dragging them out into the light in the hope we can get over them together.

Bad habit 1: Bringing every task I have to do in the foreseeable future right into this very moment.

This one is the polar opposite of mindfulness and when I’m in its clutches I could not be further from the peace that living in the present moment brings. Here’s how this habit works:

  • I get busy. (We’re all busy so I don’t have to explain this bit.)
  • I get so busy I start to feel overwhelmed by my ‘to do’ list. (Again, pretty common.)
  • In my panic, I start projecting far into the future, mentally gathering every job and task and commitment I know is coming up (whether that’s 10 minutes or 10 months from now) and bringing it right into the centre of my frantic brain. I start cataloguing all these tasks, compiling a mountainous mental ‘to do’ list.
  • From there, I whip myself up into an emotion-soaked frenzy, firing off furious rounds of stress hormones to deal with the mounting urgent panic.

After a while, I recognise what I’m doing and I start to calm down. I take a deep breath, a step back, and I try to see the reality—which is that my power is only ever in the present moment and I can only ever do what I need to do right here, right now. And I remind myself that everything that’s important enough will get done.

This is a step-by-step process. It’s one task at a time. So, I write a list (lists always help) and I try to find the three things that are absolutely must-dos (and tell myself I can leave the rest). Most of the time, I’ll see that not everything on my list is urgent anyway; indeed, often I could cross off plenty of the tasks without any earth-shattering consequences (or any consequences at all!). It’s about getting down to basics: what HAS to be done, and what doesn’t?

And then I do what has to be done.

Bad habit 2: Working to self-imposed deadlines.

This is a close cousin to Bad habit 1 and because I work for myself, it comes up for me almost daily. I’ve written about this habit before and it goes like this:

  • I get busy. (We’re all busy so I don’t have to explain this bit.)
  • I get so busy I start to feel overwhelmed by my ‘to do’ list. (Sounding familiar?)
  • I look at the length of my ‘to do’ list and feel the crushing weight of the expectations and time limits around each task.
  • I start to think about how busy I am and how much there is to do. (Often this loops back to habit 1, but stay with me here.)
  • Because every task feels urgent, I assign it urgent status. I quickly work out when I can fit it in, shuffling the hours in my day and the days in my week like the deck of Uno cards my kids love so much.
  • I go blindly into my busy day, not once stopping to ask this important question:

Who is actually setting the deadline for this task?

If it’s someone else, did they actually specify the deadline or did I just jump to the conclusion it’d be urgent in my usual robust effort to please? What’s the reasonable deadline for this task? What would happen (if anything) if I pushed out the deadline a day or two (or longer)?

If there’s no-one else setting the deadline, then it’s all down to me. I am doing this to myself. And it’s a self-imposed deadline. The good news is, if it’s self-imposed, I am the one driving this busy bus and l can just as easily “un-impose” the deadline—make it much more manageable for myself or even drop it altogether (see Bad habit 1).

From there, I generally calm right down and start working on only the tasks with real (manageable) deadlines.

I know both of these bad habits are about people pleasing and worrying about what others think. They’re tied up in perfectionism and over-striving. And we know all this can lead to health issues and burnout.

I recently read a brilliant article on this from Dr Aviva Romm, a Yale-trained physician who specialises in integrative medicine for women and children. In the article, Dr Romm talks about preventing adrenal fatigue by stopping our often endless cycle of beating up on ourselves for not being enough, doing enough and having enough.

Dr Romm says: “Many women feel a constant pressure to BE BETTER, LOOK BETTER, and DO MORE. It’s exhausting them. So is the negative self-talk. Not only is it exhausting, it’s harmful. It keeps us in overdrive and overwhelm – stuck in the on position. We feel we’re never able to do enough, do it all, or take downtime, yet we say yes to doing more, we exercise harder, stay up later to get more done, all in compensation for feeling we’re not enough just with who we are and where we are and what we’re doing right now.

Dr Romm’s article has lots of advice that will probably help me to overcome my bad habits. What about you? What bad habits of yours are driving you crazy? I’d love you to tell me in the comments.


  • Joey
    July 23, 2015

    Brilliant 😉
    Love you xo

  • Sam
    August 1, 2015

    I definitely can relate to this!! I tend to get overwhelmed and then feel paralysed! Good idea focusing on the must-do’s, I find that helps for me too, great post Nat 🙂 xx

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