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Addiction To Getting Things Done

By Dr. Margaret Paul
January 21, 2013

Discover when getting things done is healthy, and when it is unhealthy and obsessive.

There are many addictive ways that most of us have learned to avoid our painful feelings, and focusing on getting things done is often one of these ways.

It's not that there is anything wrong with getting things done. Most of us have a lot that we need to do and we may feel stressed when we don't get done what we need to do. It is certainly not addictive to make lists and be self-disciplined enough to follow through on our lists.

Whether or not it is addictive depends on your intent. If your intent is to be a responsible self-disciplined adult, then getting things done is healthy, loving action toward yourself. But when your intent is to use your list and obsessively getting things done as a way to avoid responsibility for your feelings, then it becomes addictive.

Ryan was addicted to getting things done. Each morning he would make his list and then obsessively focus on crossing everything off. If his children needed something from him – too bad. He was busy. If his wife needed help – well she would have to find it elsewhere. He was too busy. If he felt alone, sad, empty inside or lonely, focusing on his list was the way he avoided these difficult feelings.

At the end of the day, Ryan wondered why he didn't feel fulfilled – why he felt so empty inside. As we explored his addiction to getting things done in our Skype session, Ryan said, "My lists make me feel safe from feelings."

Safe from feelings. Why did Ryan need to feel safe from feelings? What was so unsafe about feeling his feelings?

Actually, I understood why his feelings felt unsafe. When I was growing up in my family, painful feelings were avoided at all costs. Because my parents had no healthy ways of managing their painful feelings, they also could not handle mine. I was rejected if I felt anything but happy. My mother managed her painful feelings with anger at me and my father, while my father managed his painful feelings by shutting down.

Ryan had a similar experience as he was growing up. His mother managed her painful feelings with incessant self-judgment, while his father numbed out, shutting down his feelings. Of course, Ryan learned to do the same things – judging his feelings and shutting down to them. However, because he didn't want to end up poor like his parents, he also learned to use lists and getting things done as a way of avoiding his feelings. While this worked for him to create a successful business, it did not work to create inner peace, joy or successful relationships with his wife and children.

Anything can become an addiction – depending on your intent. When your intent is to avoid responsibility for your feelings – rather than learn Inner Bonding and practice learning from your feelings rather than avoiding them – you will find many addictive ways of avoiding.

Learning to compassionately embrace all painful feelings, with acceptance toward them and the intent to learn from them, is what you need to do to move beyond being addicted to getting things done or to any other addictive way of avoiding your feelings.

Start today by practicing being compassionately present in your body with your feelings, embracing all feelings as informational. Imagine your feelings as a child within who needs compassionate acceptance rather than judgment. Instead of rejecting that child, welcome him or her as valuable to you, a source of inner guidance regarding whether you are being loving or unloving toward yourself, whether others are being loving or unloving with you, or whether a situation is safe or unsafe for you. If you practice this consistently, you will find your addiction to getting things done, as well as many other addictions, falling away.


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