What’s Holding You Back? My Five-Step Method for Overcoming Task Avoidance

The picture above is not actually a picture of my yard—but it's definitely what it looks like in my head.

I’m great at working on a task. I’m not always great at starting one.  

I never understood until recently the effect my upbringing had on my ability to get things done, but as I read and understand more about my childhood experience in a hoarding environment, I’ve learned there are skills and practical knowledge I just didn’t have access to.  

I have what I affectionately call Starter Syndrome. I have a hard time getting started, but I can keep going once I’m in the groove. 

As you know, avoiding the start can be a big problem. When you can’t get moving, the eventual result is extra work, late tasks, and massive overwhelm. Even though I know it in my head, Starter Syndrome still trips me up sometimes.  

The one really useful tactic I’ve found to overcome it: 

I’ve developed the habit of considering (or even straight up verbalizing) what is actually standing in my way when something isn’t getting done.

Here’s an example from my own house a few weeks back.

The Task: My Front Yard

There are no other words for it. The yard was a HOT. MESS. 

A storm had blown through, leaving behind sticks, leaves, and unholy tons of crabgrass. (Okay, the crabgrass might have been there already, but the storm definitely watered those weeds!) The rain also got everything growing after a spell of dry, hot summer weather. As a result, things are looking pretty shaggy.

I’d definitely let it go too long. 


“Why do I let this happen?” I wondered aloud. 

Then, I changed the question. “What’s in my way?” 

I let the question sit a moment, really considering the task at hand. I don’t actually mind mowing the grass. We have a powerful electric lawnmower, fully charged up. It’s actually fun to drive (She moves like a supercharged golf-cart.) So, what’s the deal? 

I went through the possibilities, whittling them down.

  1. It’s not the sticks and leaves. I have a tow-behind lawn sweeper that can do the chore for me. 
  2. It’s not the weather – It had been hot but not horrible. 
  3. I’d been working on several deadlines, but I could spare an hour from those (and have) to get other things done.  

I realized as I’m visualizing myself getting the job done, there’s a big mental block in my way.

The Hill. 

The Issue — aka, The Hill™

We live in an area most in the Continental U.S. would call “mountainous” and many Alaskans and Hawaiians would call “gently sloping.” Our front yard is big and pretty, but she’s definitely got some curves. 

There’s one spot in the yard that’s—for lack of a scientific term— a total P.I.T.A. It requires a back-and-forth approach with a tricky amount of lean. I really don’t love that one spot. 

And that one spot, as it turns out, was the mental block standing in my way of getting a really important job crossed off my list.

I thought about the task for a moment, considering that I’d never actually had an issue on the hill (Thank goodness for heavy lawnmowers). It’s not difficult or time-consuming. I realized, It just stresses me out a little, and so I’ve avoided doing it.

It got me thinking about the kinds of things standing in my way, and how I could make a system to address them. 

The DENTS Method is Born 

I’m a big fan of a system. It helps me overcome the mental blocks and avoidance behaviors that keep me from taking care of the things important to me.  

For a system to work for me, it needs to be easy, fast, and reliable.  

When I put some thought into it, there are really five major obstacles that can get in the way of a project for me: 

Difficulty: When I perceive something as being hard (either physically or intellectually), I will find other things to do that don’t feel so demanding.  

Energy: As someone who has a little trouble with emotional regulation, the THOUGHT of a task can wipe me out before get started. If my energy is flagging, I’m much less likely to get to work. 

Necessities: Feeling like I have all the tools for the job is important for me. If I don’t have what I need (or think I need) I can’t plan well and things are unlikely to get done. 

Time: Some things just take longer than others. Feeling like “I don’t have the time” the first big mental block I discovered when I started addressing my past and my habits. It’s why I created the Stopwatch Method. (Have you seen the guide? Download it here!)  

Stress: Emotional triggers can stop me from even thinking about a project. When the task at hand is stressful or emotional, I have a hard time moving on until I can identify and deal with those feelings. 



Now, when I’m facing an obstacle, I have an easy-to-use, quick method to evaluate how I’m feeling. If I can identify which of these obstacles is holding me back (and sometimes, it’s more than one!) I can make a plan to get them resolved so I can get on with it.  

Next time you’re avoiding a task, try using the DENTS method to get unblocked. I hope it’s as effective for you as it has been for me!  

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