Are You Afraid To Think?

Seem like an odd question? At one point I would have thought so too. Until I realized one day that – given no barrier to prevent it – I seem to default to doing nearly anything other than thinking. I will respond to e-mails, clean my workspace, check my book’s Amazon rank (as of right now #963), scan Twitter, run back and forth to the restroom a few dozen times, and a handful of other procrastination tactics.

Why this aversion to thinking?

Accountability. I know that every idea I come up with and every new insight I arrive at will ultimately be on my plate to execute. (My already overly-full plate, by the way.) So my aversion to thinking deeply about problems or strategizing for my clients or my business really comes down to the knowledge that – at the end of the day – I will be on the hook for making something happen. In some ways, it’s like it’s 4:45p on a Friday and my mind is an employee trying to avoid the boss so that no last minute projects arise to ruin my weekend plans.

I work hard. Extremely hard. This isn’t about an aversion to work, it’s about an aversion to undefined work. Avoidance, procrastination and the general fear of thinking has much to do with a lack of definition around expectations, both personal and organizational.

Here are a few ways I’ve learned to deal with my fear of thinking:

Plan for it. If I set aside time to think, study, write and otherwise delve into mind space it happens much more consistently and painlessly. It’s only when I expect it to happen in the cracks and crevices of my already busy life that I frequently find that I’m in avoidance mode. What we value, we make space for.

Set reasonable expectations. When I’m traveling or when I have a lot of highly fluid activity on my calendar, I don’t try to schedule two hours of solid think time into my life. I know that it’s probably not going to happen, and on top of that whatever time I do have to think will probably not be great quality. Instead, I try to account for days when I have intense meetings or training by managing my energy in and around these things rather than in spite of them.

Have a repository for “not now” projects. David Allen calls these “someday maybe” projects. Scott Belsky calls it the “back burner”. Whatever you call it, it’s important to have a place where you can park projects that have huge potential, but are not appropriate right now. (I spent an entire section of chapter four discussing the importance of pruning projects and focusing on the most critical work.) It’s necessary to develop the ability to say “yes, but not now.” This allows the freedom to come up with any idea you want without the accompanying pressure to execute.

When you are judge, jury and executioner over all of your ideas, it’s easy to slip into avoidance mode. By being purposeful about setting realistic expectations and allowing yourself to go with the ebb and flow of your schedule, you can prevent some of the angst that accompanies big new thoughts.

How about you? Have you ever experienced thought aversion?

Share your thoughts:

Please keep your comments civil and on topic.


  1. Mark

    I relate to this. I’m self employed and I think you have to be more organised and set your own goals more explicitly. I have become more self critical which I guess contributes to not wanting to think too deeply about issues which are potentially uncomfortable.

  2. steve

    It is not easy to work when the task has not been defined, most people like routine jobs where the task has been defined. I git this writing job and I never now what to write sometimes all I know is it has got be interesting that is when I realized I was afraid to think!

  3. starryskai

    Nice article, I can totally relate! Thank you!

  4. What does it matter?

    Wow, thanks for the post – putting it to the “not now” things.


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I'm Todd Henry.

I'm Todd Henry.

I write books, speak internationally on productivity, creativity, leadership, and passion for work, and help people and teams generate brilliant ideas. More

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I write books, speak internationally on productivity, creativity, leadership, and passion for work, and help people and teams generate brilliant ideas.

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