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Don't go nuts

By Joni Emmerling

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The list of my to-dos was long and it was not even complete. So with enough on my own plate how did I know to remind others in my household about things that they needed to do? Why do I know everyone else’s due dates, appointments and chores? Are you talented in this way also? How did we ever find ourselves in charge of not only what we have to do but also somehow have a running list for others? No wonder when some item is misplaced or something needs to be recalled, everyone turns to us. Nicely, we are the keepers of all knowledge and impolitely and unjustly we are called nags.

I heard a joke recently on just this situation. The wife brought up an unfinished chore and the husband responded,“Quit bugging me. Didn’t I tell you six months ago I would do it?”

I don’t know about you, but it seems like I can’t help myself. That undone thing is like an itch in my brain and it won’t stop until it has the satisfaction of seeing it scratched. I was very relieved to read that this is a real thing. Psychologists say uncompleted tasks that jump into one’s mind are called the Zeigarnik effect. More recently this has been dubbed NUTS: Nagging Unfinished Tasks.

Those chores that we zoom by every day tend to mount until they become a source of stress. These items can range from an overflowing in-box or that pile of clothes for charity to starting our novel (reading it or writing it). Add to that the unfinished tasks that belong to others but have somehow been put on our list. No wonder we are stressed out.

Have you identified what is on your NUTS lists? How about who is driving you NUTS with their dependence on you to remind them what they need to do?

There is help for our own list at least. We could complete all the tasks, of course. Barring that, the solution to quieting the mind, according to research, is to make a plan to complete the chore or goal. Just by making a plan — a specific plan — of when and how this is going to be done, we can free up all the energy and space in our heads. If the charity pile is bugging you, make a plan to gather it up and put it in the car on Saturday morning and deliver it on your way home from work on Monday. Then follow through, of course. If your car needs cleaning out, make a plan to do it and put it on your calendar. Just making the plan lowers the volume and stress.

Using this strategy for others can be hit and miss. For kids, asking for their own plan for completing a chore would help them to take responsibility and might get it off our minds. That is, if we had some confidence they would actually follow through without reminders! Adults in our lives might not respond well to this, but it is worth a shot. I learned long ago that if a task is really important to me it is better to do it myself. This is very poor delegation, I know, but it has helped me cut my list of what is really important down considerably. 

Our brains are doing us a big favor by creating a loop that will keep reminding us of what needs to be done. When you find that this is interfering with your quality of life, know that you can get some relief by taking a moment to commit to a plan. By letting the brain know it is being taken care of, we can say nuts to all the nagging! 


— Joni Emmerling, MA, CMC, ACC is a certified life and wellness coach. She lives and practices in Greenville. She can be reached at joni@jbecoaching.com.   

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