Christine’s Proportional Theory of Dread - Christine Kane

One of my coaching clients – I’ll call her Sheila – had a project to finish. It was the last part of a certification program she was participating in – and she was totally dreading this one last element, which (in her words) was “a big pain in the butt.”

In my on-line seminar, there’s a segment devoted to completing the undone things that drain our energy. Sheila realized this was a big drain. On our weekly call, she made her decision. That week she would finish the task and get it off her plate.

A few days later, I got an email from her telling me that not only did she finish the project, but it only took her four hours. No big deal. “I don’t even know why I was dreading it so much,” she said.


I heard an interview with someone talking about the decision to leave his job as an investment banker to become the CEO of his wife’s wildly successful company. He described months and months of worry and dread about actually going in and quitting. He described the day he finally walked in to his supervisor’s office and quit. He said, “Once I did it, it was just no big deal. It was so simple.”


A few months ago, I got my first speeding ticket since my teens. The penalty was low enough that all I had to do was take a driver’s safety class on line to not get points on my license.

I dreaded it.

I postponed the court date twice.

This weekend, I finally decided to take the course.

It took me about three hours. No big deal. I’m stunned at how easy it was. I even learned some stuff!


Here’s my theory:

1 – The amount of dread you feel is directly proportional to the feeling of relief you’ll feel once you simply complete the dreaded task.

2 – The longer you put something off, the more perplexed you’ll be that you just didn’t do the thing you were dreading sooner.

3 – Anyone reading this article thinking of some dreaded thing in their life – this is the week to do it.

  • Louise

    Loved this – I am sitting doing my weekly procrastinate over my uni homework. In my work life I have a rule: do the hard thing first. It stops the dread and then you can get on with concentrating on other things.

  • Deb

    Damn. I kinda needed to read this. Can’t finish what needs to be addressed (finding a job that will support me then leaving my husband).. but I can start acting on it.

    The dreading of taking this whole big step will be hard but I already know it will be worth it when I get through it. LONG process…

  • Lola Fayemi / Nourishment for your spiritual awakening

    Great post!

    I totally recognise myself here and often find myself thinking “what was all that fuss about” when I get something done, I’ve been dreading for a long time. It’s so draining. Love the theory and will shift to thinking about the amount of relief the dread is indicating I will feel.

    In peace, love and prosperity x x x


  • Mike King

    Most of the time I dread being bored so I’ve been putting that off for about 31 years. I plan to for another 50 or so. Hopefully that dread won’t pay off in relief when my time comes (literally).

    All kidding aside, you have a great article here and definitely a good point how it’s often simpler than we make it.

  • Laura

    Great post! I just turned chapter five of the dissertation – the final chapter Piled truly high and Deep. Will celebrate with my daughters at Starbucks this afternoon.

  • Christine Kane

    mimi – sylvia told me to stop using her name! 🙂

  • Mindful Mimi

    Sheila? Not Sylvia this time? 🙂

  • Janice in GA

    I used to do a lot of bicycle riding (as in day-long rides) when I was younger. I was never a very STRONG rider, though I could push pedals for a long, long time. So hills were always a big worry to me.

    Here’s the biggest lesson I learned from that: When you’re at the bottom of a hill, it looks HUGE. It looks like something you’ll NEVER be able to climb. But once you actually get ON the hill, all of a sudden it doesn’t look so bad. And yeah, it’s hard, but not nearly as hard as it looked from the bottom. And if you keep moving, you’ll make it to the top.

    Whenever I have a hard thing ahead of me, I remind myself that I’m just at the bottom of the hill, looking up. Once I get on the hill, it won’t look so bad. 🙂

  • Gayle

    Almost done…
    coincidentally, I’ve been reorganizing all my quilting/art supplies throughout the house…and it only took three hours…I thought it would take ALL day.
    And now it’s time to let some of the things go…and forgive myself for starting so many projects.

  • Kathy

    I have been Virtual Retreating this week with Jen Louden @ It’s a great retreat because it is over 4 days with live phone sessions but if you can’t make one for whatever reason you can download it and listen in later…whenever….a procrastinator’s dream. However one of the sessions I listened in on live was “Dissolving Procrastination.” Yesterday I was barely showing up but today I am all energized and doing things I’ve been putting off for a long time. Go check it out!

  • Sue

    Thanks for this Christine! I will sign up this week for a training thing I’ve been dreading. I HAVE to do it, and keep putting it off. Thanks for this reminder of how the dread is so much more daunting than the task.

    And cj, so with you about the laundry!! The socks, the neverendingpileofunmatchedsocks. 🙂

  • Lance

    Hi Christine,

    This is so true, and I know it to be so (because I’ve been there and done that!). And do you know what, even though I know this to be true, even though I know that it’s no big deal – I still do it. Why? I think it’s still that feeling of dread, even though we oftentimes know that it won’t be as bad as we perceive in our mind. I had a phone I had been putting off recently – because I dreaded it could be confrontational. Finally, though, I had to make the call. And guess what – we worked through it all like rational adults (hey, who would have thought???) – and it wasn’t confrontational at all. It was no big deal. And in the end, we were both happy with the outcome. I have a couple more of these lurking around here…you’re right, Christine – it’s time to just take care of them!

  • irene c.

    Just decided to take a break. I have been doing the thing I have been dreading for last few month. I removed more clutter and I feel better. Now I will move on to the next thing I dread. I know at the end I will feel better.
    Thank you Christine for the article and reminding me it is not so bad after all.

  • KatherineME

    I was dreading checking the oil tank for fear it would be low and I would have to pay an oil bill. Oh yeah… pretty stupid logic. So, I came home late last night-a coooold night, tired, to find the heat would not come on. .Called the oil guys and got it filled the next day. Easy.
    Used the last bit of the back up monitor heater for the night. I lucked out. It could have been a bad night for me and my kids.
    I only hope the next time I dread a task, I remember how a lucked out this time, and just DO IT! Thanks for the post.

  • TracyWall

    Oh so right Christine! I felt that way about turning a pivotal age, too. The anticipation is more of a struggle than the actual task. One of my favorite quotes (and feel free to add the word ‘dread; wherever appropriate):
    “There is usually an inverse proportion between how much something is on your mind and how much is getting done.” –David Allen, Getting Things Done

  • JOY (yours)

    cj’s story above perfectly illustrates your points and reminds me of the absurdity of my actions sometimes when i’m avoiding doing something…

    how many times do i have to:
    -walk by that “thing”,
    -look at that “thing”(and then look away),
    -think about that “thing”(and let the thinking spin and spiral),
    -feel resistance, disgust, fear, etc. around that “thing”,
    -avoid being in the same room with that “thing”,
    -avoid talking to someone i love because of that “thing”

    how much of my precious wonderful life do i have to give up…

    how much of my personal power do i have to relinquish…

    how many arguments do i have to have with myself in my own head…

    before i just deal with it…

    and feel the wonderful sense of relief and accomplishment and freedom that comes from…

    well, that comes from…

    just sucking it up and dealing with it!

  • creativevoyage

    thanks I’m getting off the itnernets and going to mail out those flyers !

  • Mary Ann

    Thank you sooooooooooo much for this post!

  • Mindful Mimi

    This is so very true. We often dread things for the completely wrong reasons. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Linda

    In a slightly different vein, I spent months dreading an event I had to go to. I thought of all of the worse case scenerios and all of the ways I would be humilated or embarrassed. Finally, someone much wiser than me said, “Why are you using all of your time and energy on something that hasn’t happened yet?” He made me list things I thought would happen. Finally, the event arrived. It wasn’t fun but I got through it and not one thing I worried about happened.
    I tend to put off things that involve money, as in checking where money has gone and dealing with banks. As usual, it’s never as bad as I thought it would be.

  • lynne

    This could not possibly be more timely for me. Thank you, Christine. Any additional insights or blog posts around this topic would be much appreciated!

  • Deb

    My situation is complicated by the sheer number of things waiting to be done; and I’m the only one left to do them and figure out some sort of pecking order for getting them done. Even if there weren’t anxiety to contend with I would still be exhausted. And I still need a job. While a job may not make me happier or more successful there is a measure of satisfaction and empowerment that would come with being able to take care of myself.

    I do agree that the amount of dread beforehand equals the sense of relief afterward. This “law” seems to apply in a variety of situations but rarely is the sole motivation for taking care of the situation.

  • Thauna

    Great post! I’m in a master’s program and I dread my homework, to the point that I question my reasons for continuing my education. I waste time doing silly things to avoid doing homework and then Monday evenings I have lock myself in my room and try to get it all done in one sitting. It doesn’t leave me anytime to edit or improve my papers I just essentially sit down and ‘word vomit’ (thanks for the term Christine) them out…somedays I get lucky and I get a good grade, sometimes not so good. But I should really stop avoiding. :o) Isn’t one hour a day better than all this dread and stress???!!! Even 30 minutes…

  • CJ

    This blog post as timely in my life as always! For 5 days in a row this week, I walked over 4 loads of laundry and today I coerced my 4 year old daughter to sit on the floor and kept me company while I finally folded it. I timed myself. 17 minutes. 17 minutes for 4 loads of laundry, FIVE days, probably 100 times I walked over to get to my bedroom. What is wrong with me? This is my thing that drains me: laundry. When I see the great big entangled mass of little boy jammies, men’s socks, baby girl socks, husband work shirts, little boy play clothes, school clothes, little girl dresses, baby shirts, little girl jammies…I wish they sold Dumbledore’s sorting hat because I must be missing a sorting button in my brain. It does not want to turn on. How else could i logically know it’ll only take 17 minutes and walk over it for 5 days?