I have been avoiding writing this article for quite some time, but it just won’t go away. These things we avoid rarely just fade away into the sunset leaving nothing but a contented glow. They so often just sit there, niggling away at us, and are a huge source of stress and tension.
Why do we avoid something? There are two key reasons:
1. We don’t value it.
If we’re putting something off because there isn’t any value to it – no use or benefit to us or to others – then that’s fine. I believe that whatever we do should add value either to ourselves, or to someone else, from the mundane ticking an item off your checklist to the more noble selfless acts designed to improve someone else’s day.
2. We fear it.
What’s more relevant in a work sense though, is we fear an action, so subsequently we avoid it.
Why do we fear something or even someone? Our number one fear is failure. We fear we may fail to meet or exceed the expectations of our family, friends and colleagues and also ourselves. No one wants to bruise their self-esteem or even risk their sense of security. If a situation feels threatening in any way and we don’t believe we have the fire power to defend ourselves against the threat, then many of us will avoid it rather than tackle it. We all have a comfort zone into which we can retreat at the first sign of danger. From our comfort zone we can create all sorts of weird and wonderful ideas to provide validation for our avoidance, including what lies beyond and in the dark unknown . Very often we have an exaggerated or baseless perception of the magnitude of a threat.
People who avoid challenges, threats, confrontation, difficult and complex tasks and relationships are often overwhelmed. They can
- be indecisive
- struggle with relationships
- be unable to share their feelings openly and honestly
- struggle to follow their intuition
- tend toward reclusive behaviours
- suffer from guilt
- fear failure; and, underpinning all this
- doubt themselves.
For leaders, these are tough burdens indeed. It is very difficult to lead when you’re struggling to take a step forward yourself. So it’s critical you address these challenges head on – DON’T AVOID THEM.
“Doubting themselves and their instincts
Those who doubt themselves, lack trust in their own gut or instincts, or second-guess themselves continually find themselves far from where they want to be. Successful professionals believe in themselves without fail. Sure, they acknowledge they have “power gaps” or blind spots, and areas that need deep development. But they forgive themselves for what they don’t know and the mistakes they’ve made, and accept themselves. They keep going with hope and optimism, knowing that the lessons from these missteps will serve them well in the future.”[i]
Now, it’s time to stick your neck out
I love this analogy. The turtle never goes anywhere until he sticks his neck out. The turtle is a great analogy for an avoider. At the slightest sign of danger he retreats into his impenetrable fortress where he is safe and sound. I must say, in fairness, it is probably wise for a turtle. But he never makes progress until he sticks his neck out and takes a chance. The same applies for you.
Now to tackle the issues head first
Out with the mirror
As with all behavioural change, self-awareness is the first step. If you’re not aware that you have an opportunity to change for the better, then what are you going to work on? Taking a good hard look at your behaviour is always step one. It doesn’t necessarily follow that there is a problem, or even an opportunity, but you won’t know until you check it out.
A little reflection
This section has a few instructions for you. Bear with me.
Ask yourself, “What is something I have been avoiding?” Now write down the reason for avoiding it, straight off the top of your head – don’t think about it too much. Look at what you’ve written. Is that the real reason, or is it just a convenient excuse? Is it the old “I have been too busy this week, I just have to get that other critical thing done first” excuse?
Now stop and stare out the window and think about the feelings associated with that action. When you imagine yourself doing what it is you’re avoiding, how does that make you feel? Nervous, apprehensive, angry, disappointed?
Here’s the confronting part: Ask yourself, what’s the worst that can happen (really), then consider the likelihood that that will happen. What has been the outcome of your previous experiences?
And now think about how you would feel if you tackled the issue and there was a satisfactory or even good outcome
What am I saying, to myself that is?
Be conscious of your self-talk. Turn “if I” into “when I”, “I never” into “I always”, “I could” into “I can” and “It was my fault” into “I couldn’t control the outcome”. Optimism is incredibly important when breaking the avoidance cycle. Here’s some great advice from Martin Seligman, Author of Learned Optimism.
“To dispute your own beliefs, scan for all contributing causes. Focus on the changeable (not enough time spent studying), the specific (this particular exam was uncharacteristically hard) and the non-personal (the professor graded unfairly) causes. You may have to push hard at generating alternative beliefs, latching onto possibilities you are not fully convinced are true. Remember that much of pessimistic thinking consists in the reverse, latching onto the most dire possible belief, not because the evidence supports it, but precisely because it is so dire. Your job is to undo this destructive habit by becoming skilled at generating alternatives.” (Seligman, M Pg 222)[ii]
Set yourself up for a win
Look at your To Do list, particularly where in secret code it’s become your To Avoid list. Start with the less challenging of those tasks, take them on, complete them and celebrate your success. Pop open a bottle of sparkly in your head each time one of them hits the dust. Pretty soon you’ll get to enjoy the buzz of confronting and completing challenges.
Do it now
Set yourself a goal to face a challenge as it arises and not to defer it. Check your motivations honestly. Why are you putting off the confrontation? Will it be better or worse, easier or harder when you do bite the bullet and address it?
They just irritate me
Say hello to that person that gets under your skin. Smile at them, make a joke. Who knows, they may turn out to be human. If you’re lucky they’ll have more insecurities than you.
I hope will write your comments below and not avoid it because it’s all too hard, or you don’t have time, or your too self conscious.
[ii] Seligman, M 2006, Learned Optimism, How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, Random House, New York