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The Power of Avoidance

Somewhere between your to-do list, your personal relationships, and your professional responsibilities there’s a good chance you are avoiding something. It could be tedious tasks that you see as easy and quick to accomplish, so why not tackle “more important” things? Or a challenging conversation with a loved one, and, let’s be real, your relationship with them has existed as it is for so long, what’s the rush to have an uncomfortable conversation? Maybe in your business there are marketing activities or overdue bookkeeping you keep delaying for more urgent and immediately important things. However you justify it, what you’re doing is avoiding things that you know need to happen.

Maybe you’re not the avoidant type, but the topic immediately brings to mind someone in your life. It can be immensely frustrating to witness and be affected by someone else’s avoidance tendencies. As you hold this tension, take a breath and read on. You may find empathy for the avoidant person in your life, and from a place of empathy people can do wondrous things.

We can look at the avoided activities as kicking the can down the road: they are still there needing to be done, but through “justified” avoidance you manage to delay them until they carry the kind of weight and urgency that makes you actually (finally) do things. Inertia begets inertia; momentum begets momentum. When you’re locked in a pattern of avoidance the habitual nature of finding “more important” or more urgent things to address comes naturally, so much so that you may fully convince yourself that you’re not actually avoiding anything, other things just need to happen first. I’ll give it to you, you probably do have other things that need to be urgently addressed – the things you avoided in the last avoidance round, the cans you kicked down the road last week or last month.

Do you see the cycle you’re perpetuating? Is it normalized in your life?

Let’s get to the meat of avoidance. There are many reasons people slip into this way of being. It can be as simple as a fear of failure, or a fear of success. Or it can hint at deeper feelings around self worth and lived values, fear of abandonment, or imposter syndrome. If you come from a high-stress childhood/household, it can give you a way to exist in a familiar state of elevated stress, something you may rebuke externally, but which your internal mechanisms keep pulling you toward. Having 1,001 things that need to be done right now can imbue a sense of importance and can even provide a reason to finally allow yourself the downtime you usually feel is undeserved. Maybe you think that if you do all you need to do as it needs to be done, there will never be time for rest, so screw it – just rest up first and tackle all the tasks later, after all, they’re not going anywhere. This flawed reasoning only digs your hole deeper and doesn’t actually honor yourself or provide the kind of self care that actually takes care. Because what quality of rest and relaxation can you actually achieve with a cloud of avoided tasks thundering overhead?

As a coach, I have a variety of ways to help you tackle your to-do list, prepare for challenging conversations, and help maintain motivation for running and building your business. But in order for you to change this behavior at its core, it will take some deeper work with honest reflection and a sincere desire to shift how you operate. Avoidance means you’re running a story that’s holding you back. Everyone’s story is different, but the tools to tease it out, identify the elements that no longer serve you, and those that still do, are well established.

Start by noticing. What do you do instead of what you’re supposed to be doing? Are you running toward something or away from something? What does it feel like when you’re deciding to do something else? What does it feel like at the end of the day when you roll the same tasks over to the next day or week? What do you do/How do you feel when those tasks reemerge at the top of your list? Can you think of other times in your life when you’ve felt similarly? How old were you? What was happening? Was there resolution to the situation then? What was the outcome?

At this stage it’s not necessary for you to do anything. If you want to pick up momentum, by all means, do a thing (let’s be real, you probably should do something to stop kicking the can down the road). If you want to get to the core of your behavior, start by noticing. Extra credit for taking notes, journaling, or in some way ensuring you can move to the next step: reflection (super extra credit for doing this with a professional coach, counselor, or therapist).

If you do want to get moving, a quick and somewhat painless way to start the momentum is to act “as if”. Visualize either the ideal version of yourself, or, if that’s not available to you just yet, think of someone who embodies the traits you desire and then act as they would. Don’t project too far into the future, don’t overwhelm yourself, just make one choice, the one in front of you, as if you were that person or that version of yourself. If that works for you, keep going with that tactic. In time you may find that you’ve stumbled into being the person you emulated.

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