What are you Avoiding? And, why avoiding difficulties doesn’t work — Lionesses of Africa

by Safiyyah Boolay-Jappie

Avoidance is one of the more sinister patterns that we adopt. Firstly, by avoiding the discomfort we’re trying to escape, we ironically make it permanent in our lives. Secondly, as a function of avoidance, we make our power to improve our situation invisible to ourselves. We make the cycle of pain and avoidance perpetual and even permanent for ourselves.

If avoidance is something you practice, please know that you are NOT ALONE in this. We, ALL OF US, are highly skilled at avoiding things. We don’t even consciously set out to be avoidant. We might start out simply procrastinating .. which over time can develop into full-blown avoidance.

We must remember that our core responses to uncomfortable, challenging and fearful situations, is fight, flight, freeze, and appease. We develop these strategies well before our ability to communicate or to reason logically has developed. BECAUSE we develop these strategies at such a young age, we are pretty powerless in most situations. As a result, the avoidance patterns of freeze and appease becomes an almost automatic response in so many situations.

As such, our minds present less as “thinking machines” and more like “distraction & avoidance machines.” And the incredible thing is that we aren’t even usually aware that we’re avoiding thinking about something.

Avoidance presents in countless different ways:

  • We are constantly checking messages, news feeds, notifications … to avoid doing something we don’t want to face or that is just awkward and uncomfortable … however minor the discomfort may be.

  • When we’re facing difficulties in life, that we are fully capable of overcoming with some effort and possibly some inconvenience or discomfort, we persuade ourselves that’s it’s OK because of whatever reason our mind manufactures, or we get busy with some activity or numbing agent (like alcohol) so we don’t have to face the difficulties.

  • When a problem comes up, our reaction is to want to go do something else, put it off.

  • We put off paying bills, doing taxes, dealing with long emails, dealing with clutter, because we don’t want to face the awkwardness, discomfort, or focus required.

  • We put off exercise because it’s uncomfortable or because there is something else, we register as more enjoyable.

There are thousands and thousands of examples, every day, that come up and that we don’t even notice, because they are parts of our patterns that have become invisible to us over time.

Try this right now: pause for a minute and think about what difficulty you’re avoiding thinking about right now. You will either notice a difficulty you don’t like, or your mind will quickly turn to doing something else before the minute is up.

Avoidance Doesn’t Work

Our minds are magnificent in their design. As I mentioned earlier, our minds are designed to keep us safe from even the tiniest discomfort, It wants to flee from whatever discomfort, pain, or difficulty we’re facing … and this is a good strategy for temporarily not having to deal with difficulty and pain. So in the present moment, we might feel some temporary relief.

But what it does is create a life of running

A life of distraction and never facing what is troubling us and keeping us from the ease, the comfort, and the growth we seek. In our busyness and in our distractedness, we simply don’t learn to deal with what’s inside us, and with what is ahead of us. Consequently, we remain at the mercy of our fears, of our discomforts, and the unwanted feelings that travel through us almost constantly. We find ourselves not too different from the child versions of ourselves who would rather do ANYTHING than the chore of hard work. And so, we avoid the important work until it becomes unbearably painful. The same is true of exercise, healthy eating, finances, clutter, relationships, and more. In the end, we still have to deal with these things, except that by the time we do, it’s gotten much worse. It would have been better to face them early on when they weren’t such a big deal.

The Face Everything Technique

This technique is based on the idea that it’s better to be aware of things, and to deal with them like an adult, instead of running. And if we do, none of it’s that big of a deal.

Here’s how it works:

1. Create awareness by asking, “What am I doing right now?” Throughout the day, set reminders or put little notes that remind you to ask, “What am I doing right now?” The answer might be, “Checking Facebook,” or “Switching to a new browser tab,” or “Eating some chips.” Something simple and mundane like that, but just ask yourself what you’re doing, to start to bring awareness.

2. Next, ask yourself, “What am I avoiding?” When things get difficult or uncomfortable, we automatically switch to something else. We run. We avoid, like crazy. You’re doing it all day long, but not realizing it. Ask what you’re avoiding: some fear, some difficult task, some difficult emotion, some discomfort, or just staying present in the current moment? Name what you’re avoiding.

3. Now face it. Just stay with this fear, discomfort, difficulty, in the present moment. Not your story about it that you’re telling yourself in your head, but the actual physical feeling in your body in the present moment. How bad is it? You’ll find that it’s No Big Deal. Stay with it for a little longer. And a little longer after that — challenge yourself.

4. Take appropriate action. Now that you’ve faced it and have seen that it’s not such a big deal, you can act like an adult rather than a little child: you can decide what the best action is right now. If you’re afraid of doing some task, but you’ve faced it and seen that the fear is not such a big deal … you can remind yourself that the task will benefit you and others and is much more important than your little fear. If you’re avoiding a difficult conversation with someone because you’re angry, you can see that the anger and offense is not such a big deal, and you can talk to the person calmly and appropriately, with empathy and compassion, and figure out a solution.

Granted, not all your problems will be resolved simply as a result of this approach. At times, you will be challenged to do significant inner work to overcome some of the self-limiting beliefs you may have adopted that created your problem in the first place.  What I do know, is that zero of your problems will shift if they remain concealed by your consciousness.

Over time, by confronting the things you have become accustomed to avoiding, you will develop the fitness needed to sit with and to work through the things and the patterns of behaviour that keeps you from your growth, your ease and your sense of fulfilment. Over time, you will relieve yourself of regret and shame.

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