People will seek the ends of the galaxy to avoid that which they need most. ~ Criss Jami
You have a rapidly approaching deadline and have set aside a whole day to get your preparations completed and be ahead of the game. Instead, you head out to spend time in the park, or you find yourself browsing through social media or you decide to stay in bed a bit longer because you have the whole day to get the task done, or you just have to call a friend you haven’t heard from in a while.
Sound familiar? If it does, you might be feeding a habit called avoidance behaviour.
Avoidance behaviours usually kick in when the task or event ahead is something that is associated with negative emotions or overwhelm. When you can’t cope, distractions can provide brief blessed relief from mounting stress, anxiety or panic that sets in.
Avoidance of future experiences usually happen because at issue is that the upcoming event threatens your sense of safety, security or vulnerability. It can be as simple as avoiding doctor or dentist visits; it can become a destructive strategy when tests, presentations for your work or public speaking are on your agenda. Whatever feels unsafe to you can be the trigger that sends you churning into any activity where you don’t have to engage what you know must eventually be done.
Do you engage in any of these to keep yourself feeling safe?
- Daydream rather than pay attention
- Drink or do drugs to numb out your feelings
- Deflect by saying you are too busy to take on a task
- Procrastinate until you are past the deadline so you avoid it
These escapes work in the short term but they can backfire. The longer the delay, the more intense the time constraints get and the greater the stress. It makes the case for facing the task from the beginning rather than waiting until the last minute.
The other problem with avoidance behaviours is that they prolong the symptoms of anxiety, stress, and fear. If you are the one who escapes to the park rather than prepares your presentation for work, consider how truly relaxing or nurturing that stolen visit into nature really was? The upcoming experience still floats in your awareness and diminishes your ability to be present and appreciate the moment.
So, what is the solution when you find yourself deeply engaged in cleaning out your desk or mindlessly cruising the Internet instead of working on the project that looms over you?
Steps to Beating Avoidance Behaviour
Get Conscious – admit that you are in ‘avoidance’ mode and take some time to reflect on what triggered your avoiding actions
Dig Into The Emotions associated with the task ahead. What beliefs fuel the emotions and sabotage your success? Fear of success? Fear of Failure? What is your worst fear or worry about the experience/event that lies in your future?
Breathe into that emotion – send calming relaxation into the heart of the negativity. Hold the intention for the breath to release the emotion(s) that keep you from forward motion
Get Practical – fully define all aspects of the experience/event/task and break it down into small, manageable steps on a schedule that will reach completion on time.
Commit to doing one small step at a time to keep yourself engaged with the task or goal.
Reward yourself for each small success
Changing the entrenched behaviours that have kept you safe takes both time and self-compassion. You began the journey of avoidance behaviours because that was how you gave yourself an out. Turning that ship around can be a difficult job but the outcomes are well worth the effort. Your future-focused and accomplished Self will be forever grateful!