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Why we avoid dealing with stuff

October 13, 2022

What do you put off at work? For some of us, there are jobs we’d rather kick into next week but we grit our teeth and get on with them. For others, avoidance is a habit of a lifetime that really gets in the way. Of the ten unhelpful patterns of behaviour that sabotage us, procrastination is the one I see most often. So I thought I’d unpick it this month as it can impact performance, relationships and stress levels at work.*

What are the symptoms?

You might think it’d be obvious if someone’s an avoider because they’re unproductive, but avoiders can be very busy people, busy with anything other than the thing that really needs their attention! Beyond using pleasanter tasks as a distraction, common symptoms include saying yes to things you don’t want (or resisting them in a roundabout way), downplaying problems and avoiding conflict at all costs.

What drives avoidance behaviour?

Underlying this behaviour is a desire for inner peace and harmonious relationships with others. You want life to be eeaassy so you convince yourself that if you let the task/problem/conflict go, it’ll take care of itself. You justify this inaction with not wanting to disrupt relationships: “I’ve got things working OK here, I’d rather give in than upset the status quo.”

What it promises…and delivers

Avoidance is like an anaesthetic, numbing the pain of unpleasant emotions that arise when you’re facing tough stuff. The irony is that the voice that promises inner peace by avoiding these emotions actually delivers the opposite in the form of constant anxiety. You know the thing is still there, lurking out of sight like the monster your younger self was frightened of under the bed. It delivers the opposite in terms of relationships too: people are less trusting when they sense you’re holding back for reasons they don’t understand.

Where do these habits come from?

If you grew up around conflict and tension, you might have played peacemaker and learned not to add any of your own negativity into the mix. Conversely, a chilled upbringing, or one where grown-ups sheltered you from tough stuff, might mean you’ve not learned how to deal with uncomfortable emotions. If you were taught that no good comes out of conflict or you’re a good person to spare others’ feelings, you’re likely to be following these ‘rules’ even if – when you examine them as an adult – you’re not sure they always apply. (Ever found that working through a disagreement with someone brought you closer?)

The benefit of insight

If all this feels uncomfortably familiar, I hope revealing what’s behind the behaviour lessens some of the shame that so often comes with it or helps you understand why someone else does what they do. It’s your brain trying to keep you safe so go easy on the self-criticism.

Remember the monsters under the bed? You eventually plucked up the courage to face them and (hopefully) discovered they weren’t what you thought. When we tackle real things we’re avoiding they often turn out less scary or time-consuming than we anticipated. Confronting problems and resolving conflicts gives us the chance to turn them into something positive.

You’re not alone and you can do something about it

I’ve been helping people understand and change unhelpful behaviour patterns using the approach of Positive Intelligence® for a year now, and the most commonly occurring one is procrastination. It’s been so rewarding seeing people kick the habit as they strengthen their overall mental fitness.

If you’re fed-up avoiding stuff and you’d like to learn how to change, or you’re curious to know what the other nine unhelpful behaviour patterns are, join my next free online live event. You’ll not only come away with a name for the things getting in your way but you’ll try out some techniques to help you deal with them. 

*In writing this blog, I’d like to acknowledge the wisdom of Shirzad Chamine, founder of Positive Intelligence®, and thank him for all the things he shares that have helped me tackle my own avoidance habits!

About me

I’m Celia Clark. I’m a career development coach based in the dreaming spires of Oxford. I help you think clearly about your job, in all its ups and downs, so you can be happy and successful in your work.

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