It’s easy to put things off till later, till tomorrow till next week. .. Till never! This is the problem with avoidance – once you don’t do something then it can become harder and harder to do it – especially if you are prone to avoidance. This is why it’s so important to learn how to overcome avoidance so you can stop getting overwhelmed.
The worst thing about avoidance is that it leads to the very thing that you’re often trying to avoid in the first place, or something worse. It leads to more problems like anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, and stress – on top of the fact that the thing still needs to get done- and thus the cycle begins.
You avoid the thing, which leads to anxiety about not doing the thing which makes you avoid the thing even more and round and round you go. Sound familiar?
So how can you avoid getting to this point in the first place? Pun not intended!
Well, firstly, it’s important to understand what avoidance coping is and why people do it.
What is avoidance coping and why do we do it?
There are some of the different types of avoidance coping to look out for: ( From Psychology Today)
- You avoid taking actions that trigger painful memories from the past.
- Trying to stay under the radar.
- Avoiding reality-testing your thoughts for fear of the outcome
- You avoid letting people down and avoid the potential for people being mad at you
- Stopping working towards your goals when an anxiety-provoking thought comes up.
- Avoiding feeling awkward.
- You avoid starting tasks when you don’t know how they will turn out
- You avoid situations that make you feel that others are better than you and avoid putting yourself out there
- Avoiding certain physical sensations
Whether you can relate to one of these or all of them, the fact is that your life will be significantly less stressful in the long run when you face things head-on.
So Why do we avoid things in the first place when it only leads to problems down the line?
For many of us, fear is the thing that lies at the heart of so much avoidance.
And the fear can come in many different forms. Fear of failure, fear of making a mistake, fear of making someone upset or disappointing someone — and so on, but the bottom line is, it’s all fear-based
So, how can you deal with this fear and take action?
How you deal with it depends on the specific fear.
Here are some of the most common fears and how to stop them from holding you back, so you can overcome avoidance and stop feeling overwhelmed.
- Fear of failure
- Fear of making a mistake
- Fear of disappointing someone
- Fear of discomfort or feeling awkward ( shame, embarrassment, being the center of attention)
- Fear of bringing back negative emotions from the past: In the case of this particular fear, it’s important to distinguish between avoidance and a decision. Deciding not to do something because you know it takes you to a bad place is not the same as avoidance. One makes you feel empowered, like not attending a high school reunion with a bunch of people who were never your friends in the first pace, while the other makes you feel anxious and overwhelmed and hangs over you until you make a decision.
Decisions make you feel empowered, avoidance makes you feel disempowered.
How to stop fear holding you back from taking action
If you’ve been here before, then you probably know that I talk about fear a lot. That’s because it’s such a hurdle we all have to overcome in the pursuit of achieving the things we want. And that’s because fear is part of our DNA, it’s inbuilt, and part of our fight or flight mechanism.
The key is understanding how to stop fear ruling your life and making sure you don’t make decisions based on fear because those decisions are seldom in your best interest long term.
With that said, here are some ways you can manage fear so that you can continue to take action, even in the face of, rather than resorting to avoidance coping.
1.Education and Support:
When it comes to fear of failure or fear of making mistakes, filling in your knowledge gaps, and getting support from others will go a long way to helping you overcome your fears. But remember, you can’t know everything ahead of time, so part of the learning process is about learning how to deal with change and how to adapt when things do crop up.
2. Fear Setting
Fear of the unknown and fear of uncertainty are very common. Whether you’re holding back from starting your business, changing careers, moving to a new city even though you really want to deep down.
A great exercise that Tim Ferris shares for dealing with the fear of uncertainty, or the unknown, is something he calls fear setting.
In this exercise, you imagine every single thing that could go wrong and write it down. Yes, everything that could conceivably ha[en that you’re afraid of.
Then you go through and create a plan of action for what you would do if the event were to actually happen. What steps would you take to come back from it, who could support you or help you?
The purpose of this is to help you see that there is always a way back. Even from what might seem like the worst-case scenario. What’s more, by going through this process you also consider the reality of these things actually happening. What you’ll find is that most of your biggest fears that are holding you back will likely never happen.
3. Do it now!
One of the biggest obstacles in your way when it comes to overcoming avoidance is the thought that you can do things “later”. As someone who has definitely been there when it comes to putting things off, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that time is not your friend.
That’s why the best thing you can do is take action on things as quickly as possible and where possible, do things immediately.
Mulling things over can lead to procrastination, avoidance, and lost motivation as I discussed in detail in this post about how to overcome a lack of motivation.
Besides overcoming avoidance and stopping yourself from getting overwhelmed, there are other benefits to taking action on things immediately.
For one thing, better creativity. Do you ever find that ideas will suddenly come to you? It might be the solution to a problem you’ve been pondering for days, or it could be the solution to a friend’s dilemma or even your next great business idea.
When ideas, solutions, and everything else come to you, take action at that moment. Write about it, share it with whoever needs to know, do some research, and find any answers you need to find immediately because this is how you harness your creativity.
Don’t let that spark of energy which we all feel in those moments disappear without putting it to good use.
What’s more, by taking some kind of action immediately, you will start the ball rolling and you won’t fall into the rabbit hole. Because one thing is certain, once you avoid something once, the pattern is easy to continue.
4. Learn to say no
If you want to really overcome avoidance and stop the overwhelm then start saying NO. One of the biggest reasons people avoid things is because they fear disappointing people or making them angry. Let’s say a friend asks you if you want to go out for dinner Friday night. But you’re having a terrible week, you feel exhausted and you already know you’d rather say in with a book-
What do you say? Maybe. I’ll let you know or anything else instead of no.
We just hate to say no because we don’t want to disappoint. but this is the fastest way to feel overwhelmed because before you know it, you have a stack of engagements you need to get back to people on, none of which you actually want to do.
Don’t say maybe when you mean no
Be realistic with your time, never commit to things if you can’t do them or you just don’t want to do them.
Do yourself a favor and just say no.
I can’t tell you the number of hours of worry, guilt, and stress I could have saved myself in the past by just saying no straight away. Not to mention all the lost time doing things when my heart just wasn’t in it.
5. Give yourself a break.
This might seem like an odd one, but sometimes things do slip through the net, you miss something or you forget. If this has happened and even if you’ve then put it off, the best thing you can do at this point is just take action. Beating yourself up about it will only cause you to feel worse and will more than likely cause the type of anxiety that leads to you avoiding things in the first place.
No matter how long you’ve put something off, it’s never too late to get things back on track – but the sooner to grab the bull by the horns the less uncomfortable you’ll feel.
If you’re avoiding something it’s because you’re afraid. Figure out what you’re truly afraid of and then you can deal with the real issue head-on.
Fear of getting things wrong or making mistakes? Learn, develop, get help. And don’t forget, give yourself a break because everyone makes mistakes, because we’re human!
Fear of the unknown?
Practice fear setting and make a plan to manage any fallout- and remember, it really might never happen.
Fear of disappointing others or letting people down?
Don’t hold yourself to unrealistic standards-no one is perfect! And learn to say no! This way you’ll protect your time and your mind! No more guilt or doing things you hate.
Finally, the most important thing is to take action as quickly as possible. Whether that’s letting someone know something, sending a quick email, making a phone call, or completing a task that takes a short time now rather than later. Just get it done, and fast. This one change will help you to overcome many other fears as well, like fear of looking silly or saying the wrong thing.
Follow these steps and you’ll sleep better and be less stressed. What’s more, you will no longer be an avoider but an action taker who no longer feels overwhelmed!
Lastly, don’t assume the worst. Remember, what you fear is always worse in your mind.
We suffer more in imagination than in reality – Seneca.