What scares you? What makes you feel uncomfortable? What might result in embarrassment or even a feeling of humiliation? Think about it for a moment.
Now, would you like to do more of that?
We can have a tendency to avoid uncomfortable situations. It’s natural to avoid discomfort. We are blessed with an imagination that helps us plan for the future and weigh up potential outcomes. But this can sometimes play against us, when we over-emphasise the feelings that may come with the experience and not the end result.
“What if they disagree? I’ll be so embarrassed”
“What if I don’t get the job? I’ll be humiliated”
“What if she responds badly to my feedback? It’ll be so awkward”
Do any of these sound familiar?
So, we can spend more time avoiding the unpleasant feelings than we do working towards the goal itself.
Doing new things, doing important things, can come with feelings of uncertainty or even fear. How we talk to ourselves about the risks, the potential wins and the potential downsides can sometimes mean we decide not to proceed.
This in turn can limit our life experiences and we can miss out valuable opportunities to learn and grow along the way.
So it’s important to explore why we’re tempted to avoid these situations and taking these important steps towards our goals.
In some circumstances, our emotions are life-preserving – when fear reminds you to avoid that dark alley at night, for example. But strong emotions aren’t always our friend and if we listen to them too much, we can miss out. In the workplace, this could be volunteering for new responsibilities, speaking up in front of our peers or even having a difficult conversation with the boss.
If we listened to our own doubts and worried about the uncomfortable emotions associated with each of these opportunities, we may hesitate and then decide to avoid the discomfort. That’s certainly safe and comfortable in the short term, but in the longer term, it’s not helpful at all. If we do that, we’re engaging in what psychologists call ‘experiential avoidance’.
Our thoughts and emotions aren’t going anywhere, so how can we avoid them hijacking our plans?
Think about the activities and the opportunities to which you are actively drawn and those from which you ‘run away’. Are there any themes there? Would somebody else agree with your weighing up of the situation? And are you potentially missing out on an important opportunity to learn and grow by avoiding ‘uncomfortable’ situations?
- It’s important to understand that a thought is just a thought, rather than a logical instruction for us to follow. Similarly, emotions are both fleeting and they do us no real harm. They can be uncomfortable, but that’s it. And they will pass.
- Be clear on your goal and why you’re motivated to reach it. How is working towards that goal helpful and how useful will it be to reach it?
- Understand which of your important values you’re living in working towards this goal – this will give the hard work some meaning and alignment with who you are as a person.
The bottom line: you can feel uncertainty and fear, but keep moving in the direction that you value.
This post is part of a series on psychological flexibility, a concept central to our wellbeing and mental health. If you’d like to learn more about this, you can download our free guide to developing psychological flexibility via this link.