When thinking about problem avoidance, I cannot help but remember working on my master’s thesis a few years ago. Just thinking about the amount of work I would have to put in gave me panic attacks. So, I did what we do best – procrastinate. It’s funny how easily our mind comes up with millions of excuses when we are faced with a big challenge. For me it was always one dumb thing after another. I was always tired from work; I always had some house chore that couldn’t wait and left me feel exhausted so I had to postpone my writing; or there was an event to go to that I simply couldn’t miss. And so the months went on and I couldn’t force myself to stay on the task for more than half an hour a day. When I finally spent all of my excuses, I realized that how far behind I was with my schedule, and that I would have to work harder than ever before in order to finish everything on time. Those three weeks of not getting enough sleep, feeling tired at work, and working day and night on my thesis left me feeling stressed and anxious. But, more importantly, once I actually started working on my assignment, I realized how much I actually enjoy it. As the momentum was building up, I managed to face each challenge as it came, realizing that nothing was as difficult as I imagined it in my head.
I’m sure many of you can relate to my story to some degree. It is because our brains are simply wired to run away from problems and difficulties. Most of us are so well trained in avoiding problems, that we do it unconsciously, by default, each time we are faced with a task or a problem that seems challenging or time-consuming. It doesn’t matter if it is about working on bigger projects or doing simple tasks, such as paying bills, or taxes, our minds threat them equally if they bring any kind of discomfort. And, so our lives turn into a stressful, never-ending vicious cycle of constant struggle to finish everything on time, and we never get to the important things either. Little kids are tolerated with this kind of behavior, to some degree. But as grown-ups, if we want to constantly improve and grow as persons, we need to find ways to break free from this bad habit. One of the best approaches for dealing with problem avoidance is The Face Everything Technique that can be implemented in four simple steps:
1. Stay in the now
Most of the time, we avoid problems without even being aware of it. By the time we realize what we are doing, the duties have already piled up, making it all the more difficult to manage. The best way to start being aware and mindful, is to start practicing being in the now. Meditation is one of the most helpful techniques for being present and clearing your mind from all the noise. Once you start practicing being in the present moment, you will become much more aware of your thoughts as they come. This way, you will be able to recognize the avoiding thoughts as they start and you would be able to stop them on time. Also, in order to become more aware, make sure to turn off all of the distractions, such as social media notifications.
2. Make peace with the “negative”
Now that you are able to recognize your thoughts and emotions as they appear, don’t be afraid of the “negative” emotions that appear once you are faced with the object of discomfort. Try to acknowledge them instead, as it is the only way to eventually overcome them. In those moments tell yourself that it is okay to feel frightened and worried, but that is not a reason to go and distracts yourself with something more pleasant at the moment.
3. Take action
The only way to truly overcome something is to face it head on. This is probably the most difficult step as it requires us to actually do something with the problem in hand. The great news is that it gets much easier once you complete the first two steps, and the more you practice the entire technique, the easier and more natural it gets. Another great aspect of starting an action is that it tends to pick up momentum and soon it gets much faster and easier, not to mention the self-esteem boost you will experience when you get past the initial challenges. Keep in mind the words of the great Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
4. Get support
It was quite a revelation for me to find out that my friends and loved ones were going through same struggles as me when it comes to running from problems and unpleasant situations. Sharing it with them made me feel less alone in my efforts to stay on the right track and face my problems. It worked both ways, as they found the same amount of support in me. Open up to your closest group of friends and family as they are probably facing it too. You can remind each other to stay focused and brave through each problem and demanding task, and help each other grow as human beings.