Procrastination and avoidance may look outwardly similar, but their internal differences need to be recognized. Procrastination can be healthy, such as when used to give your brain a rest. Yes, it can be overdone, but normally you get back to the task. Avoidance has few positives. It refers to something you know should and must be done, and you keep doing other things hoping it will go away. It could be a dreaded task or a conversation you don’t want to have. At its core, it is a form of denial.
We cannot not avoid most big things in life. Avoiding something doesn’t make it go away, and often makes it worse. And it looms in our minds adding to our stress. Leaders need to face the tough stuff.
In his blog post, What Are You Avoiding, Gregg Vanourek lists what we most commonly avoid, why we do it, and the problems caused by avoidance. He concludes with a list of 14 ways to stop doing it. They are brief, and many you have heard before, but they are worth reviewing and recognizing.
- Recognize our avoidance behaviors—but without beating ourselves up over them – You can’t deal with a problem unless you recognize it’s there – and is a problem. Whether it’s choosing less important tasks until you have used up all available time or waiting until you are in the right frame of mind, there is a pattern for you. Be honest about it.
- Seek their root causes (continue asking why until there’s no deeper why) – There are reasons for our behaviors. What are we afraid of? Do we fear we can’t do it? If so, why do we think that way? Our brains try to protect us, but sometimes they prevent us from developing further.
- Engage in relaxation and self-care activities such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, gardening, art, or journaling – These can be key ways to understand what you uncovered in the first two steps.
- Get support from a friend, mentor, therapist, and/or coach – Support is a great means of dealing with a tough problem and getting past avoidance definitely qualifies. Reach out to the people who will talk you off the ledge and help you get back on track.
- Process emotions by talking them through with someone or journaling – Similar to the previous one but focus on the underlying emotions, not just the actions. Emotions are powerful controllers of our behaviors. The journaling or talking will help you identify them and see how they are getting in your way.
- Divide the problem into smaller, more manageable chunks – Once you can see both the behavior and the emotion behind it, chip away at it by breaking it into manageable steps.
- Start with an easy task to get momentum and small wins- As you divide the task, look for the small pieces you can start with. Early victories create momentum.
- Give ourselves motivations, such as rewards for accomplishing tasks – Acknowledge the achievements as you take these steps, no matter the size. It will keep you going.
- Reframe a situation to note the positives and avoid focusing only on the negatives – What are the positive emotions you’re noticing as you take these steps? Look for these rather than how far you have to go (remember #1 – don’t beat yourself up!)
- Change our inner monologue, quieting the negative self-talk – The words we use when we talk to ourselves are extremely powerful. Give yourself a break. You are getting there.
- Practice communication skills, including assertive self-advocacy – Speak up for yourself. We frequently avoid difficult conversations and topics, including advocating for what we need.
- Set deadlines and goals to commit to action by a certain time – Set a “by-when.” Make sure it’s realistic. Without that you are more likely to continue to avoid.
- Build action and proactivity habits, training our brain and helping us become a “doer” – Knowing your best time of day for getting big jobs done is the first step. Do the next small chunk then and celebrate you win.
- Recognize that doing something we’ve been avoiding can feel amazing, giving us a sense of agency, accomplishment, momentum, and confidence – It is liberating. That looming elephant that you have been pretending not to see is gone! You are ready to take on the world.
You are not the only one who has avoided doing difficult things. It’s human nature. But if you keep dodging them, you don’t build the self-confidence you need to draw on to be the leader your students, teachers, and administrators need you to be.