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  • Writer's pictureJack

Avoiding avoidance; or learning to turn into the skid

Updated: Sep 19, 2022

I avoid starting things. I sometimes avoid finishing things. I've been putting this article off for a while...

Avoidant behaviour I'm familiar with

Conflict avoidance

I hate resentment. I hate not talking about things. I hate not calling things out.

I've upset a handful of people who hate conflict – suffice to say, our styles clashed.

While I don't enjoy confrontation, for me, the discomfort of discussed disagreements is nearly always worth the resolution that can follow. I don't avoid feeling differently to other people. And I've found that airing my dissonance has often helped others to realise I wasn't feeling right – most people aren't mind readers, and waiting for them to just know what's wrong, for me, is a waste of time.

I avoid starting things. I avoid finishing things. I've been putting this article off for a while...

Task-based avoidance

I am sometimes poor at starting tasks in a day:

  • It takes me over an hour to get from waking up to getting to the gym less than ten minutes away.

  • It takes me thirty minutes on some work days to open up the software I need (and close the Guardian or Manchester United tabs that I don't).

  • If I've finished work late and there's a yoghurt in the fridge, I've put off cooking (and eating) what I planned to.

I am poor at finishing tasks evenly in a day:

  • I sometimes don't click into gear until well after lunch.

  • It often takes me half an hour to watch 20-minute TV episodes.

  • I rarely have fewer than three books on the go.

Would you be surprised if I told you I've got a handful of books on mindfulness but they're mostly unread?

Being frustrated in others for what I recognise in myself

Some of my online coaching clients are having a hard time at the moment. And their largest common denominator is work. And from hard graft to frustrating employers, frustratingly for all of us, some of my clients have thrown out time for themselves to accommodate more time for their stressors. And then they've gone quiet.

Finding time

I was a mess as an undergrad. I didn't sleep, I overate, I under-exercised and relied on adrenaline and wit to get me through. As a postgraduate, I learnt to use food and exercise as a base for normal bodily function and trusted that if I did a little to a lot everyday – rather than everything the night before – I'd reach the finish line with time to spare and no amount of stress saved.

In fact, when I made time to rest or at least not do – to go to yoga instead of the gym, to go for a walk between lectures, to lie-in on a Sunday morning – I found I was much more productive overall than when I grabbed pockets of rest between tasks or because I was forced to.

One example of this is when I found myself falling asleep in afternoon lectures – having not gone to bed at an early-ish time the night before – and then having a nap after the lecture and waking up – or at least actually getting up – when I should really be going to sleep. And so the unproductive cycle continued.

I appreciate that my clients are busy and stressed and may be legitimately time-poor. But I also know that they've paid me because they want to make changes. So when they don't check-in with me – and a missed session turns into a missed week or a cheat meal turns into a cheat weekend, for example – but they tell me that they'll be good again, they just have to get through this next [period of time], I know they're not making the most of me as someone to lean into when the wheels [feel like they] are coming off the road.

Going alone

One hundred percent, I have been harder to contact when I've been stressed. Writing my masters thesis, for instance, I went a whole week without texting anyone – admittedly, I didn't have a smartphone then, so the temptation wasn't as strong then as it can be now – I just got my head down and got things done because no-one could help me but me.

And while that was true to an extent – it was, after all, my neck on the line for my dissertation and no-one else could run the studies for me – not talking to people of itself was unnecessarily mentally challenging.

Just as dissertations shouldn't be written in a day, significant lifestyle changes won't happen in a week. Both are bodies of work that take motivation, discipline and consistency over time. I know my clients are motivated to change but I also know that part of their reasoning for seeking out a coach was because they struggled with the discipline and consistency required to execute their previous plans.

In the week of my masters that I didn't speak to my friends, I did speak to my mentor. When I felt like nothing was going right and I'd lost faith in my thesis, he showed me what I was doing well and what I needed to change. He gave me micro-goals to aim for and congratulated me when I achieved them. I knew then that while it was my name on the paper, it was his name next to mine.

I don't need my online coaching clients to complete every workout in the idealised way I structure them. I don't need them to follow every meal plan to the t. I do need them to reach out when things get tough. Indeed, across my masters cohort, ability was never a concern, but the people who consistently checked in with their mentors – more often than not – were the ones who got the strongest marks, and, in turn, the most from their courses.

Well, nobody's perfect

I am not perfect. I accept this.

I need help from time to time. And it took me some time to realise it.

Over the past three months, I've worked with an online coach to keep me accountable and to push me harder towards my own fitness goals. In work, when I get distracted, I've set myself the aim of working for just five minutes more, and often found twenty-five minutes later, that that un-started task is done. As for those TV episodes – appallingly for the director – I often watch them at 1.2x speed, so twenty minute episodes takes just twenty-two minutes these days.

Clearly I've still got work to do and my aim is to do a little to a lot of it every single day, ideally with the love and support of my family, friends and mentors.

When I've started to skid, I haven't always turned into it; when I haven't, I've nearly always wished I had.

Unlike my social media bits with Steph on Union pole and fitness or, more loosely, as coachjackmann, I aim to write these posts as they occur; as both a practice in writing longer form content and to give you an insight into the ways in which I see the world. What's been on your mind lately? Let me know!

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