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When You’re Stuck in Avoidance Mode (one way to change your mindset)

“I’m not going to that lesson!” My youngest was emphatic.

“Why not?” I asked, pretending ignorance.

“I haven’t practiced all week.” He looked miserable.

We were living in Northeastern Thailand (Isaan) at the time, studying language and learning about the culture. Isaan is known for its great folk music, so we had motorcycled to the local instrument store and asked if someone could teach us how to play traditional instruments. I suspect we were the first foreign family to show up with such a request and the musician was humored–and encouraging.

Daniel and Gabriel at a music presentation with our teacher (Daniel is holding the khaen, a Thai mouth organ and Gabriel is holding the pin)

We each picked an instrument. Daniel chose the ponglong.

“Don’t worry,” I assured him, with uncharacteristic indifference, “this is like a hobby, and we go there to learn, not to become performers. Even if you never practice, that one hour a week will teach you something. And you can always practice next week if you want.”

So he went. He had fun. The next week he practiced a bit, but not enough to feel “ready” for another lesson. I reminded him this was a hobby, no pressure.

As it turns out, he not only learned something, he was invited to accompany the teacher at a local concert. We still have his ponglong and he plays it occasionally with noticeable affection.

Daniel playing his pong long at a local concert

So, what does this little story have to do with that thing I’m avoiding?

Shifting out of avoidance mode is possible when I remember the reasons I actually want to do this thing I’m avoiding.

It’s been proven by studies–and common sense–that doing something hard is easier when a person can tap into some internal motivation for doing it.

Daniel remembered that he did indeed want to learn to play the ponglong–even if he didn’t feel like it at that moment.

Obviously, if his sights had been set on joining an Isaan band as a pong long performer, the relaxed “hobby approach” would have needed an upgrade. Either way, however, tapping into initial motivation is a positive way to refocus and regroup,

But what if the original desire or motivation is nowhere to be found?

Of course, there is that possibility that priorities and goals have shifted–but now probably isn’t the time to make any drastic decisions. As a human being (and especially as a mom), I’ve found it’s better to leave those kind of existential questions for later–not when one is in avoidance mode (much as it is better to buy groceries on a full stomach rather than when you’re famished).

Nine times out of ten, the thing I’m avoiding is tied to a bigger desire than the immediate “task”–and that is where the internal motivation cache is hiding. For example:

It’s easier to stop what I’m doing and feed my family well when I tap into my top priority of loving my people well.

I remember that yummy food is one of their their love languages (every last one of them) and that there was that study linking 5-7 family meals a week to better parent-child relationships (and a decreased risk of drug addiction).

Then there’s holding my tongue when it seems everything in me wants to correct/defend/worry out loud. It isn’t easier (yet), but it is getting less hard to push pause and remember that what I really want is good communication with my people.

Nuff said.

Shifting out of avoidance mode is easier when I focus on opportunities–freeing the task at hand (and myself) from overwhelm.

When Daniel saw his lesson as an opportunity instead of a performance, he was able to let go of the fear that he wouldn’t be good enough. And by stepping up to the task, his commitment made practicing the following week more likely (and a little easier).

Life is full of opportunities.

I have consciously decided I will not allow those things I’m avoiding to develop a life of their own. Instead, I’m going to keep disarming them by turning them into opportunities.

So far, this has meant endless opportunities to practice–with the confidence of knowing that repetition leads to mastery. Every little success paves the way for the next one.

Of course I regularly forget about this new perspective and have to start all over (OK, not really all over, but that is what it feels like). Asking questions like these helps get me back on track:

*What makes me excited about life?

*What do I love?

*Who do I love ?

*Why am I doing what I’m doing right now?

*What is my desired destination?

That last one is a sneaky way to check in with my goals. Just coming right out and asking “what are my goals?” too often comes across as :

“Whoa, girl! You’d better get going because there is this huge thing you’re supposed to accomplish!” Which can also be translated as:

“Run for the hills! There’s a tsunami coming!”

As you probably already know, an incoming tsunami sucks water from the coastline (getting bigger in the process). I’m pretty sure that’s what the overwhelm tsunami does with my energy, because no sooner do I start feeling like a sloth than I look up and the overwhelm wave is towering above me.

Surfing anyone?

Wouldn’t it be amazing to catch those waves and surf them?

Here’s to opportunities,

Alicia

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