Hiding from our fears: why we avoid tasks


Mindfulness consultant and Salt columnist Andy Hix looks at why we avoid tasks, how this can hinder our productivity and growth, and what the solutions are.

When you ask people how they are, they rarely tell you how they feel. They tell you what they’ve been doing, or if they’re really in a hurry, they just say ‘busy’. And what are we all so busy doing? Emailing each other. Checking our phones. Checking Facebook. Trying to keep up with the deluge of information we’re showered with from the moment we open our eyes in the morning.

It’s seductive to think that if you could just be a bit more efficient, productive and organised, there would be enough time to read all the emails, the news, the novel, to watch the boxset, to plan your week, your month and the next five years, to see all your friends and family, to go to the gym, meditate in the morning, cook dinner at home, have a bath, sleep for eight hours and do it all again the next day.

The more behind we get the faster we try to run and the faster we try to run the more time seems to slip through our fingers. We’re running along the beach trying to escape our footprints and our shadow. Instead of running faster we just need to stop and consider what’s actually the most important thing for us to be doing, and do that.

The chances are, the reason you’re not doing your most important two or three tasks right now, is that you’re afraid of how they’ll make you feel. They might make you feel anxious, fearful or maybe just bored, so you run away from them.

Consider for a moment, what one task are you avoiding doing right now, that you really need to do? I avoid planning my week, because it doesn’t feel urgent and I don’t want to disappoint myself by not sticking to it. I avoid calling potential clients, out of fear of rejection. I avoid longer tasks because they’re not instantly gratifying in the same way a shiny new email is.

When we avoid tasks, we’re actually avoiding feelings. And when we avoid feelings we hide in things like Facebook, chatting to our colleagues, instant messenger, making tea, doing easier tasks or daydreaming.

What if all your growth as a person, lay not in getting more things done, but in doing the things that you’re most afraid of? You might be afraid of going for your dream job or setting up your own business or telling a colleague that you find their behaviour challenging.

The solution is always the same. Stop hiding from the feeling. That fear or anxiety is nothing more than a sensation in your body with some unhelpful thoughts attached to it. To face it, you just have to allow the feeling to be there. What happens if you stop what you’re doing and just sit with it? Investigate it. Where exactly is it in your body? What does it feel like? What happens if you put your hand over it and breath into it?

Make the next task you do after you read this the one that you’re most afraid of. Be mindful of all the sensations. Notice your urge to distract away from it and stick with it anyway. Notice how you feel afterwards. It was probably far scarier in your imagination than in reality.

Andy Hix is director of zen at work, a London-based mindfulness consultancy. Get in touch with Andy for a free taster session at www.zenatwork.co.uk.


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Photo credit: Enrico Policardo from Flickr