Beating the twin monsters of Avoidance and Rumination

“GRRR! Monstruos // GRRR! Monsters” by Mauro Sanjines is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0 

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Read on if:

  • You ever duck or avoid doing something important because it feels too scary
  • You ever spend too much time over thinking things rather than taking action
  • You’ve said “things will be better from now on if I only”… a lot of times

If so you’ve probably been afflicted by the twin monsters of Avoidance and Rumination.  They are fiendish beasts.

From my work with high achievers and entrepreneurs, these monsters are widespread and wreak havoc for many people.   However it is possible to harness their power for creativity and impact instead. 

The wicked monster of avoidance has haunted my life for as long as I can remember.  But until recently I didn’t have the words to understand it.  It’s stopped me from talking about myself, taking risks and matching my actions to my words.  This monster has fed on my own insecurities about whether I’m good enough.  It’s also unnaturally obsessed with the idea that I’ll be rejected and ostracized if I share my true self with the world. 

When this beast starts stomping around it strikes me dumb with fear and leaves me sitting stock still.  And it’s partner in crime rumination comes out to join the party.  Full of anxiety about how avoidance is making me fail or mess up, my conscious brain starts to whirr with endless thoughts.  It feels like being locked inside of a washing machine on spin cycle.  There’s questioning of myself and what is going on, confirmation that I’m failing, bargaining about how I can get myself out this mess, endless (ENDLESS) plans. 

The rumination monster often leads me into a cycle of planning and strategizing.  This is like a comfort blanket for the fearful part of me.  I devise ways to be better, I look for the new solution that is going to change things, I reset my boundaries, I try to find some underlying mission that makes sense of my experience.  Minutes, hours and days can fly by.  This phase leads to the old classic “starting from now I’m going to …”.  Whether it’s “keep life simple”, “really go for it”, “focus on compassion”, “be open with my emotions”.   There have been so many over the years and they give me temporary balm from the pain of living with myself.

Yet this constantly changing hurly-burly of new ambitions, goals and resolutions never last.  They get taken out onto the road and promptly smash into the first lamppost we encounter.  When the new challenge gets scary, I get those anxious feeling all over again.  And guess what is raising it’s head again?  You got it, my old friend avoidance.  Suddenly that to-do list looks mighty scary, those actions you promised you’d do will put you in the spotlight of judgment.  Time to dive for cover again and get back under the duvet.

And so the cycle has continued.  For years.  And years.  And years….

The thing that drives me nuts is that this hasn’t stopped me at all from living an objectively good and useful life.  I still manage to get a lot done, help my clients no end, learn a lot and be a good father, husband and human (most of the time).  But it’s wasted SO MUCH of my internal energy on half-started ideas and projects that have hit the road.

Working with your Monsters

Don’t kill your monsters – use their power for good”

So what do we do as heroic knights to beat these challenges?  Like many fairy stories, there is a twist in the tale.  The obvious answer is to get out our swords and slay the foul creatures.  They blighted our life, surely they deserve to feel our wrath?  Sadly, this is the equivalent of stabbing ourselves and causes more injury and than cure.

I’ve worked hard in the last few months to find a more holistic way.  Instead of killing them, I want to use their awesome powers for good.  It takes courage and isn’t always easy.  However I’m starting to see a real change. 

Here are the steps that have helped me a lot:

  1. Name it to Tame It – I’ve found that the first step is actually to recognize exactly what is going on.  Seeing this cycle playing out in glorious technicolour and finding the language I’ve shared with you has given me anew perspective on what is going on.  Now I can say “Hello Avoidance” and smile about it.
  2. Befriend the Beast – I’ve spent time to understand where these things come from.  I was bullied at primary school and this horrible experience made me terrified of being judged.  My response then was to make myself invisible and avoid anything that puts me in the spotlight.  Avoidance then was my friend and helped to keep the younger me very safe – not a scary monster at all.
  3. Put it in Context – now I know this, I realize that avoidance is a child story from the age of 7.  It was my way of surviving a tough moment and it’s just become a folk story I tell in situations that look like I might be judged.  Now when I feel anxiety and avoidance I can tell myself – “these are the feelings of the seven year old me, not my grown up self”.  I’ve done the same with rumination which came from an adolescence of low self-confidence and feeling unable to influence the world at that time.   This is my teenage story or response.
  4. Get the Monster onto your Team Today – now I know that this monster is bringing energy because the situation is important to me.  As my adult self I can ask the energy that went into avoidance or rumination (and trust me that is a lot of energy) to help me push through the anxiety and take bold action.  It can be very powerful to ask for help and harness this force to do things that feel super challenging.  Suddenly I have two beasts in my corner supporting my ambitions and pushing me to move forward.

I’d love to say that this process has been a total cure.  Of course not, but as I continue to work through it day after day I’ve seen me being bolder in taking action and doing a lot less ruminating.  It’s so empowering and I feel emboldened by having such powerful allies in my corner as I take on my next challenges.  Rather than saying ‘this time I’m going to”, I’ve actually started to regularly do it – and that feels amazing.

Whatever your challenge, be it scaling a business or living a happy life, I hope that you can apply this to your circumstances and find a way to unpack that potential that sits inside you.  This approach is so powerful and can feel life changing.  So go tame your monsters and build your dreams.

With love

Phil

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