How to stop avoiding difficult tasks

Published on May 11, 2023

If you started reading this, then maybe you have a niggling feeling that you’re avoiding something. Or you know clearly you’re avoiding something, but you still don’t know why or what to do instead.

Perhaps you’ve even understood the cost of not doing that thing you’ve been avoiding. The cost of not having that conversation. 

It could be anything from having a conversation with a difficult colleague, with someone who isn’t performing as expected, or telling people that you are looking for a job. Anything that feels difficult.

Because here’s the thing: what you are actually avoiding is not the task itself, but how you think it will make you feel.

We are wired to avoid feeling negative emotions. So anything that can make you feel bad, rejected, insecure, judged- all that we tend to avoid at all costs.

But some costs are very high. 

What is actually costing you when you don’t have that difficult conversation? You may want to avoid rejection or feeling bad - but you are feeling bad already, aren’t you?

What is costing you when you don’t tell people you are looking for a job? When you don’t ask for help? You may avoid having people judge you but you are already feeling bad, inadequate, not good enough, aren’t you?

Now consider what would be the benefit of doing the task you’re avoiding.

Alongside some potential negative and temporary emotions, there is the possibility of actually achieving something amazing.

The conversation with an underperformer you have been avoiding could help them decide what they want to do. It could help your team and your business. It would help you develop your emotional capacity to be with a person who is having negative emotions while talking to you. It helps you develop your leadership.

If you tell your network you are looking for a job, someone might have just the thing for you. Or might know someone who has just the thing. You develop your capacity to ask people for help, and rely less on yourself. You develop your capacity to tell people about your problems without being ashamed. 

OK, so how can you do this?

First, consider how you’d approach the task if you weren’t the one doing it. 

It could go something like this:

1. Think of what you want to say

2. Write down what worries you about saying all those things

3. Speak to a friend or coach about the things that worry you and ask for another perspective

4. Do the thing/have the conversation

5. Speak to a friend or a coach about your thoughts and feelings after the conversation

Most importantly, be very gentle and kind with yourself. You will likely feel some shitty feelings but that’s all they are. You can feel shitty feelings and still do things. The more you develop this skill, the more you’ll see you can do anything you put your mind to.

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