4 Ways to Avoid Avoiding

“Avoidance is paying forward that which I would be much wiser to pay off.”
― Craig D. Lounsbrough

Currently, I am avoiding several “Problems” – which are now starting to create a lot of noise inside me. The endless mental gyrations take energy to think about, they create emotional responses (which I must now squelch) and they use up mental RAM that could be used for something better, more engaging, more useful, more interesting.

The things I avoid will probably not be the things you avoid – or maybe they will be similar – but my point is to illustrate that we all do this. And we could choose to do something different.

Avoidance Exhibit A: I have been putting off going to the dentist for well over a year now. I actually like my dentist – he’s a nice man who is kind and willing to spend time talking with me. I’ve gone to him for over 2 decades, every six months, like clockwork.

What happened?

8 years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer and did the whole cancer vacation package – 6 months of chemotherapy, 25 rounds of radiation. While I tolerated the treatment well, (and, keep-my-fingers-crossed, am cured) one of the side-effects is that I have developed a heightened sensitivity to putting anything new into my system. I have no issues when they take something out (like blood), but whenever I ingest anything new (a new kind of food) or any form of injection, I have a physical reaction.

I suspect that this is primarily anxiety, however, it is impossible to tell. Perhaps it is in my mind, perhaps my physiology has changed. I am certain my brain chemistry is different, my hormonal balances are different – why not other things as well? The chemistry of my saliva is different, which, unfortunately is destroying my enamel, making it much easier to get cavities.

Each trip to the dentist ends with a bad report and a repeat trip to repair tooth decay, which requires Novocain – something that is injected INTO me. This drug makes my heart race, I get waves of anxiety flowing up and down my body and I have near-panic attacks as I imagine my throat closing and I can’t breathe. It makes it kind of hard to just sit there while he drills away. After about 8 or 9 times of this, something in me snapped and I just quit going. I think about getting some anti-anxiety medication and then I worry about being allergic to that. Lately I’ve been having dreams of all my teeth falling out.

There is a rational side of my brain (my therapist voice) that says, “Look, each time you’ve gone before, it has been uncomfortable, but really, it’s not like anything bad actually happened to you. Get over yourself. Act like an adult. Just go and you’ll be fine. And then you can stop thinking about this all the time.”

Have I called to make an appointment? Not yet.

Avoidance Exhibit B: I have a LARGE family of mice in my barn. I hate killing things. I will catch indoor spiders and take them outside. I generally have a live-and-let-live attitude. Yet I KNOW better with mice. You just can’t do that. Because where you start with two, before you know it, you have twenty. And then 500.

I’m VERY opposed to poison, because a) it is a terribly painful way to die and even though they are mice, I will not intentionally cause suffering in anything; and b) we have cats and hawks and owls around. I don’t want to poison THEM second-hand. So it has to be traps. At the time of this writing, there is much snow and ice, otherwise, I might try live trapping and relocation … (but I digress. This is not actually the point of the post).

It would have been so much better and easier if I had trapped them when there were only a few. Now I have to kill two dozen. And I hate doing it, because they are adorable (and I have to say, as they have been eating high protein laying pellets, they are incredibly healthy). I’ve known this for WEEKS. Last week I bought the traps. Have I put any of them out yet? No.

Why?

Why do we avoid doing what we know we ought to do? Especially when it creates so much more stress for ourselves in the long run.

I believe it comes down to short term gains.

It is easier right NOW to do nothing. And so I (we) put off what should be done today for the momentary relief of procrastination. While the adult part of us knows that this problem is not going to go away and, in fact, will only become worse, still, the inner child begs for more time. Sometimes the child wins.

Here are some ideas that sometimes help me:

Enlist help. I pride myself on being able to do anything, but today I broke down and asked my husband to deal with the mice issue. He graciously agreed to do the multiple executions. It is not always possible to delegate the things that you are procrastinating, but sometimes it IS an option.

Tell someone that you will do it and let them hold you accountable. I am part of a Facebook group for writers. We tell each other what we intend to do at the beginning of the week. Sometimes, just the fact that I have told someone I will do something helps me actually do it.

Get more information. Sometimes there are other ways to go about your problem. I intend on scheduling an appointment to have my teeth cleaned, but NOT worked on, no matter what is wrong with them. And, I’m going to ask about alternate forms of anesthesia.

Give yourself a reward for completing the difficult task. I had the large task of setting up a new website. It was daunting because I’m not all that technologically savvy (or at least I was less so before I actually did it)! I promised myself a new pair of earrings that I had been looking at once the site was up and running.

What things have helped you when you are tempted to avoid things? Add to this list. We can all use each other’s wisdom!

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

The Power of Questions

The power of a good question cannot be valued. Or of a good question-er, for that matter.

I am flummoxed at the number of people who are poor at creating the questions which will lead them to the next level, whether that be in a relationship, in their career, or in their spiritual engagement.

Questions unlock doors; they open up spaces.

Here are two amazing questions I saw today via Greg McKeown:

Are you proud of the choices you are making at home?

Are you proud of the choices you are making at work?

These alone could chart your course for the rest of the year. Or how about this one:

What do you emotionally need today?

This could be asked of yourself … something rare and difficult to do. But even more daring and profoundly impacting – what if you asked it of your closest loved ones? And then didn’t let them shrug it off with ‘I don’t know’ … but stuck with them until they actually thought about it and had a heart-reply?

Here is the piece de resistance:

Lord, how do you interpret this situation?

A perspective larger than yourself is often what is needed for break-through and for emotional health. For humility. For sanity.

Too often we stay lodged in our statements and our sureness and our schedules; never bothering to venture out into another person’s experience – including our own.

Notice good questions. Write them down. Ask them.

You’ll be amazed at what positive changes they can bring into your life.

Have No Regrets

Graduation Day

“Well Mom, eerybody like cake.”

This (what Donkey said to Shrek) was the answer I got when I inquired about a graduation cake for my son, who was ending his high school career last week.

Yes, it’s true. Everyone does like cake.

It was chocolate, with chocolate frosting. And it was mostly gone, the day after the big event.

Any of you who have been to your own kid’s commencements know this event is a tornado of emotions – a swirling mixture of pride, astonishment, and nostalgia.

During that ceremony, we watched as our youngest said farewell to one of the most significant portions of his life thus far.

I felt joy – we could recognize his deep bass undergirding the large choir, magnified throughout the stadium. There was amazement, as I wondered at how 18 years had passed since I brought home this little boy, burritoed in a small blanket – one who is now over six feet tall and weighs twice as much as his older sister. I felt sadness for him, as I knew he would rarely again interact with most of the people in his class of 400.

You can’t comprehend at 18 how much your life will change in the ensuing 4-5 years. Its like a whole second life.

Graduations, weddings, funerals … these kinds of events give us a momentary pause, where we get to honor the more lofty spaces in our lives. We are afforded an opportunity to do our very best to live exactly in that moment and soak it all in.

The temptation for us all is to get derailed on temporal things that really don’t matter – what will I wear? What will we eat? Oh my, look at the traffic, or that screaming kid beside us. But none of that matters.

At least not to me. My obsession: are we doing in such a way that we will have no regrets? Because there are no do-overs for these kinds of events.

Does he know that I love him? Does he feel seen? Is he aware that I am engaged and there, fully present for him? It is his day, after all.

Of course, there were small dramas that happened throughout the day and I prayed almost continually:

“Jesus, let this be about him. Come between me and my struggles. Let me be the mom he needs me to be today.”

I think it went well. We smiled a lot. I cried some. There were many hugs between he and all who were there who loved him. He was surprised and delighted by his gifts. All in all, it was a good day; an excellent start toward a new chapter in life. : )

Are You Deliberate In Your Daily Interactions?


Recently, I flew to another city. Right before I landed, I looked out the window and was spell-bound by the thousand-foot vantage of the neighborhoods below. This is something I do on every flight – but this time, I had a different experience.

Usually, when I see all the houses and cars and streets, I become overwhelmed with the population. I think, “Every car down there has someone in it and they each have a story.” Each house has a family, complete with their own drama. I am up here enclosed in this flying tube of metal and they are down there, laughing, fighting, living, dying. Then my brain explodes as I extrapolate this to city after city across the country, the continent and then the world. I think, “How can this possibly work? How do all of us continue to exist? What kind of infrastructure does this require?” About this time I shut down emotionally (which is ok, because by then we have landed and my inner rhetoric is usurped by deplaning).

This time, however, my brain had a new thought:

If I could get a message to each and every person down there, what would that message be? What would I want each of them to know?

(Now each of us has a spiritual background, even if that background is to believe nothing – complete with its own set of messages. But this is not actually what this post is about. What I am really talking about is what is YOUR message, in addition to the ideological one?)

I have been pondering this for quite some time – a couple of years, actually – and the last 8 weeks intensely.

Ever trying to narrow my focus and hear my Voice, I believe my message (at least at this writing) is this: You have a choice. You can engage relationally in ways that matter – or not.

With each encounter, you can choose to treat people like objects or like a means to an end (think: check-out person at the grocery store) or like a goal-blocking hindrance (sometimes bosses, children, aging parents) or a paycheck (any client, patient, customer), OR you can see them as HUMAN BEINGS – with feelings, needs, issues, talents, etc.

We each get to choose, multiple times a day how we will interact with this God-breathed creature in front of us.

I regularly fail and succeed at this throughout the day. When I am self-absorbed, stressed, trying to keep my ducks in a row, I treat those around me with less Grace than I wish. I am basically a nice person, so I’m rarely overtly rude, but on those days when I am into my own agenda, I am not always warm. In those moments, I don’t extend a molecule of energy beyond me that I don’t have to. This is part of the introvert curse. But really, the issue is that I don’t SEE the other person – not really. I only see their shell – what they present to me in their particular role.

On the other hand, if I access the part of me that wants to value people, a different ‘me’ shows up. I smile more. I actually make small talk with the person cutting my hair or the teller at the bank. If I acknowledge that every interaction is a chance to bring something to the other person – even if that is summed up by actually looking in their eyes and valuing them for those few seconds, then I have somehow become more human myself.

On my first flight, I did something I’ve never done before – I gave up the coveted isle seat and moved to the dreaded middle one on the other side of the plane, offering my place to a mom who was separated from her 5-year-old son. She assured me that he would be good on the flight, assuming that I didn’t want to sit by the boy; but that isn’t why I offered to switch.

I remember my own little people. They would have been so uncomfortable and sad to be separated from me – even if they could see me across the row. They would have wanted to be with me.

The mother grudgingly accepted my offer, feeling bad for putting me out. But really, it was fine. As the plane was landing, the boy had issues with the change in air pressure and I saw him snuggled up against his mommy, his head in her lap, and she was stroking his hair and telling him to yawn and chew his gum. I was SO glad I had switched; not for me – for them. In that moment of offering my seat, I feel I had an interaction that mattered. (Which felt great.)

We get these opportunities to value those around us dozens of times each day, sadly, missing most of them. Unfortunately, it is so easy to not see people at all. Unless you get deliberate about it. One choice, one engagement at a time.

Can you share an exchange that made you feel more human? Please do! We all benefit from each others’ stories.

How To Fight The Resistance

Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work in potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is
to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work. – Steven Pressfield.

You know it is there. It pulls against you. It makes your eyelids heavy. It makes your mind wander. It makes you want to check Twitter or Facebook ‘just one more time’ before you get down to what you really need to be doing. It causes you to absentmindedly say, ‘uhm hm’ to your child, who only wants you to look in their eyes and pay attention to them. It makes you hungry for a snack the moment you pick up your paintbrush or sit down with your laptop to write.

Pressfield calls this the Resistance.

I know Resistance. And I hate him.

When I sit down to write, suddenly, I need to check my e-mail. My bathrooms need
to be cleaned. My dog’s toenails need to be clipped. Oh. Have you noticed that something in
the fridge stinks? I should clean that out. It feels like Spring. Perhaps I should get those leaves
raked up. My throat hurts. And, actually, if I pay attention to it, my head hurts too. I start thinking about how little I see my friends now. Maybe I’m a worthless friend. Maybe I suck at life. I could be a better parent, better wife … I am the worst. I probably am not in the best frame of mind to write. Maybe I should wait until later this afternoon when I feel better. And what was I going to write about anyway? It’s not like I have anything of value to say.

Here is where it lands. The Resistance starts out by telling you about all the things you should do instead of this venture you feel called to and it ends up assaulting your personhood – telling you that you have no business doing this thing, because you are deficient, less-than and small.

But wait.

I am not small. I have something to offer. I have something of value to bring. And so do you.

You know how there are things that get your ire up? For some of you, it is competition, for others of you it might be someone telling you to do something. For me, it is when something gets in my way and blocks my goals. That frustrates me INTO action. Nothing galvanizes me more than when someone tells me I can’t do something. And that is what the Resistance is all about. When I recognize it (and for me, that is the issue), I can fight it.

Some things that help me fight well:

1- Knowing what I am using my primary energy for.

Making a choice to narrow it down. I want to be a painter, but this is not the season of my life to do this. Right now, I am focusing on being a writer – on sitting down every day and WRITING. All of my energy is being diverted into this skill acquisition.

What do you want to prioritize? You have to KNOW. It can’t be vague and it can’t be six different things. Because to work on everything is to make progress in almost nothing. Are you focused on being a better parent? Too vague. Try, “I am working on praising him for something before I criticize.”

2- Knowing what will help me.

TIME. ACTION. FEEDBACK. REPEAT. I have set aside 3 hours a day (4-5 days a week) to write. That means, I sit my bottom in a chair and I don’t move until something has shown up on a page. Then I submit my work to a group who gives me feedback. I revise and do it all over again.

Right now, I have little to show for it, because I’m at the front end of it all. But I have to believe that a consistent application of time and effort will yield results at some point. It has to, because this is the way life works. If you want to get physically fit, you can’t do it once a week – you have be put regular time into it. If you want a better marriage, being engaged on date night only is not going to connect you like it would if you were relationally investing every day.

What will help you do what you are called to do?

3 – Knowing what pulls me away from my goal.

I don’t schedule ANYTHING during my writing times. No doctor’s appointments, no dentists, no grocery shopping. Writing only. No phone calls. Writing ONLY. Because I require blocks of time to get into the “zone” and I’m highly distractible. When I get pulled out, it’s hard for me to go back. You may not be that way, this is me I’m talking about.

What pulls YOU away? The internet? Putzing around the house? Letting other people’s stuff become your stuff? I do understand that you probably don’t have the gift of time like I have right now – and up until this year I didn’t have it either. There are seasons where its difficult to even find 5 minutes. But you perhaps don’t need the volume of time I need to accomplish your calling. Each of us is different in the art that we bring.

The real question is – what pulls you away from your art? (and by art, I mean the thing that you do best that you bring to the world. It could be the way you parent or grandparent, the meals you make for sick people or the music you write). Figure out what hinders your forward movement and don’t just fight it a la will power – come up with a way to actually address and deal with the hindrance.

Another thing that saps my energy and dissuades me is conflict. I cannot access my deep heart when I am upset. I feel this part of me is integral to my creativity. So I avoid conflictual situations that I can have no bearing on. I stay out of political wrangling. I avoid theological bantering. I’m not interested in being loudly opinionated about anything. I am not saying I don’t have strong convictions – I do. But there is a time and a place where my words and voice accomplish something – I’m all for that. But ineffectual energy, hissing out of my soul like a tire losing air – that is not good use of me. It serves no one and it’s exhausting.

What do you need to curtail in order to focus your energy?

4 – Knowing who has your back.

I need people who remind me that I can do it. People who encourage me and who tell me that they love me. People who are excited about my latest venture and can say, “I see you succeeding” – even when I can’t. Especially when I can’t.

Do you know who your people are? The ones who will gently hold you accountable and who will love you? If you don’t have people like that in your life, the way to acquire them is to start BEING that person for someone else.

5- Knowing who is ultimately in control.

I believe in a God who designed me for something. And when I live out that best
version of me, when I live out God’s breath in me … I am most fully alive and shed positive
light onto what it is to have a relationship with Him.

So I pray.

For insight. For my path to intersect with people smarter and more talented than I am. For strength to fight the Resistance. For love to give to people well with my limited time. For ears to hear Him and a will to respond. For growth and maturity.

I pray for courage to live out the me I was designed to be.