I recently read a fascinating article on the subject of avoidance.
It seems that for many of us avoidance is a default behavior that we frequently engage in, and in which we have developed world-class expertise.
I personally identified with many of the behaviors attributed to avoidance which helped me understand why the article had remained unread on my desk for several months.
The article went on to say that many of us suffer from an affliction known as “conflict aversion” which, loosely translated, means that when faced with potential conflict we experience levels of discomfort ranging from minor annoyance to near paralyzing anxiety, and that rather than addressing the issue at hand we choose to avoid it in the hope that it will go away.
Conflict was defined as anything that makes us uncomfortable or any time our goals and desires conflict with others.
Of course, all of this makes perfect sense, as we have spent much time over the past two years discussing the notion that our lives are spent in pursuit of gaining pleasure or avoiding pain and that these two criteria play front and center rules in almost all of the decisions we make and the corresponding actions we then take.
And so often just the thought of having to “deal with” issues that have arisen poses the potential of making us feel uncomfortable and, as discomfort is a form of pain, we seek a strategy that will make the pain go away, and the way to make the pain go away, in this case, is not to “deal with the issue” but rather, to ignore it.
Our hope I’m doing this is, of course, that by ignoring it the pain of discomfort and the issue itself, will go away.
We humans are nothing if not persistent and while past experiences have repeatedly taught us that avoiding conflict may cause the pain of dealing with it to go away in the short term, the issue itself tends not to go away but rather it lurks in the background, frequently gaining momentum and growing in size from a molehill to a mountain and the short term pain we were able to avoid becomes a larger pain at some point in the future.
And if we not careful we will repeat this cycle over and over again, each time dealing with an ever growing issue and a larger block of pain.
But this is not the type of avoidance I wish to discuss today. This is a conscious form of avoidance that many of us deploy when faced with conflict but there is another kind of avoidance, perhaps even an unconscious kind of avoidance, that would, I believe, enhance all of our lives in beautiful and harmonious ways if we commit to consciously avoiding this type of avoidance from here on in.
Today is New Year’s Eve. This time last year I issued a challenge to all of you. The challenge was to shed critical judgment of others for an entire year and I encouraged those of you willing to undertake this challenge to contact me with the words “I’m in” and to report in periodically throughout the year.
In the first week following the posting of that challenge slightly more than 200 readers e-mailed me to say they were “in.” By the end of February that number had grown to just over 2000 and many of those have kept me apprised of their progress throughout the year.
Many have commented on the difficulties they faced in “losing” the habit of critical judgment of others and, indeed, have said how wide their eyes had been opened to the frequency with which they routinely engaged in this practice.
Personally, I would like to report that I have experienced 100% success in my pursuit of this objective, but I can’t. I am though, far more cognizant of that wonderful line all of our mothers supposedly taught us – you know the one I mean – the one that goes like this “if you have nothing good to say, then say nothing.”
So to introduce our challenge for 2012 please allow me to begin with a story.
A little over seven years ago my wife Gimalle and I moved to a new condo and on the evening of the first day in our new home, with unpacked moving boxes patiently waiting to be opened, we ordered a pizza from a nearby restaurant and walked across the street to pick it up.
To our delight the pizza was absolutely delicious and Gimalle took it upon itself to call the pizzeria and tell the owner how much we had enjoyed his pizza.
The conversation went something like this:
Pizzeria Guy. “Bob’s pizza, can I help you?”
Gimalle. “I just picked up a pizza from your restaurant a little while ago and…”
Pizza Guy. “What’s wrong with it?”
Gimalle. “Pardon me!”
Pizza Guy. “Is there something wrong with the pizza?”
Gimalle. “No, the pizza was wonderful. I was just calling to tell you how much we enjoyed it and to say thank you.”
Pizza Guy. “You’re kidding me?”
Gimalle. “No. What you mean?”
Pizza Guy. “The only time anyone ever calls me after they’ve picked up a pizza is if something is wrong with it. In 24 years this is the first time anyone has ever called me to tell me how good my pizza is, and I don’t know what to say.”
This may not be a verbatim transcript of the phone call but it is certainly very close to the conversation Gimalle had that evening.
And his response is a sad reflection of the truth.
In the same way that we have spent much time discussing our pursuit of pain avoidance and pleasure gain, we have also spent much time talking about how we only ever do one thing; we do what is important to us in the moment.
And sadly, for many of us, one of the things that is important for us to do is to express our dissatisfaction whenever our expectations are not met.
And so we complain when the pizza is cold.
Or when the delivery is late.
Or when the lineup is too long.
Or when we perceive the clerk to be rude.
Or when the boss asks us to stay late.
But what do we do when our expectations are met?
All too often we do nothing because nothing is needed to be done.
And this is the unconscious avoidance I was referring to earlier.
We don’t call the Pizza Guy and thank him for the delicious pizza because we expected a delicious pizza, received a delicious pizza and it is therefore not important enough for us to do so.
And we don’t tell the delivery guy come much we appreciate the effort that went into ensuring on-time delivery because we expected on-time delivery, received on-time delivery and it is therefore not important enough for us to do so.
And we don’t tell the bank teller how much we appreciate her effort to provide speedy service because we expected speedy service, received speedy service and it is therefore not important enough for us to do so.
And we don’t tell the sales clerk how much we appreciate the friendly and efficient service because we expected friendly and efficient service, received friendly and efficient service it is therefore not important enough for us to do so.
And we certainly don’t tell our boss what a great boss he is and how much we appreciate working for him because we expect him to be a great boss – which is typically defined as a boss whose every decision we agree with – and it is therefore not important enough for us to do so.
Yes, we avoid doing these things because they’re just not important enough.
So let’s make them important.
Let’s pledge to make 2012 the Year of Gratitude and Appreciation – the year where we seek out opportunities to acknowledge friends, colleagues and strangers for the good they are doing, the year in which we sincerely tell people how much we appreciate them and the year in which we constantly seek to “catch” others doing things right and then take a moment to thank and praise them.
A worthwhile mission, right?
If you think so, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with those magic words “I’m in” and pass this along to your friends and encourage them to do the same.
Let’s set a goal of having 2,500 take this pledge with us.
And then let’s work really hard to achieve that goal.
Imagine a world in which our default behaviour is to willingly seek opportunities for expressing gratitude to, and appreciation of others
If we can achieve this, it will indeed be a
HAPPY NEW YEAR.
Till we read again.