In the TV show Doc Martin, Martin Clunes plays a socially awkward, but brilliant surgeon who develops a phobia to blood. This lands him in a small town, taking on the job of G.P. and facing an array of interactions that just might challenge him more than his blood phobia. Watching his hilarious journey unfold has got me thinking about the things we avoid, and the ways we twist our lives to avoid them.
From highway driving to going to a party alone, to flying, we often end up giving up things we value (in the Doc’s case his beloved job as a surgeon), due to our phobias and fears. I know from personal experience the lure of these avoidances (having spent 4 days driving to Arizona to avoid a dreaded flight). And although the scenery may be beautiful on our detours, I contend that there may be some benefit to exploring what we are avoiding, and taking steps to see if that monster lurking in our closet is really as scary as we thought. Here are a few steps I’ve found helpful in approaching thing I want to avoid:
1) Become aware of what you are avoiding. Sounds simple, but sometimes we’ve been avoiding something for so long, we don’t even realize we are doing it. With a certain food, we might tell ourselves “I just don’t like the taste”, or if we have social anxiety “I’m introverted, I’d prefer to spend the evening along.”. And while this might be true, I know I’ve found it helpful to questions my habituated preferences, and ask “would I be willing to try this again, just to see?”
2) Finding a way to approach. If you are like me, you tend to think in black and white. Either run the marathon or sit home on the couch. If we can begin to stretch our thinking muscles and come up with some in-between, me might find ourselves more willing to take the next step. Maybe it’s calling a friend for coffee instead of attending a gala, or taking a short flight instead of a long one, but even these steps help us begin to build new patterns and provide evidence that we might be able to do more than we thought.
3) Be gentle when you fail. In Pema Chodron’s new book Fail, Fail Again Better she invites us to view our failures as courageous acts, which we will inevitably get a lot of practice with in life! So when you take a step towards something you want to run away from, be it a new friendship, hobby, or job remind yourself how brave you are being- just to be willing to try something where you don’t know the end result.
4) Track your results. Make sure to take time every once in a while to look back on things you were unsure about and see how they turned out. My guess? The results will be mixed, but you can know that you gave it a shot, and chances are you learned something about yourself along the way!