Stop Running Away From Yourself
Learn how to take the next step, when you can’t confront your problems.
Do you ever feel like you’re trying to hide your face from … no one? Or maybe from yourself, it’s hard to tell. You feel ashamed, alone, frustrated, avoidant.
You want to hide; from who? Everyone. No one. Agh!
So you do something comfortable for the moment, something mentally absorbing. Message that friend you always message, play that game you always play, listen to that podcast you love so much.
The distraction helps. It feels good to be busy.
But you know that you shouldn’t be distracting yourself. You should be thinking, journaling, working, writing, crying… Whatever it is you should be doing, you just can’t quite muster the courage.
Why? You don’t know. You wish you knew.
Maybe you can remember a time it wasn’t like this. You remember how things were different, then. So you try to make your life resemble the one you had when things were better.
You thought it would help, but oddly, it doesn’t. It’s not getting easier, you can’t go back. Things aren’t like they used to be. It’s different. You feel different.
Now you’re ashamed again. You can’t recognize the problem because you’re too busy distracting yourself, imitating your past self, failing, and distracting yourself again to recognize the problems of the present.
So how can you stop running away? How do you face your problems and give up hiding, even though all you want is to distract yourself.
I wish I knew. But I have some good places to start.
1. Recognize and define the problem
Don’t distract yourself, don’t take drastic action.
All you need is your brain, pen & paper, and silence. Take your time, and get to the root of your problem. Why are you running? What’s making you feel this way? What’s the issue?
To help with this exercise, I like to step through “why” questions, for example:
Why am I feeling bad right now?
“Because I can’t focus at work.”
Why can’t I focus at work?
“Because I’m distracted, I can’t keep my attention on any one task”
Why am I distracted?
“Because I feel ineffective & paralyzed. Because I’m struggling to control my ADHD. Because I’m getting lost messaging my friends whenever I think of something I want to share. Because whenever I get a notification, I want to look into it. Because I feel like the work I have to do isn’t very defined. Because I feel unambitious and uninspired right now. Because I don’t have a clear reward structure.”
…Wow. That’s a lot.
Something I’ve found is that when I’m stepping through these “why” questions, I’ll eventually get to an answer like this. I’ll start to word-vomit everything I’m feeling, and finally get the problems out on the table.
Congratulations! This was the goal, to define the problem.
Now how do we solve it?
2. Break it down
The last step was emotional and uncontrolled. The goal of this step is to take a step back and reflect.
All you have to do is make a short list of the problems identified in step 1. Let’s continue with our example, here’s my list:
- Feeling Ineffective
- Messaging Friends
- Lack of definition
- Feeling uninspired/unmotivated
Just chew on the list for a bit. Does it feel right to you? Do you feel like you’re getting at something? If not, try going back to step 1 with even deeper focus on the particular item that doesn’t seem to fit. What’s wrong with it?
If it feels like solving these problems would make your life a whole lot better, move on to step 3:
3. Identify next steps
This step is about control. You’ve identified and broken down the problems, now figure out what the smallest meaningful action you can take to improve your situation is. What is the “unit” improvement on each problem?
Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good here, just pick anything that you think would help. The key is that the action should be trivially easy, highly defined, and repeatable.
Again, the goal is just to establish control over your problems. As long as you can take some action, any action, you have control.
Let’s continue with our example:
- Feeling Ineffective: Work for 5 minutes. Just 5. When you’re done, ask yourself if you can work 5 more.
- ADHD: Meditate and breath for 2 minutes
- Notifications: Turn them off. Turn my phone off. I don’t need the notifications
- Messaging friends: When I want to share something, write it down in a journal. Delete the messaging app or log off so I need to batch my messages at the end of the day.
- Lack of definition: Determine just the 1 next step to 1 problem. Don’t try to imagine the whole solution. Just 1 step.
- Feeling uninspired/unmotivated: Write about what you most desire for 3 minutes. How does what you’re doing now fit into that bigger picture?
The goal here is to identify easy wins. What’s the quickest, easiest action you can take to control the situation?
For me, it seems like I could perform all these in less than half an hour. The time it takes to procrastinate by watching a single youtube video, or listening to a single podcast. But I’m not going to solve all the problems, I’m only going to solve one.
It’s time to act. Don’t run away, don’t procrastinate. All you have to do is one of these easy items you’ve identified. Any one. Whichever you find easiest, or most interesting, or are most prepared to tackle.
Do you think you can handle one of these?
But there’s a catch. When you’re done, you have to ask yourself: “Can I do one more? Is there one of these that I could get out of the way, right now?”
Don’t set expectations for running a marathon — just continue one step at a time. When you’re done, ask. Can you take one more step? When framed this way, I think you’d be surprised how many “single steps” you can take. So what are you waiting for? It’s just one step…
Lately, I’ve felt like I’ve been running away from myself. Every time I think I’m finally going to confront my feelings, I manage to find something pleasant and comforting to take solace in: maybe it’s an audiobook, or a video game, or a message to my girlfriend.
At some point, I had to face reality: nobody is going to confront myself for me. It’s in every human’s nature to run away from hard things, to find something pleasant and comforting in each moment.
Why stress about working hard, when you could just relax for 15 more minutes? Why workout tonight, when you could just melt into an audiobook you love and drift to sleep?
The reason I felt so ashamed is because I don’t want to run away, or relax more, or melt into my audiobook. I want to achieve my goals, and confront my problems. The problem is that “achieving my goals” sounds so daunting; how can I tackle that? There’s so much to do!
When I break it down into tiny steps, it becomes much easier: write one more sentence, work for 5 more minutes, do one more pushup.
But easy things add up, so don’t stand still. Have the courage to take the next step.
Happy New Year.