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How Avoidance is Keeping You Stuck in a Job You Hate

How this behaviour is keeping you trapped in a career that no longer serves you, and how to break free.

A woman places her hand out in front of her to signal stop

As a Career Coach, something I come across a lot is people who are unhappy in their jobs, yet are stuck in avoidance.

They know they aren't happy. It's plain to see. It's dripping into their personal lives, their relationships, their sleep and wellbeing. Yet they aren't doing anything about it.

So what's going on here? Let's explore what we mean by avoidance, how this can show up, and what you can do about it.

What is avoidance?

Harvard Professor and researcher Dr Luana Marques defines avoidance as "any response that brings you immediate relief but has long term consequences".

How you respond may vary, but at the heart of it is doing something which prevents you from feeling discomfort, vulnerability, pain, or other uncomfortable emotion.

Remember, our brains are just trying to keep us safe.

It can't tell the difference between real threat, and perceived threat. So if you're nervous about something, it's going to feel as threatening and real to your scared lizard-brain as being mugged at knifepoint.

Unfortunately, this is unhelpful for our modern lives. By avoiding the situation we aren't actually dealing with as we may need to.

So, if you want to quit your job, but the risk of making the wrong choice in another role feels too dangerous and frightening, you can stay trapped. The impact of this can be long-term unhappiness and burnout.

What can this avoidance look like?

Dr Marquez explains there are 3 key types of avoidance:

  • Retreat (don't think about it, bury your hear in the sand)

  • React (e.g. maybe get angry, perhaps need a stiff drink after work)

  • Remain (stay frozen and not deal with it)

As a Career Coach, it's the REMAIN one I'm particularly interested in.

I see this happen a lot. Clients whom have entered into a state of learned helplessness, or are in the process of sinking into defeat.

They want to deal with it, but the fear of the change prevents them taking action.

This is such a dangerous mindset, because as Dr Marquez puts it:

"The discomfort that we feel facing things, is so much less than this monster that we create in our head of what it will be like."

How to overcome this

We aren't going to eradicate the thoughts that our brain sends us, warning us over and over again about the threat (e.g. of quitting your job). Our brain is primed to be a prediction machine, it hates uncertainty, and it always will.

Instead, do these 3 things:

Overcome Avoidance Tip #1 - Create a space

Create some space between the thought and yourself.

Because you know what? You aren't your brain, and the thoughts it gives you are not always true. Just because you think it, doesn't mean it's accurate.

Shift from "If I quit I'll be unemployed forever" to "I'm having the thought that if I quit I'll be unemployed forever".

When this thought comes to you, notice it with curiosity. Is this true? What might an alternative thought be, which is based on fact?

Overcome Avoidance Tip #2 - Reframe it

Feeling like you want to quit can bring up all sorts of unhelpful thoughts (and therefore feelings). Try to reframe these thoughts into powerful ideas which actually serve you.

Let's consider imposter syndrome for example.

Instead of letting the thoughts of "I won't be able to do a job like that" and "They'll see I'm just winging it" keep you stuck, reframe the thought into something helpful.

This might be "I see that I'm having the thought that I won't be able to do a job like that. This is a sign that there is so much learning and growth potential to be had in this role. If I did it, I would learn so much".

You're not quashing the thought, you're re-purposing it.

Overcome Avoidance Tip #3 - Realise that you'll never feel ready

The trick with confidence, is that it isn't actually something you need to have before you do the thing. It's something that comes, from having done the thing.

You'll never feel super ready. So just start small. What would a baby-step look like?

If you want to leave your job, it might be dusting off your CV.

The next step might be to get registered with some recruiters.

Another baby step could be to practice your interviewing skills. You're still not quitting, but you're laying the foundations.

The goal here isn't to build the confidence you need. The goal is to start taking small action towards your goal, notice that the world doesn't crumble, and keep going.

You can overcome avoidance

It's a case of realising what your brain is doing, and taking action which moves you gradually towards your goal.

Need some more help?

  • I offer 1:1 Career Coaching to support you through these decisions. Check them out here and let me support you to get unstuck and move forward with purpose.

  • If you'd rather work on this in a self-guided workbook, my Career Clarity Toolkit can take you through what you're really looking for in a career, step by step.

Always on your side,

signature of the author, Louise

CEO and Founder, Clarity Coaching with Louise

Picture of the author Louise and the name of her company Clarity Coaching with Louise


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