Avoiding Avoidance

I’m on a mission to earn a living from my practice, so I’ve been testing Benjamin Hardy’s 30 Behaviours to Make You Unstoppable in 2019, and this week I examine my potential for reaching that goal by looking at Behaviour #12. 

12. Less * “Avoidance-Behaviors”

‘In psychology, there are two core forms of behavior — avoidance or approach.

Avoidance-behaviors are where you’re putting energy toward avoiding something from happening. Avoidance-behaviors are generally focused on risks, rather than the potential for growth…

And approach-orientation toward life doesn’t mean you’re a reckless risk-taker. What it means is that you are willing to courageously face risks to accomplish meaningful and important goals.’

I assume here he’s telling me I should avoid avoidance behaviours and, instead, boldly advance toward my goal without letting any risks put me off. What risks might I be avoiding? 

Ironically, I’ve put rather a lot of effort into avoiding writing this post. I went off at a weird tangent and read screeds on self-efficacy and congruence; I faffed about creating a new project file for an e-book I suddenly had to pull together; and I’ve literally just, this second, forced myself to stop designing posters for a Making Ends Meet project I seem to have got involved in.

Does this mean I feel there is some sort of risk involved in writing this post? Maybe I just can’t be bothered? Maybe I’m bored with writing about myself, or with the sound of my own voice? Or maybe it is something to do with self-efficacy?

Image: Wings View at Homehttps://wingsviewathome.tumblr.com/

It’s odd how life brings you back to things. I read Carl Rogers for my undergrad dissertation – which began as an enquiry into the existence of the self, and ended as a love song to Nietzsche – and though I liked his accessible style, and absorbing arguments, I haven’t looked at him since. I still have the books though. Anyway, I was pondering Hardy’s proposal, trying to make something of it and failing, when an email came in from him on Confidence and Avoidance that sent me on a wonky path that began with Albert Bandura and ended with Carl Rogers. It was like meeting an old friend in a strange city full of half lit passages and dead ends.

‘Carl!’ I cried, ‘Just the person I need, I’ll buy you lunch if you promise to explain self-congruency to me.’

And so I found myself in a shabby taverna, drinking cheap wine from a semi-opaque carafe, listening to a master. But I’m getting ahead of myself, I need, briefly, to go back to that email from Hardy. 

It was entitled ‘Confidence and Avoidance’ and, in it, Hardy gives a personal anecdote about avoiding finishing his PhD, and goes on to explain that this was due to lack of confidence and congruency. Confidence, he says, 

‘is the byproduct of prior performance. In other words, confidence must be earned. Your confidence is the emotional evidence of what you’ve done and where you’re currently at.’

Hardy is simplifying to the point of opacity here – and that’s fine, he’s still learning – luckily he seems to have realised this because he linked to an academic paper called: ‘A Meta-Analytic Investigation of the Within-Person Self-Efficacy Domain: Is Self-Efficacy a Product of Past Performance or a Driver of Future Performance?’ Which, while being impregnable, gave me something solid to google. 

What is Self-Efficacy?

Khan Academy

The American Psychological Association defines it as:

An individual’s belief in his or her capacity to execute behaviors necessary to produce specific performance attainments (Bandura, 1977, 1986, 1997).

My understanding of this is that Self-Efficacy is a person’s belief that they can achieve a particular thing, to a particular standard. The graphic, which is a screenshot of a video on the subject, adds ‘in a certain situation,’ and provides four streams from which this belief flows.  

1. Mastery of Experience

As you’d expect this refers to having done a thing successfully in the past. If you’ve achieved an outcome already, you’re likely to believe you can do it again. 

2. Social Modelling

If you’ve seen someone you can relate to achieve a certain outcome, you will be encouraged to believe you can do it too. 

3. Social Persuasion

If others say you can do something, you’re more likely to believe you can. Conversely if others tell you you can’t do something, you may believe them (depending on who they are).

4. Psychological Responses

This relates to your emotional state: if you’re feeling stressed, for example, your belief in your capacity to perform a difficult task is likely to be reduced. 

What might all this have to do with my avoiding writing this post?

1. I’ve been blogging since 2007, I’m pretty sure I’ve mastered writing posts. Though, it’s true, this one has turned out to require quite some thought (and I still don’t know if I’m making sense). 

2. I know lots of people just like me who write blog posts, so my social modelling is positive.

3. My stats are growing, so that’s people telling me I can do it, isn’t it?

4. My emotional state is pretty positive, I’m quite cheerful, but I do have a lot to do at the moment. Maybe I’m feeling a bit thinly spread, and that’s enough to make me avoid doing certain things? 

The other element in avoidance, according to Hardy is congruence, or lack thereof. This is where Carl Rogers and the boozy lunch comes in; he argued that when the difference between a person’s ideal self, and their perceived self is too great, that person can’t self-actualize.

Image: Homestyle

I’m going to leave you with that thought for another week. There’s too much to self-actualisation to be able to get any purchase on it in a few hundred words, and as I’ve already got nearly a thousand here it would seem better to give it a post of its own. When I began with Benjamin Hardy’s theory I had no idea it would get so complicated. I may not have embarked on this exploration if I’d realised it would make me work so hard, all this research and trying to make sense takes me away from actual writing. I haven’t looked at such complex subjects since university, not really; I’ve had the odd foray into quantum physics, but that’s just play, fun. This, possibly because it relates directly to myself, feels a bit serious.

So, just to recap: in this post I’ve been trying to understand why I’ve been avoiding writing this post. Why do we avoid doing things? I’ve half concluded that it may be something to do with the state of my self-efficacy, which could be a little weak at the moment due to my workload. It’s unlikely that it’s weak due to my not feeling well practised in blog post writing, I do that all the time; it’s unlikely, too, to be because I don’t have enough social models, I have hundreds; and no one’s been telling me I’m crap at writing blog posts, so social persuasion isn’t the culprit. The only thing left is my psychological/emotional state. It may be compromised to the point I just can’t imagine* myself being able to find enough time or energy to do a good enough job.

Unless I’m incongruent, which I’ll look at next week.

P.S. I realise the pictures don’t illustrate the text at all, I think I managed to avoid creating this post, yet still write it, by looking at pretty pictures of the kinds of scenes my ideal-self would experience daily.

Header Image: Metaphor Metaphor

*I assume he means ‘fewer.’

** Imagined Experiences

We can influence self-efficacy beliefs by imagining ourselves or others behaving effectively or ineffectively in hypothetical situations. Such images may be derived from actual or vicarious experiences with situations similar to the one anticipated, or they may be induced by verbal persuasion, as when a psychotherapist guides a client through interventions, such as systematic desensitization and covert modeling (Williams, 1995). Simply imagining myself doing something well, however,is not likely to have as strong an influence on my self-efficacy as will an actual experience (Williams, 1995).

Maddux, James. (2012). Self-Efficacy: The Power of Believing You Can. The Handbook of Positive Psychology. 227-287. 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195187243.013.0031.

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