I have toothache as I write. I am in pain. My tooth needs to come out. I am
attached to it, but, it has done its job and we now need to part company. But don’t let me fool you into thinking that I have taken a completely quick and rational decision. I have had recurring problems with this particular tooth for some time. Each time the pain flares I know that it needs extracted. My dentist has confirmed this and told me to arrange an appointment whenever I feel it needs to happen. However, just before I make the call, the pain inevitably recedes. Why is this? Does it really? Do I imagine it has? Do I fool myself that it has? Whatever the reason, I end up putting off thoughts of calling the dentist until the next time the pain returns.
So why is it that we avoid taking action that we know would alleviate our pain? Why is it so hard for people to do the things that are actually good for them? A study published in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology (2014), Gilbert, McEwan, Catarino, Baiao and Palmeira, suggests that the fear of experiencing a positive outcome might be stronger than the desire to heal.
This study uncovered correlations between fear of compassion and happiness with depression, anxiety and stress. Coaches, counsellors and therapists know that clients often find it difficult to embrace strategies that steer them toward positive emotions and outcomes, and can sometimes have a greater fear of success than they do of failure. There has of course been much work done on fear of negative emotions and fear of failure, but new quality research into what causes fear or aversion to positive outcomes and emotions is welcome and long overdue.
So, what of my tooth? Well, normally by now I would have found an excuse for not making that call. I’ll do it when I get back home. The pain is easing. I’m too busy. But not this time. I know the action required to result in a positive outcome. I know how to avoid putting up with the pain. The appointment has been made. Tomorrow! I can sit back and relax (hmm!), in the knowledge that relief is on its way. I can’t say I am looking forward to it, but the decision has been made. But why did it take me so long?
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About the author: Louis Collins enables people to operate more successfully. You may be struggling to implement corporate strategy, you may want to get more productivity out of yourself or your teams but don’t know where to start, or you may not be having as effective conversations as you could be. I will work with you to enable you to formulate more effective ways of leading, to raise awareness of blockers to successful ways of working, and ultimately to help you and your managers to lead more successfully.