Do you have an 'ostrich mindset'?
I know how someone's diet is going without them talking to me? How?
Usually, it's because they aren't talking to me at all.
It's not uncommon for someone to start to lose weight with me and be really engaged and communicative but then all of a sudden go silent. I've learnt not to take it personally. I've learnt that it's a nudge to ask how someone is. I know that what is going on is a classic case of an Ostrich mindset.
Have you ever done any of these?
- Avoided stepping on the sale because you can't face knowing you've gained weight
- Bought bigger clothes
- Made excuses
- Complained that you are too busy to lose weight
- Claimed that an injury stopped you exercising completely
- Avoided the real issue
I know I have.
If you do any of these things regularly then you may have experienced Ostrich syndrome, or 'avoidance coping' to give it it's proper title.
What is it?
Avoidance coping is where we bury our heads in the sand and avoid facing an issue as a way of managing uncomfortable feelings we may experience in different situations.
Of course, it doesn't just apply to weight loss. People use avoidance coping in any number of areas, such as dealing with credit card statements, confrontations, public speaking and making decisions. We may be perfectly good at facing reality in some areas of our lives but find it almost impossible in others.
What we avoid and when we avoid it is dependent on what makes us feel uncomfortable.
Why do we do it?
Emotions don’t arise from situations. They arise from what we tell ourselves about a situation. Often people can't face the scale because they know if their worst fears are confirmed they will tell themselves "I've failed" or "I'm rubbish". They know they will feel angry or disappointed with themselves if they have to admit they went off their plan. For some, the idea of facing up to that is too scary. They'd rather not know because then they won't have to feel bad about it.
Why is it a problem?
This creates negative reinforcement. You are rewarding a behaviour which is sabotaging your success.
You fear feeling bad so you avoid the bad news. Avoiding the bad news saves you from pain and you feel ok so you are effectively rewarding yourself with Ostrich behaviour.
Unfortunately the ostrich behaviour, whilst comforting in the short term, is actually causing more pain in the long-term.
What is building up every single day that we avoid the issue?
The long-term impact of gaining weight might not become apparent all that quickly but think about what is happening whilst you're burying your head in the sand. The problem isn't going away, it's getting worse.
Is ostrich behaviour always bad?
Of course there are benefits, otherwise we wouldn't do it. I talk about hidden benefits a lot.
For every unhelpful behaviour there is a benefit. Avoidance can be useful for a short period when we don’t have the time, energy or resources to deal with the source of our distress.
If used well, we consciously make the decision to deal with things later and we follow through by coming back to the issue when we do have the resources.
How to deal with it
Getting out of an ostrich mindset allows us to deal with the facts and start moving forward. Knowing the scale of the problem is painful but it also gives us the information we need to take action and to make changes. This gives us a feeling of control and certainty, both of which are hugely empowering.
What about you?
What have you done in the past to avoid the reality?
What situations or feelings do you avoid?
What are your tips for getting out of an Ostrich mindset?