Why Do You Keep Running Into What You Are Trying To Avoid?

Why Do You Keep Running Into What You Are Trying To Avoid?
Thomas Thompson
April 12, 2022
min read

Ever play Mario Kart?

It is a racing video game where you spin around the track trying to beat your opponents. Sometimes your opponent will throw an obstacle your way—like an oil slick or a banana peel, that you have to avoid or go skidding out of control.

Our family has spent hours playing this game.  And in these hours, I’ve come to a question:

Why is it that that the more I try to avoid an obstacle, the more I end up hitting it?

I mean, I see the slick, the peel, the monster bounding across the road.  I am determined to go around it.  I stare at it, trying to avoid it, yet I run right into it.  

What is the deal?

There is actually a psychological phenomena at work here.  It is called Target Fixation.  It happens often on (real life) roads where a driver is so focused on an object that they unintentionally increase their risk of collision with it.  Even if it is an obstacle or hazard.

In other words, you go where you are looking.  When your eyes are fixed on a target, your body subconsciously turns the wheel towards the object.  The pull of your eyes is stronger than the pull of your hands.

This happens to drivers.  It happens to fighter pilots.  And it happens to leaders.

  • “I can’t eat carbs today.”
  • “No one wants to work with me.”
  • “I don’t know how to build this business.”
  • “I have to make sure to not get any nos.”
  • “I’m not going to lose my temper with the kids today.”
  • “I have to get a new client today.”
  • “We have to stop people leaving the church.”
  • “We can’t let anyone else quit the team.”

How often do these hazards we aim to avoid become the exact path our day takes?

Take that last one.  Say you work in Direct Sales.  And it has been a rough patch the last two months, with a few team members quitting.  As you focus more and more on those who have left, your anxiety and fear begins to turn into desperation.  And as someone once said, “desperation is a stinky cologne.”

And when we get desperate to avoid a hazard, that's when we hit it.

How can you cure Target Fixation?

Don’t focus on what you are trying to avoid.  Focus on where you want to go.

In driving, this means you don’t look at where you don’t want to go; you look at where you want to go and the car will follow.   Don’t look at the shredded tire in the middle of your lane.  Look to the lane next to you where you need to move.  Don’t focus on the headlights of the approaching car on the two lane road; you focus to the right of your lane.

In your self leadership, it means deciding ahead of time where you want to go today, who you want to be, how you want to show up, and you set your focus there.

One way to make this practical is to start your day setting Focus Statements.

I start every day writing out 2-3 statements of Focus to drive my day.  Here are some examples from my journal the last few weeks:

  • “I ask powerful questions to get leaders to have the conversations they are not having.”
  • “God has fully funded my day today.”
  • “I give more to my clients in service than I receive in payment.”
  • “I can figure out what I don’t know how to do.”
  • “I will enjoy resting fully from work today.”
  • “I honor the appointments I make…even the ones with just myself.”

Starting my day setting my focus pushes back against the darkness of negativity.  And it gives my anxious eyes somewhere else to look rather than the hazards my mind tends to throw at me.

Action Step: What are you trying to avoid today?  How can you capture that, name it, and then intentionally shift your focus from avoiding that to aiming at what you do want?  Write this out somewhere where you can see it throughout your day.  

I'd love to talk with you more about that. Shoot me an email and let's get your eyes off of the banana peels and oil slicks and back on to the finish line.

I founded Thompson Leadership to come alongside leaders like you. Together, we will unpack your unique leadership, unearth your biggest challenge, and create an action plan to close the gap between where you are and where you want to be.
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